Back to Films



Helmed by Academy and Emmy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, THE APOLLO chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of the New York City landmark, the Apollo Theater. The documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy and dance performances, and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. THE APOLLO features interviews with artists including Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson, and Jamie Foxx.

THE APOLLO covers the rich history of the storied performance space over its 85 years and follows a new production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as it comes to the theater’s grand stage. The creation of this vibrant multi-media stage show frames the way in which THE APOLLO explores the current struggle of black lives in America, the role that art plays in that struggle and the broad range of African American achievement that the Apollo Theater represents.

The Apollo Theater is internationally renowned for having influenced American and pop culture more than any other entertainment venue. The space has created opportunities for new talent to be seen and has served as a launchpad for a myriad of artists including Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Luther Vandross, Dave Chappelle, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, and more.

The Filmmakers

Roger Ross Williams Director

Roger Ross Williams is an award-winning director, producer and writer and the first African American director to win an Academy Award ® with his short film MUSIC BY PRUDENCE.

“Beautiful,” “Uplifting,” “Extraordinary,” “Triumphant,” “Rich with insight,” “Searing,” “Remarkable,” and “Inspirational” are accolades Williams’ films have received from the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Forbes, Stephen Colbert and Entertainment Weekly.

Williams has directed a number of acclaimed films including LIFE, ANIMATED, which won the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award, was nominated for an Academy Award® and won three Emmys in 2018, including the award for Best Documentary. He also directed GOD LOVES UGANDA, which was shortlisted for an Academy Award®, and AMERICAN JAIL, which examined the U.S. prison system and premiered on CNN last July.  Williams’ most recent project, TRAVELING WHILE BLACK, a VR documentary made for Facebook’s Oculus, premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. His current film THE APOLLO, a documentary about Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, is the opening night film of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and he is currently in pre-production on his first narrative feature film for Amazon Studios.

His production company, One Story Up, is producing a variety of projects including two limited documentary series for Netflix. One Story Up specializes in creating documentary films, television, streaming series and specials, animation and VR. Since 2016, Williams has been on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, serving as chair of the Documentary Branch and the documentary Diversity Committee.  Williams serves on the Alumni Advisory Board of the Sundance Institute, the Advisory Board of Full Frame Festival, and the boards of the Tribeca Film Institute, Docubox Kenya, None On Record and the Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art Africa.  He resides in New York and Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Lisa Cortés Producer

Lisa Cortés is an Academy Award®–nominated Producer whose credits include PRECIOUS; THE WOODSMAN; and SHADOWBOXER. Her work with trailblazing companies such as Rush Artist Management, Def Jam Records, and Lee Daniels Entertainment has been distinguished by her commitment to empowering inclusive voices, and giving light to challenging visionary stories. Her productions have received over 70 international awards and nominations, including the Academy Award®.

Prior to her film career, Cortés worked with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to launch the iconic Def Jam brand. Later, as Vice President of Artists and Repertoire at Mercury Records, she signed many multi platinum and Grammy® Award-winning artists, and founded the iconoclastic label, Loose Cannon Records.

Since launching her production company, Cortés Films, she has collaborated with directors including Ernest Dickerson and Gabourey Sidibe, producing innovative features, documentaries and short films that assert the centrality of diverse and untold stories while delighting audiences. She is currently producing and co-directing the documentary, THE REMIX: HIP HOP X FASHION. 

Cortés is a Member of the Producers branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and serves on the Boards of the Film Society of Lincoln Center; ITVS; Yaddo, the celebrated artists’ community in Saratoga Springs; as well as the Trajal Harrell Dance Company. 

Nigel Sinclair Producer

Nigel Sinclair launched White Horse Pictures in 2014 with longtime business partner, Guy East. Prior to launching White Horse, Sinclair was the CEO and Co- Chairman of Exclusive Media, a global independent film company that financed, produced and globally distributed feature films and documentaries. 

With East, Sinclair launched their independent feature film and television production company, Spitfire Pictures, in 2003, which signed a first-look development and production deal with the British horror studio, HAMMER, in 2007. Prior to starting Spitfire, Sinclair and East co-founded Intermedia Films, one of the world’s leading independent producers.

