45 years, cinema verité continues to inspire awe and
heated debate. The movement began simultaneously in a number
of countries—France, England, Canada, and the United States—and
has been called a number of things—free cinema, direct cinema,
and observational documentary. A number of important filmmakers
came out of the movement---D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles,
and Jean Rouch—and a number of memorable films—Don’t Look
Back, Salesman, and Chronicle of a Summer—stand as
the movement’s achievements. Cinema Verité surveys
the movement by talking to a number of its practitioners.
greatest strength of Cinema Verité is that it
has gained access to the founders who remain more than willing
to talk about the movement. Robert Drew discusses handheld cameras
and mobile equipment—tools filmmakers take for granted today—that
allowed the filmmaker to follow the story as it developed, shoot
without a script, and to gain closer access to the subject(s).
Films like Primary (1960) provided unheard of
intimacy with candidates John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, while
Crisis (1963) put the viewer in the midst of a tense
showdown between the Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Governor
George Wallace over segregation. The looser structure of these
films also struck many people as more "real."
Cinema Verité only allows a short amount of time
for each interview, making it is difficult to gain a sense of
the differences within the movement and how the movement developed.
The fairly sharp difference between filmmakers like Pennebaker,
who remained a passive observer behind the camera, and Rouch,
who directly questioned his subjects, is never really explored.
The makers of this film seem surprised when Fred Wiseman bluntly
states that being objective—a stated goal for many verité
practitioners—is impossible. Instead of pursuing this, they
let it pass. There is also a strange sequence that connects
cinema verité to contemporary fiction films like The
Blair Witch Project. While the connection is easy to identify,
an interview with the makers of this movie adds little to a
discussion about a documentary film style.
Wintonick’s film will serve as a good introduction for those
unfamiliar with the movement and offer a chance to see clips
from classic cinema verité documentaries. It does a good
job explaining the technical innovations that allowed for new
methods of filming and provides a good survey of the important
players within the movement. The coverage is balanced in that
it reviews filmmakers from a number of countries and includes
women and at least one African-American filmmaker. It fails,
however, to offer an in-depth portrait, or to allow any critical
point of view to enter into the fray. Cinema Verité
leaves the spectator with an interesting series of interviews
that only provide a brief outline of an important movement within
D. Lankford, Jr.
Sally Bochner—Executive Producer
Doris Girard-- Executive Producer