Innovator of Journalism, Film Dies

Richard Leacock helped invent the filmmaking style known as cinema verite. His work inspired such documentarians as the Maysles brothers and D.A. Pennebaker — as well as French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard and Americans like Martin Scorsese. Leacock died Wednesday at 89 in his home in Paris.

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Filmmaker Richard Leacock has died. He was an innovator in both journalism and film, pioneering a style of documentary called cinema verite. The style influenced filmmakers from Francois Truffaut to Martin Scorsese.

NPR's Sami Yenigun has this remembrance.

SAMI YENIGUN: No matter who Richard Leacock filmed, he always let his subjects speak for themselves. It's just one of the self-imposed rules that he outlined in an interview on his website.

Mr. RICHARD LEACOCK (Filmmaker): We were shooting handheld, no tripods, no lights, no questions, never ask anybody to do anything.

YENIGUN: The approach became known as cinema verite, a style of documentary that took the camera out into the real world. He helped develop smaller portable cameras that allowed audiences into back rooms unreachable to the tripod-docked clunkers of the time.

Mr. ALBERT MAYSLES (Filmmaker): You didn't need a crew of four or five people. So with just two people, you could come that much closer to getting the real thing. That's the cinema verite.

YENIGUN: Albert Maysles is a filmmaker and longtime friend of Richard Leacock. They first worked together on a documentary called "Primary," a behind-the-scenes look at the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

(Soundbite of documentary, "Primary")

Unidentified Man: Which way? What do you got? A lot of money there? Hey, that's just what I need for my campaign. Can I have that?

YENIGUN: The film was shot by Maysles and Leacock, and edited by D.A. Pennebaker.

Mr. D.A. PENNEBAKER (Editor, "Primary"): We could be sort of unseen filmmakers in their back rooms, and that was the first time that, I think, anybody had ever done this.

YENIGUN: This collaborative team of documentarians used their fly-on-the-wall approach later in "Monterey Pop."

(Soundbite of song, "Hey, Joe")

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Singer): (Singing) Hey, Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?

YENIGUN: The secret to Leacock's filmmaking was in his character, says Albert Maysles says.

Mr. MAYSLES: There was a kindness with everything that he shot. The way he looked, his whole composure, you know, would put people at rest - I can trust this guy. And the result was some of the best filmmaking that we've ever seen.

YENIGUN: Richard Leacock died Wednesday at his home in Paris. He was 89 years old.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

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