Sinclair acts as lead producer on White Horse Pictures documentary projects. His documentary producer’s credits include such award-winning films as Martin Scorsese’s GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIALS WORLD and NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN, AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO, THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA, “1” and both the Oscar-winning UNDEFEATED, the Grammy-winning FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH. Sinclair has won a number of awards, including a Peabody, a Dupont, and multiple Emmys and Grammys.

With Exclusive, Sinclair produced PARKLAND starring Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton and Paul Giamatti; SNITCH, starring Dwayne Johnson; and END OF WATCH, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera.

Sinclair’s other film credits include SLIDING DOORS, starring Gwyneth Paltrow; TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; Alan Parker’s THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE, starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet; THE QUIET AMERICAN, starring Michael Caine; and THE WEDDING PLANNER, starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.

Sinclair attended Cambridge University in the U.K., and earned a Master of Law from Columbia University in New York.

Jeanne Elfant Festa Producer

Jeanne is the Head of Documentaries & Director of Features at White Horse Pictures and oversees the company’s documentary slate. Before joining the White Horse creative producing team, she operated her own production company, Piper Cub Productions. With Piper Cub Productions, she had a first look deal with Exclusive Media and joined forces there with Nigel Sinclair, executive producing the Grammy-winning documentary FOO FIGHTERS: BACK AND FORTH, directed by James Moll. Since joining White Horse Pictures, she has served on the producing team for the Grammy & Emmy winning, BAFTA-nominated, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK - THE TOURING YEARS, directed by Ron Howard, and is currently producing THE APOLLO, directed by Roger Ross Williams, and PAVAROTTI, directed by Ron Howard, both releasing in 2019. Jeanne is also producing the forthcoming authorized Bee Gees documentary directed by Frank Marshall as well as a number of other high-end documentaries and projects now on White Horse’s slate.

Cassidy Hartmann Producer

Hartmann is the Head of Development at White Horse Pictures and oversees the company’s television slate. She was part of the production team and a consulting writer on the Grammy & Emmy -winning, BAFTA-nominated, THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK - THE TOURING YEARS, as well as the upcoming PAVAROTTI documentary, both directed by Ron Howard. Hartmann was also a producer on the documentary MOLE MAN, premiering in the spring of 2019 on Sundance Now, which was produced in conjunction with the crowd-sourced studio Tongal. She is a consulting writer on White Horse’s upcoming documentary on the Bee Gees, directed by Frank Marshall. Cassidy began her career as a journalist for the Philadelphia Weekly, and her reporting was a part of MTV network’s Emmy-winning “Think” campaign. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and holds an M.F.A. from the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California.


The APOLLO has been nominated for an Emmy Award!


The film has been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special! Congratulations to Roger Ross Williams, Lisa Cortés,  and the entire APOLLO team.

See the full list of nominations here.

THE APOLLO airs on HBO tonight!


The film premieres on HBO tonight at 9pm ET and will be available on demand beginning tomorrow, November 7th.

Watch the trailer here.

Festivals & Awards

Tribeca Film Festival


Opening Night Film of the 2019 Tribeca Tribeca Film Festival!

The Apollo Theater has been a cultural anchor on Harlem’s West 125th St. since 1934, and through its doors have passed the most legendary African American artists of the past nine decades. Academy Award® winning filmmaker and Tribeca alum Roger Ross Williams looks at the storied history of this iconic space while following the Apollo’s inaugural staging of Ta-Nehisi Coates' acclaimed Between the World and Me. 

The Apollo Theater itself represents the ongoing struggle of black lives in America and The Apollo demonstrates the elemental role that art plays in that struggle by highlighting the broad range of African American achievement that has been discovered, championed, and thrived on its stage. The Tribeca Film Festival is proud to open our program in 2019 with this celebration of art and community in New York City. 

—Cara Cusumano

+ Festival Website


THE APOLLO feels like both a necessary lesson and a gift.”

-Entertainment Weekly

Essential history and quintessential performance expertly woven together to remind us what lasting, vibrant artistry and community looks like.”

-Los Angeles Times

A bracing and moving look at how a parade of extraordinary popular artists redefined black America — and America, period — from one stage.”