Master documentarian Albert Maysles passes away

Cinéma vérité pioneer Albert Maysles (pictured), known for such documentaries as Salesman and Grey Gardens, has passed away at the age of 88.
March 6, 2015

Documentarian Albert Maysles has passed away at the age of 88, realscreen has confirmed.

The filmmaker’s daughter Rebekah confirmed the news of Maysles’ death to realscreen, adding that he passed at home, surrounded by family.

The director, along with his brother David, was among the first to pioneer direct cinema – or cinéma vérité – in which subjects are filmed without sets, narration or scripts.

Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Maysles studied at both Syracuse and Boston University and later taught psychology, before entering film in 1955 by taking a 16mm camera to Russia, where he filmed patients at mental hospitals for his first film, Psychiatry in Russia. Later on, Albert and David Maysles traveled by motorcycle from Munich to Moscow for their first collaboration on the Polish student revolution.

In 1960, Maysles co-directed the iconic vérité entry Primary, about the Democratic primary election campaigns of Kennedy and Humphrey, and later the documentary Salesman (1968), a portrait of four Boston door-to-door Bible salesmen. Maysles was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1965 and went on to make such films as Rolling Stones doc Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976), a portrait of a mother and daughter living in a dilapidated East Hampton mansion. Maysles Films – the director’s production company – has produced many films on art and artists, with Grey Gardens cited by many doc-makers as a huge influence. A restored version of the classic film was slated to hit selected theaters today (March 6).

In 1994, the International Documentary Association presented Maysles with their Career Achievement Award, while other awards include the 1997 John Grierson Award for Documentary, the American Society of Cinematographers’ 1998 President’s Award, Hot Docs’ 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Sundance Film Festival’s 2001 Cinematography Award for Documentaries. The director most recently received a lifetime achievement award from the DOC NYC film festival in November.

Maysles’ latest doc, In Transit, which he co-directed with Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui and Ben Wu, was this week selected as part of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival’s world documentary feature competition. His previous effort, the fashion documentary Irisdebuted at the New York Film Festival last fall and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, which is to release the film in theaters later this year.

On the Maysles Films website, the director writes, “As a documentarian, I happily place my fate and faith in reality. It is my caretaker, the provider of subjects, themes, experiences – all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery. And the closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. After all, the knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.