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Experimental Filmmaker And Emerson College Professor Robert Todd Has Died At 54

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Robert Todd — a beloved 54-year-old filmmaker and Emerson College professor for more than 18 years — has died. He was an active, influential Boston-based artist and had been the associate chair of the school’s Department of Visual and Media Arts.

In a statement released Saturday, Emerson president Lee Pelton confirmed his passing to the school community.

Todd was reported missing on Aug. 16. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

“It is with deep sadness that I must inform you of the passing of Professor Robert Todd, who was a faculty member and part of the Emerson community for more than 18 years,” Pelton wrote. “Robert brought extraordinary talents, incredible vision and outstanding dedication to his art, and to his teaching. He inspired filmmakers of all ages at Emerson, giving generously of his time and energy to his fellow artists over the years.”

The president offered condolences to Todd's students, colleagues, family and wife — Tessa Day, a fellow artist, writer and a graduate student at Emerson.

Todd is known for creating patient, short-to-medium length 16mm films and videos that are hard to describe and categorize.

One titled “Life in the Shadows” was posted a week ago on the filmmaker’s Vimeo page. Its black and white imagery begins with a woman and child frolicking and twirling on a swing, then shifts to glistening dew drops clinging to leaves, then to a shimmering snail inching its way across the soil and up a brick wall. It ends with the words: “Dedicated to a beloved childhood pet.”

You can see a very different side of Todd’s craft through his documentary piece, “In Loving Memory: Testimonials of Death Row Inmates regarding Life.” As it's described, the film features people facing the end of their days as they reflect on “the good deeds they’ve done while living under the most difficult of circumstances imaginable.”

Todd Earned a Master of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts at Tufts, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts. He also taught at the Art Institute of Boston, UMass, Boston College and the Boston Film/Video Foundation.

His films have screened all over the world at festivals including the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Slamdance Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival and many others. Todd also worked as a sound editor for series including NOVA, Independent Lens and American Experience.

Colleagues and former students including Adam Roffman have been remembering Todd on social media. Roffman founded the Boston Independent Film Festival and has gone on to be an On Set Dresser for big-budget, Hollywood films shot locally, including "Black Mass," "American Hustle" and "Ghostbusters."

In his letter to the community, which was drafted in conjunction with Todd's family, Pelton says he will share more information about services -- "a celebration of [Todd's] life of extraordinary energy, prolific curiosity, warmth, and unending generosity of spirit" — when it becomes available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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