Groundbreaking Film Director, Award Winner’s Legacy Lives On

  • Two of Young’s films added to the Library of Congress Film Registry
  • Young’s career focused on bringing social issues to wider attention
  • Tributes pour in from industry professionals


Robert M. Young, a pioneering independent film director whose career spanned an impressive 70 years, passed away at the age of 99 in Los Angeles. His son confirmed the news in a heartfelt Facebook post, marking the end of a remarkable era in filmmaking.

Two Films Enter the Film Registry

Young’s impact on the industry was undeniable, as two of his films recently earned a place in the prestigious Library of Congress Film Registry. ¡Alambrista! (1977), a groundbreaking film exploring the life of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, won the Camera d’Or for best first film at Cannes. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), based on a true story that inspired a corrido, follows a man on the run after a confrontation with the police. Both films are also part of the esteemed Criterion Collection.

A Career Dedicated to Social Issues

Throughout his career, Young consistently demonstrated a deep passion for using cinema as a platform to shed light on social issues. His films served as powerful vehicles for bringing important topics to wider attention, sparking conversation and inspiring change. From ¡Alambrista! to American Me, Young fearlessly tackled subjects such as immigration, civil rights, and gang violence, leaving an indelible mark on the industry.

Former Sundance Film Festival director, John Cooper, expressed his admiration for Young, stating, “We lose important people all the time, but then there are those who embodied a spirit that is truly original. Bob Young was one of those. His love of cinema was infectious and deep.”

A Career Defined by Diversity

Robert M. Young’s career was as diverse as it was impactful. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he attended MIT and later graduated from Harvard. He initially made scientific films before transitioning to directing and cinematography for documentaries.

In 1960, Young’s documentary Sit-In, which featured footage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the early days of the civil rights movement, earned him a Peabody Award. This recognition led to his involvement in Nothing but a Man (1964), where he served as cinematographer, cowriter, and coproducer.

Young’s first solo feature as a director was Short Eyes (1977), an independent adaptation of Miguel Piñero’s play. He followed this with notable films such as Rich Kids, One-Trick Pony, and Extremities, working with acclaimed actors such as Farrah Fawcett, Tom Hulce, and Ray Liotta.

A Lasting Legacy

Robert M. Young leaves behind a lasting legacy in the world of cinema. His thought-provoking films continue to resonate with audiences, sparking important conversations and challenging societal norms. His wife, children, and grandchildren survive him, along with a grateful industry that will forever be inspired by his groundbreaking work.

Plans for a memorial to honor Young’s life and contributions are currently pending.


Robert M. Young’s passing marks the end of an extraordinary career that spanned seven decades. His commitment to bringing social issues to the forefront of the film industry and his fearless storytelling have left an indelible impact. As the industry mourns his loss, let us celebrate his life and work, ensuring his legacy lives on for generations to come.

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