Born in 1925 in Illinois, the 90 year old American is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cinema verite filmmaking. In 2013 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized DA Pennebaker’s body of work with an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.
Pennebaker is recipient of numerous filmmaking awards including the IFP’s Gotham Award. He made his first film, the short DAYBREAK EXPRESS, which will be screened in Cinema Verite next month, in 1953.
In the early sixties, Pennebaker and his colleague, the late Richard Leacock who was present at Cinema Verite’s 2nd edition, developed one of the first fully portable 16mm synchronized camera and sound recording systems which revolutionized filmmaking and helped to create the immediate style of shooting so popular today.
In 1967, Pennebaker released the seminal film DONT LOOK BACK, also included in Cinema Verite’s programme, which followed Bob Dylan’s last acoustic concert tour in England. The film broke box office records and is considered a classic of both documentary and rock filmmaking.
Pennebaker’s next film, MONTEREY POP, was a record of the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival that launched the careers of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. A critical and commercial hit, Monterey Pop was the progenitor of a host of rock documentaries, from Woodstock to Pennebaker’s own KEEP ON ROCKIN’ which featured rock n’ roll legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley; and ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, Bowie’s final Ziggy performance.
In 1976, the filmmaker began his long collaboration with his partner and future wife, Chris Hegedus. Together, they have co-directed a host of acclaimed films, including 1998’s MOON OVER BROADWAY and 1994’s THE WAR ROOM. The latter film, a behind-the-scenes look at Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary and won the National Board of Review’s D.W. Griffith Award for Best Documentary.
Pennebaker and Hegedus’ early films include the five-hour, three-part special THE ENERGY WAR, which chronicled the historic Congressional fight over President Carter’s 1977 bill to deregulate natural gas; and TOWN BLOODY HALL, filmed in 1971 and edited by Hegedus. The film relives the fractious “Dialogue on Women’s Liberation” at New York City’s Town Hall. The years 1979 to 1981 were spent filming DeLOREAN, a profile of automobile entrepreneur John DeLorean as he developed his stainless steel gull-winged car in Northern Ireland; ROCKABY, which documents the rehearsals and the first performance of Samuel Beckett’s play, starring Billie Whitelaw and will also be screened in Tehran; and ELLIOT CARTER AT BUFFALO, which follows acclaimed composer Elliott Carter as he directs his ground-breaking work “Double Concerto.”
Pennebaker’s other music film that is part of the Retrospective section of DEFC’s Cinema Verite, DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN, was co-directed by him, Hegedus, and Nick Doob.
Pennebaker’s most recent film is KINGS OF PASTRY, which follows the prestigious French pastry competition the Meilleurs Ouvier de France. It is co-directed by Hegedus and produced by Frazer Pennebaker and Flora Lazar. Presently, Pennebaker and Hegedus are filming UNLOCKING THE CAGE, their new documentary about animal rights lawyer Steven Wise and his lawsuit seeking personhood for a chimpanzee.