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R.I.P. Ed Pincus, Vermont Filmmaker Who Helped to Define Personal Documentaries

Photo of Paula Bernstein By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire November 6, 2013 at 1:23PM

Documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus, who helped define the notion and possibilities of the personal documentary, died yesterday in Vermont, according to a Facebook post by Vermont Public Television.
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Ed Pincus
Pincus & Small Films Ed Pincus

Documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus, who helped define the notion and expand the possibilities of the personal documentary, died yesterday in Vermont, according to a Facebook post by Vermont Public Television.

The TV station announced: "Yesterday we lost a pioneering Vermont filmmaker: Ed Pincus. This past March, the Green Mountain Film Festival screened a timely retrospective with him and his partner Lucia Smalls. In his last year of life, Ed and Lucia worked on what is bound to be a very powerful documentary about his terminal illness called "The Elephant in the Room." Ed - you will be missed!"

Pincus suffered from a fatal blood disease myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS in addition to Parkinson’s disease. He was chronicling his illness in his latest film, "One Cut, One Life," on which he was collaborating with Lucia Small, his partner in Pincus & Small Films.

Pincus began filmmaking in 1964, serving as a producer, director and DP on eight of his films and as cinematographer on over 12 additional films. His films included "Black Natchez," "Panola," "One Step Away" and the seminal "Diaries," a 3 1/2 hour movie which chronicled the personal lives of Pincus and his family during the early 1970s.

When "Diaries" opened at the Bleecker Street Cinema in 1982, Vincent Canby of "The New York Times" said the film is "a fascinating, technically expert recollection of the not-so-far-off 70's. It's not only about the generation once labeled '"me'"; it's a demonstration of it. Me, Me, Me!"

In time, the film became an essential part of the personal documentary canon. When Pincus was honored with a retrospective at The Film Society of Lincoln Center last year, journalist Tom Roston suggested that Pincus belongs in the same category as the Maysles brothers, DA Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and Frederic Wiseman. Of "Diaries," Roston wrote "The film broke new ground in personal filmmaking -- Ross McElwee, Alan Berliner and a very long list of directors owe (Pincus) a lot for cutting the path they tread on." 

Director Caveh Zahedi ("The Sheik and I") wrote that "Diaries" "has had a more profound effect on my own work than any other film I can think of. Because the film has been almost impossible to see, Ed Pincus has never received the recognition he deserves and his influence has mostly been felt through the influence of the filmmakers that he himself influenced. 'Diaries' is the hidden source that feeds the river of personal documentary filmmaking and is, in many ways, that genre’s purest and most perfect expression."

Pincus started the Film Section at MIT, where he taught for a decade, influencing a generation of documentary filmmakers. He was also the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. Author of "Guide to Filmmaking" and co-author of "Filmmaker's Handbook," Pincus served as a visiting filmmaker at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Harvard University.

He and his wife Jane have been living and running a farm in Vermont for the past twenty years. After a two decade break from filmmaking, Pincus collaborated with Small on "Axe in the Attic," a 2007 examination of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for New Orleans evacuees.

This article is related to: Ed Pincus, Documentary Film, News, Obituary