Emmy award-winning screenwriter visits the college

Aidan Trevisan

For one Williams College alumnus, a liberal arts education paid off well.

Emmy award-winning screenwriter and novelist Robert Seidman visited the college on Monday to discuss the evolution of his career. Most famous for his Emmy-nominated documentary “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” Seidman has also written PBS documentary films about Wallace Stevens, Margaret Mead and Samuel Beckett. 

During his talk, Seidman explained his process for working on scripted documentaries. He played excerpts from films he has worked on in the past for the audience.

One film, called “Riding the Rails” (1997) was a documentary focusing on the lives of 10 teenagers who train hopped during the Great Depression as a means of running away from home to hopefully find better lives.

Often referred to as a specialist on the Depression era, Seidman said it was a “great pleasure” to work on this film. He continued by discussing his favorite parts of the film with the audience, which included its soundtrack. In this film, Seidman said he believed the music “carried” the film.

Seidman also showed audience members his work “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America,” which was released in 1997. The 90-minute film offers a unique glimpse at Hasidic Jew groups in the United States. With narration from Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, the film explores the religion’s presence in the US.

Although he noted that this was one of his favorite films to make, Seidman said to the audience that he is in fact an atheist and had a difficult time working with his peers on this film because of differences in religious beliefs.

“We fought like crazy,” he said.

In his talk, Seidman also touched on the value of a liberal arts education. A graduate of Williams College, Seidman told students in the audience that attending a liberal arts institution was a great decision.

“I went to a very good liberal arts college just like you girls and guys, and I loved it. What an extraordinary privilege it was to be at a place where you can spend most of your time reading, thinking, talking to your peers and your professors,” Seidman said.

Natalie Acopian ’19 attended Seidman’s talk and was impressed by the screenwriter’s abilities.

“He was really passionate and he gave us an idea of the amplitude of the discipline,” Acopian said. “He showed us a lot of tidbits of the different films he made and showed us that you can basically make a film about anything.”

Seidman is currently working on a feature documentary about famed newspaper publisher Joesph Pulitzer, which he said he will be finishing soon.