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Roger Ross Williams: A Case Study In Choosing Your Collaborators Wisely

"Let the woman talk. Isn't that the classic thing?" said Elinor Burkett, as she commandeered the mic at the Oscars. How did a seemingly natural collaboration go so wrong?
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Roger Ross Williams hated his job as a television producer. Desperate for something different, he went to the Catskills, N.Y. home of his neighbor, Elinor Burkett, an author and journalist who also has a home in Zimbabwe. "'Save me,'" Burkett jokingly recalls Williams said to her, to an audience in the Catskills in early 2009.

Williams laughs and explains, "I was working in television and I was sick of it. And I couldn't deal with it anymore and I wanted to make an independent feature. And I knew I wanted to do something in Africa. So I said to [Burkett] find me a story in Africa. She found me this amazing story."

The story Williams and Burkett worked on together followed Liyana, a band of disabled musicians in Zimbabwe, featuring a limbless lead singer named Prudence. The documentary, Music by Prudence, won an Academy Award last night for best documentary short. Unfortunately, the film will also be remembered for Burkett, a brash redhead, "Kanye-ing" Williams' acceptance speech. "Let the woman talk. Isn't that the classic thing?" she said, as she commandeered the mic. How did a seemingly natural collaboration go so wrong?

Watching their acceptance speech debacle was an awkward, -- where did this redhead woman come from? Is she drunk?-- and entertaining blemish on an otherwise classic Oscars night. The next day, Alison Bulman, the Senior Editorial Coordinator of the American Journal of Nursing, emailed me that she had met the embattled producers and the inspirational musicians of their documentary. (You can find her coverage here).

How did these two neighbors and media professionals become the biggest drama of the night?

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