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Tributes for the Savant of Swing: Remembering Lewis Erskine (1957-2021)

By Bedatri D. Choudhury

Lewis Erskine (1957-2021) is a middle-aged Black man with short dreads. He is wearing a grey t-shirt and black rimmed glasses. Image courtesy of Jean Tsien

Lewis Erskine, ACE, was one of the finest documentary editors around but, per the tributes that we’ve gathered from friends and colleagues, that was just one of the many things he was. In fact, he didn’t even want to be an editor at first. In a speech he delivered at the 2017 Sundance Institute and Karen Schmeer Fellowship Art of Editing Lunch, he admitted, “I didn’t set out to edit; I quit college to mix sound. I was going to work in the recording studio, I was going to make records.” While he could’ve opted to stay in the studio, we are fortunate that he chose to grace our world in a myriad ways.

With a sensibility that was honed by listening to 1970s Black radio stations and watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Erskine edited such watershed films as The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords (Stanley Nelson; 1999), Jazz (Ken Burns; 2000), The Murder of Emmett Till (Stanley Nelson, 2003), Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners (Shola Lynch; 2012), and Cesar's Last Fast (Richard Ray Perez; 2014), among countless others he advised and consulted on. 

His legacy, beyond the films he worked on, is one of love and generosity of spirit, coupled with a relentless and fiery fight to make the documentary ecosystem more just and equitable. "The structure of racism remains in our community," he said in his 2017 Sundance speech. “If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. Who's in the room where it happens? We need to disrupt the cycle.” It is this spirit of disruption that is Erskine’s greatest legacy. 

After a battle with prostate cancer, Erskine passed away on June 3—which was also the launch day of the BIPOC Editors Directory he inspired. "Telling stories about the heart and soul and the struggles of Black people: That’s kind of what I do," Erskine said in his Sundance speech. What he also did was rouse an army of disruptors to change the ways in which the world sees BIPOC communities. 

We at IDA can’t wait to see that disruption that Lewis set into motion, unfold. 

Thank you, Lewis, for gracing our world.

Savant - "a person of profound or extensive learning; a learned scholar."

I knew Lewis for nearly 25 years. We met in NYC in 1997 while working on Ken Burns’ Jazz series, and became fast friends. He eventually became more like a brother. He was probably my first real teacher out of film school about the responsibility of representation, and the absolute, tangible need for Black people to, at the very least, help tell our own stories. If you watch Jazz today, Lewis’ episodes (three and ten) are some of the very best in the series. He knew how and when to cut, and when to let a shot linger and breathe.

No doubt, Lewis’ instincts in his editing were informed by who he was as a person. Lewis was so easy-going, yet precise in the depth of how he treated his friends. I remember riding around with Lewis in his fire engine red Honda Civic in Walpole looking for lunch, and listening to Stevie Wonder. We’d sing along (he had such a nice voice) and just enjoy each other’s company. 

When I got ready to leave New York for Raleigh, NC, Lewis floored me by giving me his Honda. "I don’t need it," he said. One of the most amazing gifts I’ve ever received. When my husband and I got ready to replace the Honda with a new one, we asked Lewis what he wanted us to do with the Civic. "Donate it"—which was so Lewis. He was not a man who put a lot of stock into things like cars, pre-war apartments, etc. Lewis invested in relationships, and in doing whatever he could to help others in whatever way(s) he saw fit. He was generous like that.

Lewis made me laugh. He was so brilliant, as a person and an editor, and his observations and comebacks often had me rolling. And Lewis’ laugh—so great. It was genuine and unique, so exuberant. 

I may have talked to Lewis more times in 2020 during the pandemic than in any other year since moving to North Carolina. I got on Zoom with Lewis to talk shop—or at least that was my intention. But as was Lewis’ gentle-giant way, soon after we got on the phone, he shared with me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Not Lewis, I thought. It was hard to bear the idea of my friend having to deal with even the thought of cancer, let alone a real diagnosis. He had apparently been dealing with it for some time, but he looked so good and healthy on that Zoom call that I honestly believed he’d beat it.

Lewis looked frail when I saw him last on Zoom. But, of course, he was still my dear friend Lewis, and we spent the next hour talking about his amazing home sound system, his son Keita, how much he enjoyed sitting in the sun, Zoom backgrounds, the state of PBS and documentary film, and Stevie Wonder. In a gesture I will never, ever forget, Lewis pulled up Stevie’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale album on his Apple Music account, and we sat and listened, and reminisced for a while. I sensed in that moment that it might be my last with Lewis. I didn’t want it to end, and I soaked it all up. Then suddenly he had to go, and our time together ended. And two weeks later, my friend was gone.

