Documentary filmmaker Roberto Guerra died Jan. 10 in New York’s Bellevue Hospital at 71, ending a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Born in Lima, Peru, in 1942, Guerra was known for employing the cinéma vérité style of documentary filmmaking, which attempts to capture the reality of everyday life.
After studying engineering at Lima’s National University for Engineering, Guerra began producing and directing films in Peru. In the late ’60s, a trip to New York City to purchase film equipment proved pivotal. He moved to the States, and began working with cinéma verité pioneers Albert and David Maysles, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Robert Drew.
Guerra was usually involved in all stages of the filmmaking process, doing his own camerawork and editing as well as directing and producing. In addition to being broadcast on network television (on stations such as PBS, the Learning Channel and A&E), many of Guerra’s films have been featured in international film festivals in New York, Edinburgh, London, Cannes and Los Angeles.
Guerra closely collaborated with his first wife, painter and filmmaker Eila Hershon. Together, the two worked on many films, including Langlois (1970) a portrait of Henri Langlois, founder of the film archive Cinémathèque Française, featuring commentary from Ingrid Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard and Catherine Deneuve, among others. The couple also profiled fashion mavens Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, and artists Hans Haacke and Oskar Kokoschka. Their 1983 documentary Frida Kahlo won first prize at the Montreal Festival of Films on Art.
Videomaker Kathy Brew, who would become his second wife, met Guerra in 1996. Their projects include four short films on Chinese contemporary artists and their Emmy-award-winning work for Public Television WNET’s City Arts and Egg. The pair’s most recent film, Design Is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli, about the Italian graphic design couple, was released in October.