Dating confidential documentary
Robert Greene is a documentary filmmaker whose credits include the Sundance-acclaimed “Bisbee ‘17” and “Kate Plays Christine.” He teaches at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism.
The first word that comes to mind while watching D. Pennebaker’s 1953 debut film “Daybreak Express” is love – love of light, love of movement, love of music, love of ideas.
According to Pennebaker’s friend Roger Friedman, who broke the news of his passing, Pennebaker died while writing his memoir. In 2016, after a Sundance screening of my film “Kate Plays Christine,” I was a bit startled when the lights came up and Penny and Chris were sitting in the front row.
During an answer to an audience question, I found myself pontificating about “observational cinema” but felt so self-conscious with two of the greatest living documentary filmmakers in front of me that I stopped and introduced them to the audience.
As part of Drew Associates, Pennebaker – a former engineering student at Yale – literally built the 16mm sync sound cameras that would be used to launch the revolutionary Direct Cinema movement with films like “Primary” (1960).
“A theater without actors” was how Drew described their new kind of documentary, and Pennebaker was immediately exhilarated by the possibilities.
I’d never call Penny and Chris “friends” — I admired them from a reverent distance and shook their hands whenever I could — but in my own life, their relationship was a true guiding light.
The image of them walking into rooms together will be missed; my own presence in those rooms made me feel so lucky.
Edited to an exuberant score by Duke Ellington, “Daybreak Express” was part of a groundbreaking group of films that revealed the abstract and musical potential of the observational camera.“The War Room” (1993) is the greatest political documentary ever made, an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign, which showed that everyone in politics, including strategists-turned-television personalities James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, were actors without scripts.