Screened as part of NZIFF 2003
The documentaries of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus have added their zest for music and personality to many Film Festivals including this one, where you can see their latest, Only the Strong Survive, a celebration of the great soul survivors of black American music. Now, thanks to German filmmaker Gerold Hoffman and an international consortium of broadcasters, there’s a documentary about Pennebaker and Hegedus themselves. Anyone who’s been amazed by their unfettered access to riotous behaviour in such films as The War Room, their look at Clinton’s first presidential campaign, will be fascinated by what’s revealed of their filmmaking attitudes and practices in this frank, friendly portrait.
Donn Alan Pennebaker, known to his friends as Penne was, with Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, one of the founding fathers of cinéma vérité, the movement that liberated the documentary camera and made filmmaking much less formal, much more responsive to the moment. All three shot and took co-direction credits on Primary, a film about the 1960 presidential election campaigns of Senator John F. Kennedy, Jr and Hubert Humphrey. The film, which draws much of its abiding allure from the loose, movie-star glamour of JFK and Jackie, was striking in its behind-the-scenes candour and its intimacy with the subjects. In 1965 Pennebaker followed Bob Dylan on his tour of the UK and the resulting combination of backstage hanging-out and concert footage, Don’t Look Now, was the first ever rock music documentary. In 1967 he shot Monterey Pop, at the Monterey music festival, an extraordinary assembly of musical talent and a zeitgeist event. His obvious responsiveness to the performers on stage and the sensitivity with which the film interweaves performance and audience footage to capture the cultural moment established Pennebaker permanently as the musicians’ documentarian of choice.
Chris Hegedus met D.A. Pennebaker in the mid-70s. See What Happens is particularly detailed and interesting about her reclamation of Pennebaker’s footage of a 1971 debate between Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer and other key feminists. Hegedus cut the film in Town Bloody Hall (1979), another distillation of zeitgeist. Over four decades she and Pennebaker, who are a couple in life as well as work, have continued to work together and sometimes slightly apart, as with Hegedus’ excellent dot.com bust chronicle startup.com. See What Happens is studded with clips from their work and shares their ebullient pleasure in the people they have known – and their excitement about the digital technology that will take them closer than ever to people they have yet to meet. — BG