Doha, Qatar: Having grown up without a daily TV schedule or regular visits to the local movie theater, Marco Williams never imagined he would devote his entire adult life to directing and writing for film. But, that was before he discovered Alfred Hitchcock’s work while an undergraduate at Harvard University.
“I was just so intrigued that movies had so much thought behind them. I had no idea,” Williams said. “It was when I was analyzing these films that I realized that there was so much intention that went into making them.”
Williams has taught at the University of North Carolina and Duke University and has been on the faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts since 1998, where he teaches fiction and nonfiction film production, screenwriting, and television production.
This semester, Williams is a visiting professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), where he teaches courses on screenwriting and directing.
His films have received several awards, including an Emmy, the George Foster Peabody Award, the Columbia-DuPont Silver Baton, and the Silver Award for Best International Documentary. He has also been nominated three times for the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.
His films have been screened at the Sundance, Berlin, Bombay, Miami, Margaret Mead, Toronto, and Pan African film festivals, among others. Several of his films have also been shown on PBS, including the program Frontline.
“NU-Q is fortunate that a filmmaker of Professor Williams’ stature has joined us for the semester. He brings with him experience at the highest levels of documentary filmmaking, an area in which our students have shown significant talent and interest,” said NU-Q Dean Everette E. Dennis.
After 23 years of teaching, Williams says that the art of writing cannot be fully mastered in a classroom. At the start of this semester, in his Foundations of Screenwriting class, he asked his students to identify and note what they loved, hated, feared, learned, or decided and use that knowledge to flesh out relatable characters.
“Asking my students this question,” Williams said, “helps them learn about themselves and what they care about. Because at the end of the day successful writing is that – writing about the things and people that you care about,” he said.
In Williams’ work, those things have been empathy and an appetite for justice. His films have drawn attention to topics such as immigration, gun violence, and race relations. All of his films have been broadcast nationally in the U.S., and some have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC’s Nightline, and displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Citing various ideas from the classes he’s currently teaching; Williams is encouraged by the issues students are focusing on in their work. “More so than anywhere else I’ve taught, students at NU-Q are engaging with significant world issues in the stories they’re telling,” he said. “As an educator, I’m only concerned with nurturing and developing global citizens. I want people to leave my class with the belief that they have the ability to make a difference.”
His film credits include The Undocumented (2013), Inside the New Black Panthers (2007), Banished (2007), Freedom Summer (2006), I Sit Where I Want: the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education (2004); MLK Boulevard: The Concrete Dream (2003), Two Towns of Jasper (2002), Making Peace: Rebuilding Our Communities (1995), Declarations: The Spiritual Deficit and The American Dream; (1994), Without a Pass (1992), In Search of Our Fathers (1991) and From Harlem to Harvard (1982).
Williams’ has received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Fellowship, Tribeca All Access Alumni Fellowship, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Yale School of Art, American Film Institute, and the New York Council for the Arts.
“We are immensely grateful to have Marco with us this semester, not only for the great courses he is teaching but also for the deep experience and expertise in this area that he brings to the program,” said Scott Curtis, director of the Communication Program at NU-Q. “He is an outstanding filmmaker in both fictional and documentary modes, who is able to speak to a range of student interests, but his long experience at NYU puts him in a position to offer astute advice to the faculty as well.”
About Northwestern University in Qatar:
Northwestern University in Qatar draws from its parent organization, Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), a distinguished history, famous programs and an exceptional faculty. Founded in partnership with Qatar Foundation, NU-Q provides a framework through which students explore the world and, ultimately, shape its future through its distinguished schools of communication, journalism, and liberal arts.