Albert Maysles, Screenings of "Direct Cinema" Pioneer

Date(s) - Saturday 03/29/2014 - 03/30/2014
11:00 pm - 1:00 am

Join us for a presentation on the life and work of Albert Maysles, a pioneer in the world of documentary filmmaking. Co-sponsored by iEAR Presents! and the Arts Department, School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Rensselaer; funded by NYSCA.

Maysles Films has been a leading force in non-fiction film since the 1960s. Albert Maysles, acknowledged by the New York Times in May 2002 as the dean of documentary filmmaking, was one of the early creators of direct cinema along with his brother, David Maysles. They were among the first to capture life as it unfolded before their camera – without scripts, sets, or narration.

“As a documentarian, I happily place my fate and faith in reality. It is my caretaker, the provider of subjects, themes, experiences – all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery. And the closer I adhere to reality, the more honest and authentic my tales. After all, the knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.” – Albert Maysles

More about Albert Maysles

Two of America’s foremost non-fiction filmmakers, Albert Maysles and his brother David (1932-1987) are recognized as pioneers of “direct cinema,” the distinctly American version of French “cinema verité.” They earned their distinguished reputations by being the first to make non-fiction feature films- films in which the drama of human life unfolds as is, without scripts, sets, or narration.

Born in Boston of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Albert received his B.A. at Syracuse University and his M.A. at Boston University where he taught Psychology for three years. He made the transition from Psychology to film in the summer of 1955 by taking a 16mm camera to Russia to film patients at several mental hospitals. The result, Psychiatry in Russia, was Albert’s first foray into filmmaking. Several years later, the Maysles brothers took a motorcycle journey from Munich to Moscow and along the way shot Youth in Poland, their first collaborative film, on the Polish student revolution.

In 1960, Albert was co-filmmaker of Primary, a film about the Democratic primary election campaigns of Kennedy and Humphrey. The use of hand-held cameras and synchronous sound allowed the story to tell itself. With their fine-tuned sense of the scene-behind-the-scene, the Maysles brothers made Meet Marlon Brando (1965) and With Love From Truman (1966). Then they released the landmark non-fiction feature film Salesman (1968), a portrait of four door-to-door Bible salesmen from Boston. It won an award from the National Society of Film Critics and is regarded as the classic American documentary. In 1992, the Library of Congress saluted the film for its historical, cultural and aesthetic significance.

Albert was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1965. His next three films became instant classics. In addition to Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) is the dazzling portrait of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones on their American tour which culminated in a killing at the notorious concert at Altamont. Grey Gardens (1976) captures on film the haunting relationship of the Beales, a mother and daughter living secluded in a decaying East Hampton mansion. These films were released theatrically to great acclaim.

Maysles Films Inc. has produced many films on art and artists, including a long-standing collaboration of celebrated artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose monumental environmental projects were documented in Academy Award-nominated Christo’s Valley Curtain (1974), Running Fence (1978), Islands (1986), Christo in Paris (1990), and Umbrellas (1995) – which won the Grand Prize and People’s Choice Award at the Montreal Festival of Films on Art.

Albert’s forays into the world of music range from What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA (1964) to films on Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Vladimir Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich and Wynton Marsalis, several of which have received Emmy Awards. In 1994, Albert filmed an up-to-date portrait of the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world, Conversations with the Rolling Stones (broadcast on VH1).

Albert worked with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson on Abortion: Desperate Choices, which examined one of the most controversial topics in America (broadcast on HBO in 1993). In 1996, Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (broadcast on HBO) told the stories of three terminally ill patients and their experiences with hospice care. Albert collaborated with Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt on Concert of the Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997). Shot over twelve years, the film chronicles the development of the Los Angeles Center from concept through construction. Most recently, Albert joined with Froemke and Dickson again for the HBO commissioned project LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton, a story of one family’s struggle to break free from the cycles of poverty and illiteracy in the Mississippi Delta.

In 1994, the International Documentary Association presented Albert with their Career Achievement Award. He has received S.M.P.T.E.’s 1997 John Grierson Award for Documentary, the American Society of Cinematographers’ 1998 President’s Award – given for the first time to a documentarian, the Boston Film and Video Foundation’s 1998 Vision Award, Toronto’s Hot Docs 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1999 Flaherty Award and the Thessaloniki 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1999 Eastman Kodak saluted Albert as one of the 100 world’s finest cinematographers.

In 2001, Albert received the Sundance Film Festival Cinematography Award for Documentaries for LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton. Also in 2001, the film was nominated for an Academy Award and in 2004 received the DuPont Columbia Gold Baton Award.

Albert most recent works include directing the short documentary The Secret of Trees, co-directing the feature length documentary The Love We Make, and co-directing the sports documentary Muhammad and Larry, produced as part of ESPN’s critically acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series.

Albert spreads his passion to documentary practice through The Maysles Institute, a not for profit organization located in Harlem.  The Maysles Institute is dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action. Through cinema and education programs, they engage diverse communities in creative self-expression, communicating ideas and advocating needs.

An Interview with Albert Maysles
Jessica Edwards recently published a book of essays she edited, where she asks documentary filmmakers to tell her something — specifically, some words of advice for other documentary filmmakers.  In this excerpt, direct cinema hero Albert Maysles shares his advice for other doc filmmakers. For more info about her book, click here.

“A documentary filmmaker needs to be patient and believe in the process of discovery. Orson Welles described the observational method of allowing things to happen on their own, as divine accidents. We have so much freedom in shooting now; cameras can run eight hours before you have to change cards. It’s good to let shots run a little longer, especially if you feel that there maybe more things to come. In Salesman, the opening scene, it seems to be all over, you can see that he isn’t going to make the sale. Suddenly, on her own, the little girl gets up off of her mother’s lap and goes to the piano and plays a number that is so appropriate to the salesman’s down and out emotional state. We would have lost that if we had cut earlier.

“Authenticity is at the core of a good documentary. You are giving a picture of really what’s going on. So there is a proximity to reality. You are filming people experiencing something so the viewers, when they watch the film, are having that experience for themselves. This allows the viewer to find a common ground as fellow human beings.

“In the process of filming, you are best off not intruding. And it’s very important right from the start to form a relationship with your subject where you are trusted. This way they are allowed to do what comes naturally, to disclose rather then to keep secret. This authenticity and ability to empathize comes from the cameraperson and the director. These are the words that keep coming up for documentary; empathy, experience, open-mindedness.

“I would have the same advice for life. Establish an empathizing relationship. Mostly, with your eyes, so upon meeting someone they will, from the start, catch something in your eyes that indicates there is empathy. And then the rest of your relationship, the empathizing guarantees the subject to continue being himself or herself.”

Selected Filmography: Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970), Grey Gardens (1975), Running Fence (1977), The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006), The Gates (2007).


From 3-5pm before the presentation, Albert Maysles will be leading a master class workshop on direct cinema documentary filmmaking.

Want to participate? Visit the Sanctuary for Independent Media website at