The documentary filmmaker who was called the “father of American cinema verite” died today at his home in Sharon, Conn. Robert Drew was 90. He was a Life magazine correspondent and editor when he formed Drew Associates in 1960 and hired a team of filmmakers that included then-unknowns D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Ricky Leacock. Their first project was Primary, which followed handsome young senator John F. Kennedy as he campaigned in Wisconsin for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination.
Starting with Primary, Drew’s films pioneered a new journalistically minded code of documentary creation, including not directing subjects or using set-up shots or an on-camera narrator. The candid footage was edited into a dramatic narrative that gave the feeling of what it was like to be there as events occurred. His technique became known as cinema verite or direct cinema, though he liked to call it reality filmmaking.
Drew and his team re-engineered a motion picture camera and sound recorder so they could move freely and in sync with a subject, allowing them the mobility to capture real life as it unfolded before the lens. Primary and the 1963 docu Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment, which chronicled the president’s effort to integrate the University of Alabama, are part of the Library of Congress’ National Registry of historic films. (more…)