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The documentary filmmaking community lost one of its greatest champions today with the passing of Albert Maysles. One of the pioneers of the cinéma vérité movement, Maysles—along with his brother, David—first burst onto the documentary scene with Salesman, which follows 4 door-to-door Bible salesmen who struggle with life on the road and making ends meet. In addition to his distinctive fly-on-the-wall approach to direction, Maysles was influential as a Cinematographer, shooting his own films and contributing to documentaries like the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings.
It’s difficult to watch documentaries today without seeing the influence of the Maysles Brothers. And it’s easy to understand why. A tried and true New Yorker, Maysles founded the Maysles Documentary Center in 2005, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating and programming documentaries that inspire dialogue among audiences and are catalysts for change.
Maysles believed in the documentary community and took it upon himself to become a mentor. He recently joined up-and-coming filmmakers Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui and Ben Wu for the anthology documentary, In Transit, which will screen as part of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival World Documentary Competition. This poignant observational film follows a group of train passengers as they ride and interact on The Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle.
Through his expertise, activism and kindness, Maysles left behind a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations. Let’s revisit a few of Albert Maysles’ greatest works:
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Albert and David Maysles’ revolutionary music film follows The Rolling Stones at the tail-end of their 1969 US tour and documents the calamitous Alamont Free Concert, which culminated with the death of a fan at the hands of the Hells Angels. Featuring live performances of classic Stones hits like "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction," "Under My Thumb" and "Wild Horses" at the famed Muscle Shoals studios, Gimme Shetler is essential viewing for any documentary or music lover.
Grey Gardens (1975)
This seminal Maysles Brothers documentary about “Big Edie” and “Little Edit” Beale—the eccentric relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis—inspired a Broadway musical, an HBO movie and even a 2006 sequel documentary. Using their signature cinéma vérité, the Maysles let the reclusive and delightfully odd women tell their own story—never judging or making fun of them—forever immortalizing these S-T-A-U-N-C-H characters on the silver screen.
The Gates (2007)
A documentary 26 years in the making, this film by Albert Maysles and Antonio Ferrera’s film chronicles the controversial and creative journey behind artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates,” NYC’s biggest public art project that began in 1979. Guaranteed to bring a smile to any New Yorker’s face, the documentary—which features stunning images of the installation in Central Park—served as the Closing Night Film of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.