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With the Filmmaker: Portraits by Albert Maysles


LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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Well another, another film that we did for HBO was to do a film of a very poor family. This one, my brother having died some bef- years before, I made with Susan Froemke, and there're several moments in that film that are totally unforgettable. There's a moment when the little boy- mind you, now, this is a film of a black family, of an extended black family, very, very poor, in Mississippi, the Delta region; and the little boy, who's a great-grandson of grandma, who's the main character in the film, she's talking to him one day about what he wants to be when he grows up. And, full of smiles, he says- I want to be in jail. Sometimes moments like that really tell it all, y'know? And, of course, the father and, and- none of the, none of the male population is around; they're, they're in jail. So a number of them- perhaps his father, I forget at this moment. There's another moment in the film where the grand-daughter, only 12 years old or so she's sitting at a- with her head down, just outside of the trailer, and grandma comes over to her, to ask her how was the three days that had gone- I'm sorry- three days had just gone by, school had already begun and she hasn't been going to school. And she says- oh, I don't have the paper and pencil that I'm required to have. So grandma has to find paper and pencil, somehow or other, so she can continue school. Well, as it develops, she seems to be the most promising student in the, in the whole family, enough so that there's a good possibility that she may even get into college. But still she's only 13 or 14 at this point, right? And we got news not so long ago; she's pregnant. Which puts an end to her dreams. I mean people- people- millions of people, I dunno, tens of millions of people who've seen that film now, y'know, now they know what they didn't know before. They know what poverty is really like, from having experienced it through people who were experiencing it. That, that's so important in itself. And so we've gotten many calls from people who asked us- what can we do? How can we help? And so there's a Foundation through which they can contribute. And we- and we learn directly how these children, who come from a family of illiterate people, you know, and therefore are ill disposed toward learning much of anything, right, but then they go to a school where even- even if they had better education at home, there was nothing for them to learn because- in the school, because the school's just dedicated to improving their SAT scores. So, to learn how to take an SAT score is not to get an education. All that becomes very clear in the film.

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 Tamara Tracz Sara Maysles

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.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

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: HBO Mississippi, Susan Froemke, David Maysles

Duration: 3 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010