Lewis, I love you and I’m going to miss you so much. You were an incredible friend, a brilliant editor, and an amazing colleague. You are loved by so many. I hope you know how much you will be missed. Your legacy of light, brilliance, and love lives on.

—Natalie Bullock Brown
Filmmaker; StoryShift Strategist,
Working Films

Lewis worked with us as an editor on our ten-part series, Jazz. It was in the late 1990s, and he moved to Walpole, NH for two years, where the film was edited. He brought to us discipline, gravitas and seriousness—and an extraordinary ear and desire to get to the core of the music. He helped bring to life the work and music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. He also had this uncanny sense of mixing music and visuals, marrying the two in a seamless and elegant way. He attributed that to his watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

Lewis returned to work with us on Jackie Robinson. And as with Jazz, he had a sensitivity to the subject matter, finding the interior spaces in the images we used, and an artist's ability to connect the lifeblood of documentary film, images and sound, into a whole story. He was a supremely talented, special and wonderful person, and we will miss him.

—Ken Burns
Filmmaker, Florentine Films

Over 20 years ago, Lewis and I met while working as editors on the documentary series Jazz. As a colleague and also a viewer of his work, Lewis Erskine’s brilliance as an editor speaks for itself. His exceptional skills were reflected in his body of work and the numerous awards that he had deservingly received during his long career in the film industry. While working with Lewis, I was extremely impressed with his ability to take the provided materials and create compelling, entertaining and informative films. Lewis Erskine was known for his professional generosity. He was one of the few editors that many in the industry trusted to screen their rough cuts. We knew Lewis would give meticulous and insightful notes that would ultimately make the film better. He was a straight shooter who lectured about the difficulties and the challenges in the industry. However, his real love was for the collaborative process of working to have the story shine through. He was truly an "editor savant."

—Sandra Christie, ACE
Documentary Editor

Lewis Erskine was an advisor at the Edit and Story Lab five times in 11 years. We used to cross our fingers when we sent the invitation because the gift that Lewis brought was unquantifiable. Since his passing, it’s been a comfort to listen to his presentations over the years. In his introduction at Tabitha’s first Lab in 2014, he said simply, "Everyone I’ve worked with here has become a friend." It’s such a simple statement that speaks profoundly to why Lewis is so special and so beloved. There’s too much to say about the brilliance and impact of his work, his vision and his mentorship, which many others will speak to. Right now, we are mourning our friend. His friendship manifested in his honesty and his ability to state all kinds of truths with clarity and true humility. His gift was his ability to be present, to laugh with you, to share his knowledge and lessons learned freely, with fellows, with assistant editors, with his beloved advisors, and with staff. In his presence, the hardest things were navigated with tenderness, and the work contended with the deepest respect. We miss that precious time. We miss our friend.

—Kristin Feeley
Deputy Director, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program

I worked with Lewis long before he became known as one of the world’s best documentary film editors. We worked out of my basement office on a project about boxing great Joe Louis and his historic fights against Nazi Max Schmeling. My mind flashes to Lewis’ lanky frame coiled around in his too-small chair, his dreads and flowing scarf—far too stylish for his shabby surroundings. His cool was as natural as his breathing, but in his work he was all intensity and meticulousness. The scene that stands out for me was the 1938 fight between Louis and Schmeling in Yankee Stadium. The bout lasted only two minutes, but in that time a great drama unfolded. Lewis built the tension expertly, allowing us to feel every punch as if we were ringside. He toggled between the recollections of several characters hunched over their radios in Harlem, and a young Jewish boy listening to the broadcast in Berlin rooting with all his heart for Louis to puncture the myth of German superiority. When Schmeling fell, we felt the joy and relief nearly as strongly as they did. 

It is still one of my favorite sequences from a film I directed. Only a great storyteller could have achieved it. Lewis was a great storyteller, a person who understood other peoples’ hearts and minds. Though I never had the privilege of working with Lewis again, I will never forget his joy in the craft of editing and his satisfaction at achieving excellence. I carry it with me, always.

