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Making friends while making films

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Family epitaphs and empathy for our subjects
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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Going back really to just a few years after I started making films and realizing that I had the kind of equipment where I could portray very accurately in sound and picture what was going on, the world around me, I had this idea of making a film where I would travel in a number of countries on a train- long distance trains- and find people that I found interesting, especially because when they were about to get off the train a story might develop and a film would be made of all those short stories. And my brother had this idea of telling the story of my father and a cousin of mine- two of his heroes and my heroes as well. And so I began my train film and David began his film of my- and his- two heroes. And in making the film of our heroes it was difficult because both of them had passed away but there were cousins who knew them, there was a young woman that was engaged to my cousin whom we could film. And I remember particularly going to the cemetery where my cousin, my mother and my father were buried and somebody came along with us to film our experience in revisiting the cemetery. And my mother's tombstone had her last words that she wanted written as an epithet and she chose to have the following- count on me as one who loved her fellow man. And for my father's, my- my mother who used to read my letters, which I find kind of charming, and when my father died I wrote a letter to my best friend and when she picked up on it she chose a sentence from the letter which- wherein I described my father as a- as a layman but a great person which I think was my expression of my faith as a filmmaker also in finding what's good in ordinary people. And then there was my cousin's tombstone. His brother-in-law who was a poet who wrote some words in praise of my cousin. I don't remember all of the words but there was the expression that Alan, who was a pilot, you understand, he was a war pilot right- that Alan is still flying. And I guess in a way he is. And I remember my mother, who was a kind of a poet herself, certainly not of a professional grade but with all the kind of heart and sensitivity that a poet has, I remember her talking on the phone telling a friend of hers of my cousin's recent death and telling that- describing the way he died in the most succinct and poetic fashion. She said- well, the plane came down and Alan fell out. I don't know of any more touching way to express it. There was a lot of love in my family and there's a lot of love that has gone into each film that my brother and I made. And I think it's because we did empathize with the people that we filmed that we were able to get the best out of the story and out of them, and, and get the kind of access that is quite unusual, access that gave us the opportunity to connect heart to heart with the people we filmed and the films show that. I think they're all the better for that kind of connection that we made. I mean, and then there are some documentary filmmakers that make their connection through their hatred for a particular person but I don't think you can get so, as far with hatred as you can with love, nor would I want to.

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: Tamara Tracz Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

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.

Tags: David Maysles

Duration: 5 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008