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Getting into filmmaking: training for making Psychiatry in Russia
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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I first got into filmmaking in an unusual way. It was 1955 and I was teaching Psychology at Boston University. In fact it was my third year of teaching. And I had a summer vacation coming up and the year before, having traveled all over Europe on a motorcycle. I thought- wouldn't it be interesting to go beyond that and somehow or other go to Russia- totally unknown person to person sort of country where all the news was really speculation as to what's going on behind the Kremlin- all political facts and theories. And I wanted to meet up with ordinary people and so I got a visa, a month visa, as a tourist which was easy to do although most people at that time thought well, who's going to give an American a visa to go to Russia when it's such a- when the Cold War is still on and so forth. Though that was easy. And- but then I thought okay, what an opportunity to do something that I knew something about. Maybe I could get into mental hospitals. I had already worked in a mental hospital. I knew something about mental hospitals. I was a psychologist; had done research at the Massachusetts General Hospital on hypnosis and sleep. And so with that kind of familiarity with that piece of- of life, I thought okay, maybe I can get into the hospitals. I think that not being a writer, maybe I could take photographs should I have the opportunity to make that kind of visit. And so I hitchhiked to New York, went to Life Magazine with a batch of professional photographs taken in hospitals, photographs that were taken by a professional friend of mine. And I presented those pictures as my own but that didn't help because I only went- got so far as to their saying okay, when you come back with your photographs we'd like to see them. But that wasn't enough to sponsor my trip in any way. And so, having left Time and Life I was walking down the street and I saw a sign that said CBS and so I walked in and I asked if I could see one of their famous guys, Edward R. Murrow. And they asked- well, why do you want to see him? Because I'm a psychologist and I'm planning to visit mental hospitals. They didn't question me any further and I showed them my passport and such, and they said but Mr. Murrow is on vacation; you should see the head of the news department. So it wasn't long before I was given a 16mm wind up movie camera and a roll of film and was told look, you're flying out of New York a week from now on your way to Helsinki and then Moscow, on your visit to New York allow for three hours before going to the airport and we'll process this roll of film that you would have shot something on, right. And we'll project it and give you a critique. That was my training.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles Tamara Tracz

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Boston University, Europe, Russia, Kremlin, Cold War, New York, Life Magazine, Time, Helsinki, Moscow, CBS, Edward R Murrow

Duration: 4 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008