—Barak Goodman

Lewis was both a friend and mentor to me. Our birthdays are a day apart and we’d get together many times over the years, for a celebratory lunch date or "just cuz." I’d see him at parties and could count on him for lots of dancing, great conversations and wicked banter. We could talk shop, or have philosophical life talks, or just be cracking each other up. There was never a dull conversation with him. He was the master of the pithy, always-on-point metaphor—you could be articulating the same idea, but he did it better, and with more “swing." Among his many gifts was wit, razor-sharp intellect, brilliance and generosity. I met Lewis when he hired me to be his assistant. In our switching shift/hand-off interactions—back then, indie projects could afford one AVID, so editors worked during the day, and assistants came in at night—we’d talk about the film, story construction, creative goals and challenges. I felt far more engaged than I ever had before on a project as an AE. One day, he said to me, "This scene is not working. We’ve been having trouble with it for a while. Why don’t you give it a try and see what you can do with it." I was floored that he was asking for my help! I thought, "I hope I can come through, cuz he needs me!" What it turned out to be was the beginning of a one-on-one master class, during which I learned about pacing, juxtaposition, visual language, revealing and shaping meaning and, most of all, how to trust myself as an editor, a storycrafter. "Trust your choices," he would say to me, "Stop hiding." And, all the while, as we worked on those scenes, he acted as if I was helping him.

Rest in peace, power and eternal love, Lewis, aka "editor savant." See, leave it to Lewis to come up with that term! 

—Sabrina S. Gordon
Filmmaker; Co-Chair, Black Documentary Collective

(L-R): Thomas Allen Harris, Stanley Nelson, Lewis Erskine at the 2016 Emmy Awards. They are posing for a selfie. Courtesy of Thomas Allen Harris.

I met Lewis in the late ‘80s when we were both working at WNET. I was a public affairs producer and he was an editor for The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour. We discovered we shared the same mentor, St Clair Bourne, and we quickly became friends. Lewis edited my first experimental video, Splash (1991), a piece in which I came out publicly both as Queer and an artist. He had an amazing and warm spirit and was dedicated to storytelling, African diasporic filmmaking, and the diverse communities these engendered. He was also a great recounter of stories; our conversations could run for hours. Lewis’ editing prowess was always in such high demand that you felt like you hit the jackpot when you were able to book him (my own regret was that we didn’t work together on one of my feature docs or television series).

While many know Lewis from editing, advising, and producing documentaries related to Black American figures and history, I know Lewis as someone with whom many in the Black Queer community felt at home. Although he was straight and a family man, he was sought after to edit Queer-themed projects such as Shari Frilot’s 1995 feature doc, Black Nations Queer Nations? (which will be showing on June 24th here) as well as my award-winning short, Marriage Equality: Byron Rushing and the Fight for Fairness (2011). He brought such a sensitivity, a sense of compassion and a level of support that I always felt that he was more than a straight ally. He was a beloved friend. He was an activist. He was my brother. He will be sorely missed by the doc community and beyond.

—Thomas Allen Harris

Yesterday, I gave feedback on a rough cut, as a storytelling mentor to a filmmaker. It was the first time I had done so since Lewis Erskine left this earth—the Lewis that I deeply loved, the Lewis we relied on to be a north star of life-affirming and life-disarming artistry, of say-it-like-it-is, of the menschiest mentorship.

And I realized, that it’s in this editorial back and forth—asking if it’s authentic and "disruptive" in the best of ways—that I will find him, that is how I will hear his voice. And recall his unmatched storytelling wisdom, his throw-the-head-back laugh, his pound-on-the-table "YES!" when a good cut “$%&*^#@ works," and his gentle offering of just what to do when it doesn’t. 

Since the early 2000s, I had the privilege of Lewis’ invaluable and brilliant consultation. We laughed and cogitated together in cutting rooms (and living rooms-turned-cutting rooms), where he helped me make cuts that worked, work better, where he took a pen to a transcript and crossed out line after line until only a bit was left—the bit with the most nuance. We revelled in the joy of dark humor being the thing to save the day, one film to the next, one generous life-changing consult to another. He was a first audience, a beloved best audience, one of the ones I looked to, to "get" my (sometimes too Jewish) jokes about cancer, vinyl, toxic chemical exposure, grieving, crying into skirts, too many elephants, parenting, and babka. He would insist, "Don’t ever let go of the jokes. They can’t be the thing you sacrifice." He helped me find my voice…like he did for so many, many, many others, who I imagine right now, are straining to hear his voice, looking through their old notes, and finding ways to pass what he gave us on. 

