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A documentarian, first and foremost

The Week Ahead

April 09, 2007|Susan King

Documentarian Albert Maysles, whom French director Jean-Luc Godard once described as "the best American cameraman," will discuss his career and approach to filmmaking at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 2007 John Huston Lecture on Documentary Film.

The Oscar-nominated Maysles will also show clips from such lauded works as "Gimme Shelter" and "Grey Gardens" on Thursday evening at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.

Maysles, 80, and his late brother David were among the first documentarians to make feature films in which the drama unfolded without sets, scripts, interviews or narration. Albert Maysles made his first film, "Psychiatry in Russia," in 1955 after teaching psychology at Boston University for three years.

The brothers teamed in the early 1960s to make acclaimed films about producer Joseph E. Levine ("Showman"), Marlon Brando ("Meet Marlon Brando") and Truman Capote ("With Love From Truman"). They even chronicled the Fab Four's first trip to the United States in 1964 in "What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A."

It was 1968's "Salesman," an uncompromising look at door-to-door Bible salesmen, that put them on the international map.

The brothers' "Grey Gardens," which chronicles the bizarre lives of two distant relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has been transformed into a hit Broadway play this season.

Maysles continues to work, explaining that he enjoys making documentaries "more than ever. Anytime I make another film, I have gotten closer and closer to my goal of just reaching out to everybody."

The key to making a successful documentary, he says, is to have the viewer connect with the subject and feel as if "they are in the shoes of that person on the screen and present at whatever is going on."

During the last year, Maysles started a program in Harlem to teach children ages 8 to 12 how to use a video camera.

"The kids are disadvantaged to begin with, but they also have the added burden of missing a parent because that parent is in jail. So the kids will make a little film, a personal expression, and we will make a DVD of it and then we will send it off to the parent in jail. So there is a wonderful communication that takes place."

Maysles is also in the midst of making a documentary about people he has met on trains.

"I filmed a woman who was on a train because she had never seen her mother since she was 3. She had just gotten a call from her [mother] saying to 'Get on the next train and I'll be waiting for you.' I filmed the whole encounter. I hope to get back to it this year -- as soon as I get the money to do more filming."

For information about the lecture: (310) 247-3000 or www.oscars.org.

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-- Susan King

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