The Master of Direct Cinema By Ville Hänninen

in 48th Leipzig International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Ville Hänninen

One of the main guests of the Leipzig Film Festival (3.-9.10.2005) was a veteran of documentary films, the American Albert Maysles. Five of his documentary films were shown during the festival: Psychiatry in Russia (1955), Salesman (1968, with David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin), Grey Gardens (1976, with David Maysles), Christo in Paris (1990, with David Maysles) and LaLee’s Kin ­- The Legacy of Cotton (2001, with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson). Maysles also held a masterclass with filmmakers and docuphiles in which he spoke about his career and films.

Albert Maysles, 78, was, with his brother David (1932-1987), one of the main dynamos of the so-called Direct Cinema movement. Because of more mobile cameras, one could more easily delve into the real lives of people and depict them as objectively and truthfully as possible. While other auteurs of Direct Cinema (or cinema verité in France) were aiming at the same virtues in fiction, the Maysles brothers did the same in documentary films.

“The technical revolution made verité films possible”, he explained. “We could get behind the scenes. I have made films about famous and interesting people such as Truman Capote and bands like The Rolling Stones but also about ordinary people. With both I used the same approach. For the whole of my career, I have been trying to create a connection between filmmaker and people who are part of the movie. My parents taught me to believe in people, which I have done. First you have to create an atmosphere in which they can trust you. Then you must observe so well that you find out what’s important – and capture it.”

During the masterclass, Maysles revealed that he’s working on numerous projects at the moment. Perhaps the most interesting one is Hand-held and from the Heart, a film about his life as a filmmaker. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years now. The film will both celebrate that and tell other people about my philosophy of directing and how I ended up making the films that I made.”

Altogether Maysles is planning 4 or 5 different documentaries. One is about one of the Central Park projects of Christo, the artist that Maysles has followed in four documentary films thus far. Maysles would also like to make another documentary about The Rolling Stones. His first film about them, Gimme Shelter (1970), is famous because it revealed how four people were killed by The Hell’s Angels during the gig. “Hopefully filmmaking will take place under more pleasant conditions this time”, Maysles says sarcastically.

Maysles is also planning a documentary film about people that one occasionally meets on a train. You know, total strangers, that appear to be most extraordinary personalities with great stories to tell. I’m quite sure that it will be the best film I have ever made.