Harrison Engle has always loved the challenges of filmmaking. He has directed and produced more than eighty productions, and filmed in thirty states, Canada, the Caribbean and abroad. Known for his creative vision and versatility, he has sought out quality projects that express his wide-ranging interests. Born in Washington, D.C., Harrison grew up in Detroit, Michigan. His father was an automobile executive and entrepreneur, and his mother instilled in him an appreciation of the arts. Harrison appeared professionally as a young magician and actor on stage, radio and television. Starting with the family 8mm camera, he began making films at 11. He made a variety of films before twenty, including animation, comedies, dramas and documentaries. A performing arts major at famed Cass Technical High School, he graduated in communications from Wayne State University.
Harrison received an MFA in Film from Columbia University. In New York, he directed off-Broadway theater, radio plays such as Lanford Wilson’s This is the Rill Speaking, and dramatic shorts. His comedy short, Railroaded, includes the first film score composed by Philip Glass. His dance short, Sun Dance, is in the Dance Film Collection at Lincoln Center. Honing his craft, Engle was a cinematographer for the BBC and editor for CBS network. He worked with documentarian Willard Van Dyke, with wide-screen filmmaker Francis Thompson, and with renowned television producer Robert Saudek (“Omnibus”).
In Los Angeles in the 80's and 90's, Harrison directed a series of critically acclaimed documentaries and dramatic films. He achieved national success with his feature documentary, The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt. Premiering on ABC in 1986 in prime time, sponsored by AT&T, the film has uniquely been shown on three networks. Screened at many festivals, it is regarded as a classic for its rousing score and its creative and influential mix of historic footage and artful recreations. Reviewers praised the quality of the directing, writing, editing and archival footage. “Extraordinary, moving, magnificent!” said Tom Shales, critic for the Washington Post. “The two-hour program is a stunner…the product of inspired direction by Harrison Engle,” said Howard Rosenberg in the Los Angeles Times. The program was named “one of the best programs of the year” by The New York Times.
Harrison’s affinity for music was further seen in his documentary,
Benny Carter: Symphony in Riffs, which was named
“Jazz Movie of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times. Engle was also a
production executive on the motion picture DA, starring
Martin Sheen, which was shot in Ireland and produced by FilmDallas
Pictures. He created tributes for seven Academy
Awards telecasts, honoring industry legends such as James
Stewart, Billy Wilder and George Lucas (narrated by Steven Spielberg.)
For the American Film Institute, he supervised the theatrical feature
America at the Movies, and co-executive produced three AFI Life Achievement
Award Specials on CBS.
In 1998, he directed the historical feature The Legend of Two-Path. The elaborate production has a cast of 40 and was filmed on location at Roanoak Island, North Carolina and at studios in Winston-Salem. Other television documentaries include War and Peace, a look at the great war films narrated by James Woods ("AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies," TNT), Future Flight, about visionary deep space voyages hosted by Christopher Reeve (Discovery), and Pillar of Fire, a two-hour history of the founding of Israel narrated by Jason Robards (TNT).
Harrison Engle is a member of the Directors Guild of America. He is past president of the International Documentary Association, where he founded the IDA Awards, served as publisher of their magazine, Documentary, and chaired the first International Documentary Congress, hosted by Walter Cronkite. He also designed the organization’s motion logo. Harrison has served on media arts panels for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has lectured on film at USC, UCLA, North Carolina School of the Arts and other schools, and written articles for publications such as Film Comment. In 2004-5, he was faculty for the Harold Lloyd Master Seminars at the American Film Institute, which presented such noted filmmakers as Alexander Payne (Sideways), Taylor Hackford (Ray), and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
Today, Harrison enjoys the process of filmmaking more than ever. “I love to find a story that illuminates the human condition,” he says, “and then to use the most artistic and dramatic ways to put that story on screen. It’s a joy to reach and touch an audience.”