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Guest blog: Bart Weiss Remembers Ricky Leacock

by Anne Bothwell 29 Mar 2011 10:16 AM

Guest blogger Bart Weiss writes that Ricky Leacock, who died last Wednesday, was an important historic figure in the creation of the American documentary.


Guest blogger Bart Weiss is the Artistic Director of Videofest.

Ricky Leacock died last Wednesday. So did Elizabeth Taylor. Ricky didn’t make the front page, but he was an important historic figure in the creation of the American documentary. I won’t go into his accomplishments in details; The New York Times already did that really well.  And there’s more on Leacock’s website.

The thumbnail is: he was one of those guys. The guys who worked with Robert Drew to make Primary and other films that created direct cinema or if you prefer, cinéma vérité. Those guys include D.A. Pennybaker  and the brothers Al and Dave Maysles. Leacock moved to Paris and was not as present as the others, but his effect was profound.

In 1968, he started a film department at MIT. Around then, there were many films schools popping up, which in and of itself is not big deal. What he pioneered there was working professionally with super 8 film. Super 8 was thought to be an amateur format, but Leacock was interested in using smaller, cheaper gear to get both more intimate portraits of the world and also to put cameras in more people’s hands. He wanted to make film a more populist medium and less an elitist one. He was on the edge of the way video production has been moving since then.

He’s also an important link to doc history in another way. In 1946, he was cameraman for Louisiana Story, and as such he was the last living connection to Robert Flaherty, the maker of Nanook of the North and other documentary films that began something that was called documentary.

On a local level, Chris Vognar recently put Leacock’s Happy Mothers Day on his list of the top five direct cinema films.

Leacock molded a new way of looking at cinema and the documentary. He has been an influence to many film scholars, film geeks and filmmakers. The people he has influenced have made films that have influenced the way you see the world.

We will miss him.