Which was why the first thing I did—before giving what I hope were frank, useful, loving albeit very real notes—was to give my mentee Lewis’s Call to Action from Sundance 2017 followed by the just-launched (very much in his memory and honor) BIPOC Editors Database. In the urgent words of Lewis Erskine, I encouraged her to disrupt the cycle of her cutting room and turn it into "a room where it happens". Thank you, Lewis. I’ll be listening for you every time I offer feedback, every time I strive to be a menschy mentor, in the rooms where it’s happening and especially in the ones where it’s not. 

We will watch your films over and over, listen loud for the joy you had while making the work, work. We will study your astounding transitions—the ones that take the breath away and make us think long after the film is over, about why that movie gave us so much joy and so much access to something real.

—Judith Helfand
Filmmaker; Co-Founder, Senior Creative Consultant, Chicken & Egg Pictures
Co-Founder, Working Films

I first met editor Lewis Erskine when I worked as a production assistant for Stanley Nelson at Half Nelson Productions (now Firelight Media and Firelight Films). 

As a young-ish PA, I would often eavesdrop on conversations between Stanley and Lewis in the edit room in an effort to better understand how to construct a strong documentary film. Every now and then, I would insert myself into the conversation and ask them if they had seen a particular film, and if so, what they thought about it. Occasionally, Lewis and Stanley would recommend that I watch a film they'd seen and loved. I'd leave work that day, track the film down at a New York City Public Library or at Kim's video in the Village. 

After my production assistant gig ended with Stanley, Lewis and I stayed connected. Lewis dropped in to hear me speak to a class of film students at NYU, where I showed some very early scenes from my upcoming film Hazing. After class, Lewis walked through Washington Square Park with me to my car and he gave me sage advice about how to approach the film, potential storytelling devices, and gave me his overall impression of the work. He was honest. He was kind. He rooted for me to win, and quelled some of my fears. There is one bit of advice that he shared with me that I'll never forget: "Don't try to please everyone with your film. Your film may never change the vocal, loud voices who have an issue with you exposing hazing culture. Chances are, you are not going to change their perspective. Focus more on empowering the people who have been silent about hazing, and who believe that it's a problem. This film will speak to them, and will give them the courage to speak out."

The last time I saw and spoke to Lewis was at the IFC Center in the Village, at a screening of a documentary film called Wrestle. I asked him about a young editor I was considering hiring named Jessica Lee Salas. He strongly encouraged me to hire her for Hazing. Jessica and I are now wrapping up that film.

Thank you, Lewis, for all that you taught me about documentary filmmaking, but more importantly, for what you contributed to American history as a master editor and storyteller. I will miss you.

—Byron Hurt

Long before I worked at Sundance I was on a shuttle bus at the Festival feeling lost and not a little out of place when a man with beautiful locks and a twinkle in his eye said, 'Tell me about yourself'."

I had never seen him before, but the man was Lewis Erskine. That was typical of him. He noticed things. His question wasn't small-talk—that's not what he did. It was an invitation/provocation to say something meaningful. That's what he did. 

—Tabitha Jackson
Director, Sundance Film Festival

Lewis Erskine speaks on stage at the Karen Schmeer Fellowship’s Art of Editing Lunch at the 2017 Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute, Max Spooner

Lewis Erskine. Editor Savant. Dear Friend. Mentor. Champion of young talent. Leader. Dancer extraordinaire. He was all of it. To be in his presence was to feel connected, nurtured, challenged, heard.

I was a young, scared filmmaker when I was making Toots, a film with many stops and starts in post-production which, as with many labors of love, was proving difficult to complete. As we neared the finish line, Lewis came on board, lent his eye and experience to help bring my vision to life, and earned his nickname "The Closer." Rather than deconstructing the film that many had lent their lens and hands to, he saw the value in their work and managed to weave it all into the final version. In the end, the film told not only the story of my grandfather, Toots Shor, but also a story of collaboration, respect and the value of multiple perspectives. 

I remember the meals we shared, the questions Lewis asked and the way he would listen, and then think, before sharing his thoughts. He moved with such purpose and intention. At those meals, and in the edit room, we laughed a lot. He taught me that work is very serious but life and work should be filled with moments of joy, of laughter, of connection, of shared meals, big smiles, and jokes (some of them funny). 

In Lewis’s widely referenced Sundance 2017 speech, he calls out our collective responsibility to make our industry more equitable: "Examine your privilege. Constantly question it. If you’re in the room, take the risk of being the disruptor."

