The Children Were Watching and Primary
Two films by Robert Drew
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
7:30 pm at Plaza Theatre
The Children Were Watching (1961)
“We weren’t searching for absolute truth; that’s all bullshit. We were trying to
get...the sense of being there.” –Ricky Leacock on the making of Primary
In early 1960 the young, ambitious producer Robert Drew was working for Life magazine and doggedly pursuing a new kind of documentary film that could compete with the intimacy and candidness of Life’s photojournalism. By spring, he had helped develop a technological breakthrough – handheld 16mm cameras with synchronized sound recording – and had gathered a team of filmmakers that was a future who’s who of documentary film: D. A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, Albert Maysles. All that was needed was the right story – and it soon appeared, in Wisconsin.
There had never been a film like Primary. Shot during the first week of April 1960, it documents a crucial moment in John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency: his Midwestern primary battle with Hubert Humphrey. The brilliant Leacock and Maysles used the unprecedented mobility of their camera setups to get closer to people than ever before in documentary, and to move along with the candidates – on foot, in cars, through crowds and tight hallways, onto and off stages. The result was a film that gracefully merged a dynamic sense of physical movement with quieter moments of unexpected intimacy. While hewing closely to a traditional narrative arc, Primary opened up a new range of emotional involvement and observational possibility in cinema.
After Primary, Drew produced a landmark series of television documentaries in the new style. The extraordinary The Children Were Watching documents New Orleans’ tumultuous attempt to deal with school desegregation in 1961, with Leacock once again behind the camera. Deftly moving from the racial panic of whites to the quiet bravery of black families and desegregationists, the film is both a historic document and a harbinger of documentary film to come.
Primary (1960), 53 min
The Children Were Watching (1961), 21 min
1049 Ponce De Leon Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30306
404.876.8048 (box office)
FILM LOVE promotes awareness of the rich history of experimental and avant-garde film. Through public screenings and events, Film Love preserves the communal viewing experience, provides space for the discussion of film as art, and explores alternative forms of moving image projection and viewing. Film Love was voted Best Film Series in Atlanta by the critics of Creative Loafing in 2006, and was featured in Atlanta Magazine's Best of Atlanta 2009. The series is programmed and hosted by Andy Ditzler for Frequent Small Meals.
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