Twin Cities native finds the connection between her uncle and Andy Warhol

Danny Williams
Danny Williams as seen in "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory," directed by Esther B. Robinson, 2007.
Film still copyright The Andy Warhol Museum. All rights reserved

Growing up in the Twin Cities, Esther Robinson never heard much about her late uncle, Danny Williams. She moved to New York as her career as a film producer blossomed.

One day her grandmother visited her at work. Her office was in a building owned by the Warhol Foundation for the Arts.

Esther Robinson
Film director Esther Robinson says her film, "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory," is a documentary about her late uncle -- but it's a film about memory.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Robinson's life changed when she introduced her grandmother to one of the foundation staff members.

"She starts talking about my uncle Daniel. And to be honest, in my life I had never heard her speak about him," Robinson says. "He had disappeared mysteriously in the '60s, and it was one of those family things that everyone knows and no one talks about."

"So all of a sudden, through the sheer force of chemical attraction, my grandmother is flirting with this guy, and she's saying things like, 'Well, my son Danny was Andy Warhol's boyfriend, and he lived with Andy and his mother.' And I'm thinking, what?" Robinson laughs.

The story quickly took another twist. Robinson says someone passing in the corridor overheard her uncle's name, and told her she needed to call the Warhol Foundation's film archivist immediately. She called and discovered that when her uncle died, he left 20 films the family knew nothing about.

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol as seen in "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory," directed by Esther B. Robinson, 2007 (Film stills courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum. © 2006--2007 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, a museum of Carnegie Institute. All rights reserved. Andy Warhol)
Film still copyright The Andy Warhol Museum. All rights reserved

This set Robinson on a seven-year project, where she interviewed many of the surviving people who worked with Warhol at the Factory. And she was able to get a picture of what life was like for her uncle at the center of a creative maelstrom.

The results led Esther to make a film, "A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory," which will be screened this weekend at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The Walker will also screen three of Danny Williams' films in their entirety, including the earliest footage of the Velvet Underground.

MPR's Euan Kerr spoke with Esther Robinson about the experience of discovering more about her uncle's life, and making the film to tell the story.

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