Robert M. Young was born in the Bronx, New York, the son of Al Young, a successful editor who founded DuArt Film & Video. Young attended MIT for chemical engineering as his father tried to persuade him not to follow his dream of being a director. After two years of college Young left to join the Navy during World War II and acted as a photographer in the Pacific theatre. It was there that he developed a love of other cultures and their stories, prompting him to want to pursue directing even more. Following the war he attended Harvard University where he studied English literature, further improving his storytelling and writing abilities. His first major film work came in 1956 for the documentary Secrets of the Reef which Young directed, wrote and acted as cinematographer. This caught the eye of producer Merian C. Cooper whose mentorship had a profound effect on Young’s career. Young continued working in documentaries helming Sit-In (1960), Angola: Journey to a War (1961), Cortile Cascino (1961), and on the news series World Wide ’60, among others.
Young’s first experience in scripted feature films came in 1964 for Nothing But a Man, for which Young served as producer, writer and cinematographer. He then directed the television movie J.T. (1969) and served as director and cinematographer of several National Geographic documentary specials on Africa; Search for the Great Apes (1976), Bushmen of the Kalahari (1974), Man of Serengeti (1972), and The Last Tribes of Mindanao (1972). Young was then able to direct his first feature film, the critically acclaimed Alambrista! (1977), which he also shot and wrote. The story of Mexican immigrants in America, it was elected to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1994. The success of this film led to a long career in feature films, television, and two more documentaries, Children of Fate: Life and Death in a Sicilian Family (1993) and The Maze (2011). Young’s feature film work includes Short Eyes (1977), Rich Kids (1979), One Trick Pony (1980), Extremities (1986), Dominick and Eugene (1988), Triumph of the Spirit (1989), Caught (1996), and Human Error (2004), among others. His television credits include the movies We Are the Children (1987), Solomon & Sheba (1995), Slave of Dreams (1995), and episodes of the series American Playhouse and Battlestar Galactica.
Young’s films have won awards at film festivals around the world, most notably the Golden Camera Award at the Cannes Film Festival for Alambrista! in 1978 and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Children of Fate: Life and Death in a Sicilian Family in 1993. An active member of the Directors Guild, Young has served on the Western Independent Directors Committee.