In our craft, mentorship—especially the working relationship between editor and associate editor—is as essential to one’s growth as the work itself. And it’s a crucial step to building a more equitable documentary world. Lewis knew this. He lived this. I urge all fellow filmmakers to hear his cry and build the most fitting memorial for him—one which is built on resistance. 

I’ve read that speech many, many times and promise, Lewis, to keep disrupting. 

—Kristi Jacobson

I met Lewis in 2009 when I started working at Firelight Media. He was editing Freedom Riders with Stanley Nelson. Lewis immediately introduced himself, took it upon himself to orient me to the space and my new colleagues, and asked me thoughtful, curious questions about myself. 

He was an acclaimed editor with a lot of work and a tight timeline but he always made time to listen. When I think of Lewis, I think of his patience and affirmation. He was perhaps the nicest New Yorker I ever met. He was never in a rush, never cynical, never cut you off. And yet he was simultaneously a sharp shooter who could see through folks. 

He loved people and wanted to hear your life story. He was open-minded and curious until you pulled some BS. If you did, he would proceed to give you the most incisive read of your life, while remaining completely unbothered. 

His grace, intelligence, swag, sophistication and discernment made him a master editor. He could always make any scene, any film sing. In fact, when I think of him at work, I think of music. I think of jazz. I remember him on the dance floor. I think of a great man channeling things that are to be felt and not necessarily understood. 

Lewis was a consulting producer on my film Through the Night. I am so thankful for the time that I got to spend with him in early 2020 before our lives got turned upside down. I have pages and pages of his notes. I still remember him telling me "You’re trying to make a subtle film. Subtle is hard but if you pull it off, it will be radical. I believe you will pull it off."

Thank you, Lewis, for every conversation, every note, every dance shared. You will forever be one of my greatest friends, teachers and role models. 

—Loira Limbal
Filmmaker; Senior Vice President for Programs,
Firelight Media

Editor Savant. Technoweenie. Tried-and-true friend and colleague. You are missed.

You were so many things to so many of us in the documentary community. Your acts of respect and courtesy made you a brother for life. You leaned-in, not only to pull yourself up, but to pull so many of us in. You shared your time and expertise. You didn’t bullshit. You were a maestro on the editing keyboards. You were in your element conducting and collaging images and sounds to elevate the sum of their meaning, onto feeling. Not that the process was always easy or fast, but that was the process. You edited and listened to the director, the material, and yourself. With some of the best ears in the business, you listened and also heard. In 2016, we toasted to "the next 20 years" of living, working and storytelling. I/we/you never expected that time to be cut short. You still had so much more to give to the field by your work, teaching and being.

Last but not least, a political message. Black men are 50% more likely to have prostate cancer, and twice as likely to die from the disease. Please ask, nag, or demand that all the Black men in your life be tested for prostate cancer and have them insist on a PSA exam. Early detection saves lives. 

Condolences to your loved ones. Lewis, rest in power and peace. 

—Shola Lynch

Curator, Moving Image & Recorded Sound Division,
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

I’m not exactly sure how I would ever be able to describe Lewis Erskine as a friend or mentor. I can only say that he was everything: a patient teacher, an expert of the City of New York, a life-long learner. And he always made it to the party if he could.

Lewis encouraged a unique universe of collaboration in the edit room, a space that I strive to build in every edit room I have worked in since we met in 2010. He respected every member of the team and was dedicated to fostering friendships and trust. He brought loyalty to the filmmaking process. 

The pleasantries sometimes get lost near a deadline, but Lewis understood the importance of a simple "Thank You" in exactly those times of stress. He knew the power of his words and used them carefully. He was a deep thinker with a profound penchant for goodness. He was like no other. 

Lewis was constantly curious and eager to find solutions with you. His open-mindedness leveled the playing field for all creative troubleshooting and literally created a field for play, where every idea was valued, none too far-fetched and no one took themselves or the trouble at hand too seriously. As he once said to me, "Filmmaking is not life or death". 

Filmmaking and editing are not life or death, but films do shape the lives of those who watch them and I think that’s part of the particular gravity that Lewis brought to the craft. He knew that every film he worked on was his responsibility—his responsibility to carry out the director’s vision, to examine the history of the story he was shaping and his responsibility to make great art to influence change.

Lewis is, and forever will be, in the edit room of any editor willing to hear his wisdom. 

