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Arts center honors documentary film pioneers

March 1, 2006

Photo of D.A. Pennebaker with collaborator Chris HegedusSFSU's Documentary Film Institute will honor American documentary filmmaking pioneers Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker with the $25,000 George and Judy Marcus Lifetime Achievement Award during a retrospective of the filmmakers' work at the de Young Museum and Castro Theatre, March 2 – 5. Twenty-two of their films will be screened, and both will participate in question-and-answer sessions.

"Decades before network television's version of reality, Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker were documenting life, unscripted, as it happened," said Professor Stephen Ujlaki, Documentary Film Institute director and Cinema Department chair.

Both filmmakers are credited with originating the cinema vérité, or "direct cinema," style of American documentaries of the 1960s. They developed an unobtrusive, handheld, "fly-on-the-wall" filming style, and sparked technical innovations that have revolutionized documentary filmmaking, such as using lightweight, synchronous sound equipment that allows full portability. The duo's combined body of work is extensive and varied.

Photo of Richard LeacockLeacock, who as a young man spent three years shooting combat photography in Burma and China, has said that he has always strived to make films that give viewers the "feeling of being there." His 2002 film, "A Musical Adventure in Siberia with Sarah Caldwell," will screen at the festival, as will "A Stravinsky Portrait," the filmmakers' 1965 collaboration with Rolf Liebermann.

Leacock's and Pennebaker's collaboration "Monterey Pop," which captured performances by Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and many others during the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, will also screen at the festival.

"Both of us trained as 'techies' -- [Pennebaker] in electrical engineering at MIT and me in physics at Harvard -- but both of us madly enjoy observational and imaginative filmmaking," Leacock said in an e-mail from France, where he lives.

"Don't Look Back," Pennebaker's 1967 release about folk singer Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of England, is considered the first "rockumentary." Pennebaker's collection of work -- in collaboration with Chris Hegedus -- includes documentaries on jazz great and SFSU Artist-in-Residence Branford Marsalis, pop icons David Bowie and Depeche Mode, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and rock 'n' roller Jerry Lee Lewis, among many other artists.

Pennebaker explored politics and economics with such films as "The War Room," "," PBS' "The Energy War" and "Jingle Bells," about Robert F. Kennedy as he celebrates Christmas 1964 with Sammy Davis Jr. and New York City schoolchildren.

SFSU's Documentary Film Institute, which supports nonfiction filmmakers by bringing their films to the attention of wider audiences, is a project of the University’s International Center for the Arts, which is housed in the College of Creative Arts.

SF State alumni George and Judy Marcus donated $3 million to establish the center in 2005. Israel "Cachao" Lopez, known as the creator of Mambo music and the "godfather of Cuban bass," was the first recipient of the Marcus Prize in 2005.

All screenings before 7:30 p.m. are free. Screenings after 7:30 p.m. are $10. Tickets are available online at Ticket Web. For details, call (415) 338-1519 or visit the Documentary Film Institute Web site.

-- Student Writer Gary Moskowitz with Matt Itelson
Photos: Leacock courtesy of Richard Leacock; Pennebaker and Hegedus by Dan Cappellazo


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Last modified March 1, 2006 by University Communications