In 1972, Jane Weiner was just beginning her career as a filmmaker and she asked her mentor, Ricky Leacock, if she could document him and his work. He said yes, but instituted two rules: 1.) No interviews. 2.) She could only shoot on small formats (which at the time was a Super 8 with Synch Sound).
From 1972 until Leacock’s recent death earlier this year, Weiner continued documenting her mentor who became her colleague and friend. As time went on, both Weiner and Leacock moved from small film formats to the lightweight and high definition video formats of the twenty-first century.
Leacock, for the unfamiliar, was one of the leading American filmmakers in the direct cinema/cinema vérité movement. With the Maysles brothers, Robert Drew, DA Pennebaker, Chris Hedges and many others, Leacock encouraged filmmakers to use barebones lightweight film equipment to document important events (perhaps most famously the Kennedy/Humphrey primary in “Primary”) as a fly on the wall.
“Ricky on Leacock,” a film based on four decades of footage following Leacock, is currently looking for finishing funds on Kickstarter.
Weiner has wanted to put this film together for years. Weiner told Indiewire, “A friend joked with me: ‘You want to make a biographical film about someone who’s alive? Good luck!'” Turns out the friend was onto something. Though Weiner found it diffcult to find interest for her film, her phone started ringing off the hook when Leacock passed away. Various broadcasters had heard that she had amassed this footage, and became very interested in a film that showed the legend at work.
In 1972, Weiner was a graduate film student in San Francisco who grew up around cameras (several members of her family were photographers, and her cousin was an experimental filmmaker). “When I was at school, one of my proessors told me to forget about being a camerawoman, that the equipment was too big, and so it would stay a man’s world. He told me if I wanted to work near directors, I had to be an editor or do continuity.”
“I knew that I wanted to work with cameras, though, and so when I read in a magazine that Richard Leacock was holding a Summer Institute at MIT, doing workshops with Super 8 synch sound [cameras that didn’t require brute strength to maneuver], I was excited. I knew about Ricky because I read about him in film history books. I knew he worked with Robert Flaherty on ‘Louisiana Story.'”
Weiner’s cousin, the experimental filmmaker Tom DeWitt, was serendipitously hired to replace another instructor at the same workshop series Leacock was teaching at. DeWitt knew Weiner wanted to attend, so she went along as his assistant.
“When I got to MIT, Ricky showed me all these films he’s been doing. I had vaguely heard of cinema vérité, but we didn’t have any easy ways of getting films around to one another at that time. It was hard to see thigns. Where I was going to film school, a documentery had an illustrated script. Ricky was shooting real people doing real things. With the Super 8, everything was miniature and portable. His attitude wasn’t ‘You can’t do this, you’re a girl.’ His attitude was to say, ‘Here’s the camera, now shoot.’ My first film with him got ruined in the lab, but the experience was invaluable.”
Shortly after this, Weiner started following Leacock with a camera.
After a few decades, Leacock moved from the states to Paris, and eventually Weiner caught up with him there. “Ricky was well known in the states, but I didn’t realize in Europe, he was really well known.” When in Paris, Weiner followed Leacock to meetings with Jean-Luc Goddard and Chris Marker.
As time went on, Leacock was an early adopter to the latest portable technologies, even while mainstream filmmakers laughed at him, he took early to Super 8, early video cameras, and eventually DSLR’s.
When Weiner, who now lives in Paris, decided she needed to complete the proejct, she realized she needed a solution for converting the early Super 8 footage to HD, as her broadcasting partners would require. One day, when walking through her neighborhood, she walked past a storefront with 35mm reels, 16mm rewinds, and other more obscure film equipment. “Nobody knows what all this stuff is,” I thought. A few days later when they opened, I walked in and asked them what they were doing. They said they were getting a new machine that might be able to convert my footage and asked me if I knew Jeff Kreines. When he was 17 or 18, Jeff was my assistant on some of my earlier shoots of Leacock. He came over and we converted the 8mm footage to 4K; it’s the best quality I could ever want.”
With a few more grants, the film is coming closer to completion, and it is slated for release in February 2012. In conjunction with this film, Weiner is producing a one-hour TV documentary for the French network Cine Cinema about American Cinema Vérité called “La Camera Passe-Partout” (The Camera Goes Everywhere) and a French book about the making of “Primary.”
“Ricky on Leacock”
Director/Producer: Jane Weiner
Executive Producers: Diane Markrow, Antoine Disle
Camera/Sound: Jane Weiner, Jeff Kreines, Pam Wise, Al Mecklenberg, Christine Pihl, Midge Mackenzie, Sharon Hammou, David Rivello, Boris Carreté, Marina Goldovskaya, Terry Macartney-Filgate, Ricky Leacock, Valerie Lalonde
Editor: Jane Weiner with Sebastian Eyherabide
Writers: Jane Weiner with Paule Darmon, Sharon Hammou, Sebastian Eyherabide