—Natasha Mottola
Filmmaker, Editor

I am so saddened by the news of Lewis Erskine's passing. Lewis was a great editor, a mentor, and most importantly a friend. We worked on more than six films together over the years, work that made me and Lewis very proud. But mostly I remember Lewis as the nicest man that I've ever met. He was a prince. We send our love from Firelight to his partner Ann, his son Keita, his family, and all the film community who loved and cherished Lewis.

Here is a short video tribute I made for Lewis a few weeks ago.

—Stanley Nelson
Filmmaker; Founder, Firelight Media

"Who’s your dream editor?" A colleague posed that question to me when I was at an impasse making the my feature documentary Cesar’s Last Fast. I had burned through the post-production budget and burned out the previous editor. My friend advised me to use this time to make a list of dream editors who could breathe new life into the film; an editor whose work and collaboration would motivate me to raise the money and deliver a film worthy of Cesar Chavez’s life, work and legacy. That exercise led me to Lewis Erskine. I didn’t know Lewis yet; Kristen Feeley introduced me to him. After some email exchanges, a few phone calls, and his reviewing the existing cut, he said he’d love to work on the film. So in the summer of 2013 I flew from LA to New York to spend weeks with Lewis in his Washington Heights apartment, dismantling the film. Reassembling it. Interrogating it. Refining it. We took breaks where we walked around his neighborhood. We talked about life, his career as a radio DJ, his family roots in the Carribean. He felt like a big brother, guiding me through the process of trying to tell an ambitious story. He knew that territory well. He told countless stories of heroic Americans—iconic and otherwise. I realized I was in the presence of a wise man and a gifted storyteller. I had set out to find an editor to finish my film but had ended up finding a generously luminant soul and an eternal friend. Lewis Erskine may have passed from this world, but he is alive in the stories that make up our national narrative. Thank you, Lewis. 

—Richard Ray Perez
Executive Director, IDA

Anybody who knows anything about documentaries, knows Lewis as an "editor savant," crafting narratives that are a part of our documentary canons. And anyone who knew him personally, loved Lewis. He was my first film teacher, taught me the art of pacing, and supported me when I was struggling in a program that I felt suffered from white supremacy. He always listened to me, even through harder conversations, like when I was sexually harassed on a job he recommended me for. He never preyed on me or any young woman he mentored. He was fair and allowed people to choose him as a mentor, and understood the sanctity of that role—especially for women of color. Sadly, this is rare. 

Lewis was the editing advisor for my film, Nailed It, and therefore, he became a mentor to the editor, Jessica Lee Salas, and even to my intern Christelle, who he hooked up with a job with Bill Moyers. Lewis walked the walk, and didn’t bloviate or virtue-signal. He knew his craft and was a humble savant. Although I talked to Lewis last month, I will always feel some sadness for not giving him one last call. Part of it was fear, knowing that he was going to pass. Every time we spoke recently, I would hear it in his voice and know. I knew I would cry when he left, but not days of crying as it has been, as it was when my beloved grandfather died. I didn’t know it would hit me quite this hard, but it has.

I made this playlist for him and I'm sorry he could not hear it while still here with us. I was not expecting him to pass so quickly but I am glad he did not suffer more. His karma is clean. RIP, dear teacher, I’ll never forget you! And pray I meet more like you on this crazy journey we must all take through life. 

—Adele Pham

I met Lewis Erskine in 1995, when we were both trying to find our place as documentary editors. Lewis was an amazing storyteller both through his editing, and through his gentle but powerful voice. His email ends with a quote from Nina Simone: "An artist’s duty is to reflect the times." This has been the guiding principle behind every film he has edited. His body of work reflects his art, his beliefs and his politics; most of the films he worked on face racism directly. 

At the Sundance Edit and Story Lab, where we both served as editing advisors, Lewis' master classes were entertaining. He had the audience roaring with laughter, but at the same time his presentations were always insightful and full of gems.. I had the great pleasure to witness his pride and joy come from the audience he served. He once wrote, "When I have sat in a dark screening room with five or 500 people and they catch their breath where I want them to catch their breath, when they laugh when I want them to laugh, when they cry because they understand the pain of someone far away and yet right there, a smile of deep gratitude comes to my face." 

Lewis believed in building the future; his generosity of spirit was authentic. As a true believer in advocating inclusion and underserved voices in our industry, he was a brilliant mentor to many emerging filmmakers, and most of all he was a kind-hearted friend to our documentary community.

—Jean Tsien
Editor, Producer, Consultant

Bedatri D. Choudhury is the Managing Editor of Documentary Magazine. Born and raised in India, she lives in New York City.