Union Notables

Phil Alden Robinson    class of 1971


Phil Alden Robinson

Phil Alden Robinson graduated from Union College in 1971 with a major in Political Science. In a sense, he launched his career with the completion of his senior project, a documentary on “The New Deal Coalition” under the supervision of the late Joseph Board, the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Government.

Refusing to be pigeon-holed, Robinson has written and/or directed feature films as different as In the Mood (1987), Field of Dreams (1989), Sum of All Fears (2002), and Sneakers (1992). One of these films, Field of Dreams, has achieved mythic status as perhaps the best baseball film ever made. About memory, about failing to achieve one’s dreams, about coming to terms with one’s past and one’s present and, not least, about the magical hold that the beauty of a baseball field has on the American heart and mind, Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards, including one for “Best Screenplay Adaptation,” a Directors Guild of America award, and a Writers Guild of America Award. It also won Premiere Magazine’s poll for best picture of 1989. Thousands of people have visited the Iowa site of the film, proving it would seem, that “if you build it they will come,” even though the actual line spoken in the film is, “If you build it he will come.” “Dream Fields” have popped up all over the United States, including a giant complex outside Cooperstown at which thousands of young players from all parts of the nation have played during summer tournaments.

A commitment to truth and to giving witness to the painful realities of violence in the contemporary world underlie some of Robinson’s most impressive work. As an observer he accompanied the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on humanitarian visits to Bosnia and Somalia, visits that exposed members and observers to danger. This led him to produce five powerful documentaries on the terrible conditions in those countries. Robinson’s documentaries were aired on ABC’s “Nightline,” and Sarajevo Spring was nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of “National News and Documentary.” He regards these documentaries as his proudest achievement.

Sneakers

Concerned that the media often presents a distorted picture of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, Robinson produced a made-for-TV movie, Freedom Song, that in part attempted to “set the record straight” by looking at the grass roots struggle in its human dimensions. The film won a Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival (2001) and a Writers Guild of America Award. It was also nominated for two Emmy Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and several other awards, among them three NAACP Image Awards.

Perhaps Robinson’s most acclaimed work was part of a joint project with a number of other directors. He directed the first segment of HBO’s Band of Brothers, a series that won an Emmy and a Golden Globe (2002). Always active in advancing his profession and community, in 1994 Robinson received the Writers Guild Valentine Davies Award for “contributions to the entertainment industry and the community at large.”

The most notable feature of the work of Phil Alden Robinson is that it has achieved distinction in a variety of forms and in two very different endeavors. He has excelled as a director and a screenwriter, and he has produced award-winning work in three distinct genres, the feature film, the made-for-TV movie, and the documentary. Few indeed can match his record.