RICKY on LEACOCK
Directed by Jane Weiner
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“The most difficult discipline is to film what is there and not what is supposed to be there.” – Ricky Leacock, 14 February 1974
In 1972, Ricky put a Super 8 synch-sound camera in Jane Weiner’s hand and said, “If you want to become a filmmaker, you have to shoot.” Turning her lens on him, she was suddenly transported into another universe: What began as a filmic conversation developed into a filmic adventure that traces the roots of Leacock’s cinematic quest and his role in documentary-making over the last century.
RICKY on LEACOCK is a 38-year journey began by director Jane Weiner as a novice filmmaker, shooting off and on during the intervening years, filming various encounters with Ricky and his contemporaries. Mixing her own footage with film clips and never-before-seen images from Ricky’s personal film archives, this film pays homage to a friend, mentor and, most importantly, allows him to tell his story in his own words.
Presented as an intimate, on-going cinematic conversation with Jane Weiner and other filmmakers, Leacock recounts the periods of his career spent with Robert Flaherty, Robert Drew, DA Pennebaker and others, during which he discusses the roots of his lifelong quest to capture “the feeling of being there.”
Ricky Leacock helped lay the foundation not only for today’s filmmakers, but also for amateur filmmakers all over the world who use portable equipment and new technologies. His pioneering role in the development of hand-held, observational documentary films can be traced through several important eras in film history to the explosion of the small-format ‘being there’ filmmaking of our YouTube generation.
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MORE ON RICKY’S INFLUENCE AND LEGACY
Technically gifted and constantly innovating, Ricky Leacock was always one step ahead of the crowd. Working with DA Pennebaker, Robert Drew, Terry Macartney-Filgate and Albert Maysles, in the late ‘50s, he was a key member of the team that created technical and aesthetic breakthroughs that launched the Cinema vérité documentary movement.
Then, in the late ‘80s, Leacock was one of the first to start experimenting with small-format video – a move that, at the time, many die-hards scoffed at – complaining that, when compared to film, the image quality of video was pretty bad – but this was a decision he never regretted, cheerfully calling it, “totally liberating!”
As protégé of the director-cameraman of NANOOK OF THE NORTH and LOUISIANA STORY, Ricky credits his mentor, Robert Flaherty with teaching him how “not just to look, but how to really see.”
Many associate Ricky with the Leacock-Pennebaker 1968 classic concert film MONTEREY POP, one of the first chronicles of the pop music festivals, and with PRIMARY, widely-recognized as America’s first ‘Cinema vérité’ documentary – featuring its behind-the-scenes access to John F. Kennedy-Hubert Humphrey race in the 1960 Wisconsin primaries. As co-founder of the ‘Film Section’ at MIT, Leacock’s approach was adopted by hundreds of young documentary enthusiasts. But his lasting legacy is as one of the pioneers of the Direct Cinema style of documentary filmmaking.
Never relying on special effects or tricks of camera or editing, Ricky filmed things as they were. Observing rather than confronting, even in the most challenging and contentious circumstances – such as, filming on both sides the Civil Rights Movement – he always relied on real dialogue, real surroundings, and real situations to allow the people themselves show their strengths, foibles, curiosities, and ironies.
Ultimately, it’s “the feeling of being there” that filmmaker Richard Leacock brings to audiences with his documentaries.
When Ricky Leacock died March of 2011, a flood of articles around the world noted his passing, but in America, Slant Magazine summed it up this way:
“In all the hullabaloo over the death of Elizabeth Taylor last week, you may have missed that Richard Leacock died the day after she did. Leacock was a towering figure in the history of documentary, and he may have had more influence than Taylor on film, both documentary and fiction, and on America itself.”
Today, the ‘Direct cinema’ style is used in every genre of film and television today, but few people outside the industry are aware that Ricky Leacock was one of its key architects.
RICKY on LEACOCK is a production of JDB Films, Inc., New York and Striana, Paris
Filmmaker: Jane Weiner
Editors: Jane Weiner and Sebastiàn Eyherabide
Executive Producers: Diane Markrow and Antoine Disle
Jane Weiner is an award winning documentary filmmaker. Her many production credits include SILVERLAKE LIFE, JUPITER’S WIFE, HOME PAGE, RAVI SHANKAR and MYSERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF BEES, which garnered a huge European audience in 2010. Inspired by her mentor, Richard Leacock, her latest film for French TV, LA CAMERA PASSE-PARTOUT celebrates the legacy of the American Cinema vérité tradition.
Generous support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and LEF Foundation.