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An Interview with Albert Maysles, director of The Gates

Tribeca Film Fesival : You have quite a history with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I know of no other filmmaker/artist collaboration that has lasted this long. How has your relationship evolved, or has it?

Albert Maysles : We were- what’s the expression, made for each other? Right from the start. In 1962 my brother and I were in a meeting France of new-style documentary filmmakers. We met a guy who was designing his own camera and when we told him that we were premiering a film of ours in a theatre in Paris. And he said, “I think the people I work would love to see it.” And he invited them, and he turned out to be the engineer for Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And that’s how we met them. It was just a beautiful way to meet because the same meeting they saw our work and the way we work. In a very observational kind of way. And something about their artwork and our filmmaking connected with one another. Usually an artist just stands in front of a canvas and that’s it. And the canvas ends up in a museum. But their work was not just the drawing but all that interaction with the people you’ve got to get permission from, and then all those millions of people in the case of The Gates who showed up to interact with the project. There’s that element of the real world.

Tribeca : Why did you and your brother start making documentaries in this different way back in the sixties. What were you trying to change?

Maysles : We wanted to tell the truth, which is what a documentary is supposed to do. You have to get behind the scenes and let things happen. Hitchcock put it beautifully when he said, “In a fiction film the director is God. In a non-fiction film-a documentary-God is the director.” Nice way to put it, eh? And if you happen to be an agnostic or an atheist, then call God “Reality.” We are governed by reality rather than trying to control it. Or change. Insulate it.

Tribeca : So you wanted the audience think for themselves?

Maysles : Exactly- and we had to develop the kind of equipment that would be unobtrusive. And not interfere with things, because the camera is noisy or there’s a cable between the camera person and the sound person, which makes it impossible to get good sound. You know, all these things. Also we thought that interviewing people was a way around what your real task is which is to capture what’s going on. So you don’t see interviews in our films. To put it another way. Television news and television documentaries still have a way to go to catch up with what we’ve been doing all these years. It’s a pity because we need to know what’s behind the scenes. We really need to know in direct fashion what is happening in the world around us.

Read an Interview with creators, Jeanne-Claude and Christo. »
Read an Interview with Director/Producer, Antonio Ferrera. »


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