He had just finished screening Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness. I cornered him and asked some long-winded question about his 1970 film Gimme Shelter, which chronicled the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour leading to a disastrous free show at Altamont, and how it’s considered the cynical counterpart to Woodstock, the filmed account of the legendary, Hells Angels-free festival, which was also released that year. I remember that he put his arm around me, leaned in close and said, “Let me tell you something: Woodstock was bullshit!”
I loved that I had a brief bonding session with the influential documentarianbest known for Gimme Shelter, Salesman and Grey Gardenswho passed away last month at the age of 88. There are many others who also have fond memories of Maysles. So, as this year’s Full Frame screens his latest doc, Iris (April 9, 10:30 a.m., Fletcher Hall at the Carolina Theatre), a few other Full Frame attendees share what the late, great Maysles meant to them.
Chuck Tryon, associate professor of English, Fayetteville State University
I had a chance to meet him at the Washington D.C. Jewish Film Festival when I was living there in 2006. He was working on a documentary he co-directed with Josh Waletzky, which was then titled Scapegoat on Trial and focused on the trial of Mendel Beilis, who was a Jewish resident of Kiev blamed falsely for the brutal murder of a young Christian boy.
The screening experience was pretty amazing. Maysles and Waletzky screened clips from the documentary and then conducted a half-hour discussion and Q&A, answering questions about the project. Afterward, Maysles continued the conversation informally, freely chatting about the history of documentary, his career, and the role of documentary in humanizing othersa function of documentary that he saw as countering the tendency of mass media (and reality TV in particular) in dehumanizing others.
What I took away from that conversation was much of what we see in his filmsa generosity of spirit and an intellectual curiosity that made him see the world in such an insightful way.
Nancy Buirski, filmmaker/founder, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Al Maysles received our very first tribute at our inaugural festival in 1998, then called DoubleTake. We were proud to open the Festival with his film on the Beatles [What’s Happening? The Beatles in the USA]. He and I became fast friends and I served on his board of advisors at the Maysles Documetary Center [in New York].
Tom Rankin, professor of the Practice of Art/director of documentary studies, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University
I teach him oftenand have students read some of his interviews. So, I really enjoyed when he was here for Full Frame. I don’t have a particular story from then, but more just how his shadow, through his body of work, informs and influences so much of how we think, what we do.
Sadie Tillery, director of programming, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Salesman was the film that sparked my love of documentary. I watched it in an American Cinema class in college. We were mostly looking at fiction work, but the professor screened Salesman and I simply could not shake it. It opened up my understanding that real people, their choices, struggles, and lives, could be shown in a way that made their stories just as powerful as narratives that were written for the screen. I couldn’t have possibly appreciated it at the time, but watching Salesman has had a lot to do with where I’ve ended up.
Albert was part of the Turkish American Exchange Project that I worked on with Full Frame in 2005 and 2006. Twelve filmmakers, six from Turkey and six from America, each made a film on a particular time of day for an omnibus project. He had ‘morning’ and his short, Ida, Ella & Willa, featured three young girls debating how much butter to put on pancakes. It was a standout.
I only had the chance to sit with Albert a handful of times, but I can describe the scene of every one of those visits. Time with him felt rich, valuable, slowed down. He was generous with his experience and advice.
Albert was last at Full Frame in 2008 when we screened Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness. I remember sitting with him at breakfast in the Marriott that year, pinching myself that I was talking with Albert Maysles.
We’re screening Iris this year, and I had hoped 2015 might be the year he’d come back down. He will be dearly missed.
This article appeared in print with the headline “The dean of docs”