Robin Williams died in 2014, but the comedian was very much alive for filmmaker Marina Zenovich while making her documentary about his life and career, “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind.” Zenovich told the crowd after a showing of her film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series that now “it’s starting to sink in.”
“When we finished the film, I think we were so excited to finish it, and then playing it at Sundance was so exciting, and in some way Robin was still alive to me.” Watching it months after its debut on HBO, however, has been an emotional experience.
Zenovich brought the comedian’s career to life thanks to her fellow executive producer, Williams’ longtime manager and close friend David Steinberg. “After Robin passed, I immediately started thinking about his legacy and how future generations would become aware of Robin [and] his genius,” he said. “I’ve managed a lot of comedians and I’ve just never seen one who worked the way he worked.”
It was Steinberg who went to HBO with the project that eventually became “Come Inside My Mind.” The film follows Williams from his childhood (in Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco) through each stage of his career, interviewing close friends and family on the way.
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“It’s my own personal theory that Robin’s genius came from him being so alone and creating his own playmates,” Steinberg said of his friend’s lonely childhood. “He loved military history, he loved political science… that ability of his, that mental and physical dexterity, came from creating all those characters in his head because he was alone.”
The film mixes those interviews with never-before-seen archival footage of the comedian himself.
“We knew we wanted to use Robin’s voice and have him tell his story,” Zenovich said, which included an= interview from the ‘70s discovered by archivists. “It was those kind of archival gems that you’re praying for. We were really searching for the real Robin under the performance.”
In the process, Zenovich learned “Just how bright he was… how well-read he was… and how giving he was.” Williams was committed to helping the homeless, kids in hospitals, and the military, via USO tours. “It was almost like he had a need to give… but he didn’t know how to give to himself.”
One thing the two-hour film does not touch on is Williams’ struggle with depression. Zenovich said the omission was intentional.
“I think we preferred to let that sit,” she said. “We wanted to celebrate him more. That’s kind of a whole different film.”
Added Steinberg, “The whole idea of this was to celebrate the genius of Robin. It wasn’t what happened medically to him, it was how… all of that worked to make him who he was.”
“Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind” is available to watch on HBO.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.