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Silverdocs Documentary FF

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival taking place June 21-27, 2010 at the AFI Silver Theater


Honoring Documentary Royalty At Silverdocs


by Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor

In a theater full of documentary filmmakers and film lovers, the appearance of an eminence grise the likes of Albert Maysles is the equivalent of having a member of documentary royalty in your midst. Maysles, along with his late brother David, was responsible for some of the most iconic documentaries of the past fifty years and has served as a mentor to hundreds of filmmakers.

Albert Maysles is widely recognized as a pioneer of “direct cinema” and regarded as one of America’s foremost non-fiction filmmakers. He was honored last evening at the SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival as its 2009 Charles Guggenheim Symposium honoree, the climax of this internationally recognized eight-day non-fiction celebration. The Symposium, named after the late, four-time Academy Award winner Charles Guggenheim, honors a filmmaker who has mastered the power of documentary and inspires audiences with powerful explorations of the human experience.

Maysles has directed over 35 films and was the cinematographer on 64 others, creating (in collaboration with his late brother David and other filmmakers) some of the most influential and memorable non-fiction films ever produced.  Three of his films reached cult status: SALESMAN (1968), capturing the bygone era of a door-to-door Bible salesman; GIMME SHELTER (1970), a powerful account of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 American tour culminating in their infamous and violent free concert at the Altamont Speedway; and GREY GARDENS (1976), an intimate portrait of high society dropouts, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, “Little Edie” - reclusive cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. 

In his storied career, Maysles has created portraits of some of the iconic figures of the 20th century, including The Beatles, Marlon Brando, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, Muhammad Ali and President John F. Kennedy. He was also interested in the careers and motivations of musical artists and produced works on the pianist Vladimir Horowitz, the soprano Jessye Norman, the cellist Milo Rostropovich and the conductor Sieji Ozawa. He developed a particular affinity for the epic environmental work of the conceptual artist team Christo and Jeanne-Claude, having made five films with them, including CHRISTO'S VALLEY CURTAIN (1974), RUNNING FENCE (1978), ISLANDS (1986), CHRISTO IN PARIS (1990) and THE GATES (2007).

Christo and Jeanne-Claude introduced the tribute evening at the AFI Silver Theater by commenting on Albert Maysles' tremendous sensitivity and appreciation for just the right gesture that made them feel that he (with his brother David) were the perfect celluloid compliment to their sprawling environmental art installations. "He is someone we always felt we could trust, who could best explain our vision and shared our dedication", they commented.

Then, two-time Oscar winning documentarian Barbara Kopple came to the stage. Kopple had her first professional job after graduating college at Maysles Films, the company the brothers ran along with their retinue of grips, producers, sound people and other technicians. "It was truly amazing to be in the presence of Albert and David and to see their dedication to their work. I learned so much about how to make films, but more importantly, how to fight for my own personal vision when I was able to do my own work. Albert has inspired me and countless other young directors to follow their instincts and realize their dreams", Kopple said.

Afterwards, the man himself was brought to the stage for a conversation with Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum, an obvious fan. Maysles talked about his approach to filmmaking, including the need for a "poetic eye that captures the simple things", which is a hallmark of his best work. Trained as a psychologist, he used subtle psychological techniques to get his subjects to open up and be their truest selves in front of the camera, and his instincts informed him where to shoot and how long to hold the shot. "To honor me alone just doesn't seem right", the modest Mr. Maysles declared. "Film is such a collaborative process and, in documentaries in particular, so dependent on the involvement of your crew. We would have missed so many important moments if we didn't surround ourselves with so many talented and dedicated professionals."

Still going strong at the age of 83, Maysles is currently in production on the films IN TRANSIT, SCAPEGOAT ON TRIAL and HANDHELD AND FROM THE HEART and is working on his own autobiographical documentary. In 2005, he founded the Maysles Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides training and apprenticeships to underprivileged individuals in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

As a man, as an artist, as a filmmaker and as a force of nature, Albert Maysles is a true inspiration and someone who has left us with a wonderful legacy of images that people were will be viewing and commenting on for many moons to come.



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About Silverdocs Documentary FF

Sandy Mandelberger
(International Media Resources)

Online Dailies Coverage of SILVERDOCS: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, taking place at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland from June 21 to 27, 2010.

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