Reel Life Stories: Documentary Film and Video Collections
in the UC Berkeley Library's Media Resources Center

Origins of Documentary Film:
Cinema Verité

| Robert Drew & Associates: Primary | D.A. Pennebaker: Don't Look Back

Albert and David Maysles: Salesman | Frederick Wiseman: Titicut Follies

Jean Rouch: Chronicle of a Summer

Exhibit Home Page

Primary (1960)

A Film by Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, and Albert Maysles

Robert Drew’s chronicle of the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary campaign of John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey is widely considered to be the founding film of American cinema verité. It was the first documentary in which the synchronized sound camera moved freely with characters through a breaking story. "At that time I was proposing that we make a new kind of history of the Presidency," recalls Drew, "that we would see and feel all the things that bore on the presidency at a given time -- the expressions on faces, the mood of the country, the tensions in the room, so that future presidents could look back at this and see and learn." (Robert Drew on Primary Media Center: Video/C 4839

Robert Drew and Associates and the Development of the
Portable, Synchronous Sound Film Camera

The exhibit includes the modified Auricon 16mm camera developed by Robert Drew and Associates:


This is the original cinematic workhorse, the portable "candid" camera developed by Drew Associates and used to film groundbreaking works of cinema verité, such as Primary. The camera was after-fitted with a magazine holding 400 feet of film (the original used in Primary accepted only 100 foot loads). The camera displayed here is a considerably rebuilt Auricon. To convert the 100 foot load Auricon into a 400 foot camera, the top was sheared off and fitted with a plate to accept a 400 foot film magazine made by the Mitchell Camera Company. An Angenieux zoom lens is held to the front of the camera with a special mount milled from solid aluminum. Because this was not a reflex camera, a special viewfinder was made to allow the camera operator to see what the lens saw. A box was affixed to one side of the camera to allow, among other things, installation of a synchronous sound system controlled by a tuning fork. Not visible here are the battery and power supply, both specially built for the rig. Inside the camera the original metal gears, which made a loud and disturbing sound, were replaced by softer gears milled from teflon blocks. Unwieldy as this rig was--weighting in at over 35 pounds--it was used to power the Drew Associates breakthrough candid films, some 40 hours of them, between 1960 and 1966.


  • Drew & Associates Films
  • Books/articles about Drew

  • Don't Look Back (1967)
    A Film by D.A. Pennebaker

    "As far as I'm concerned, it was never meant to be a documentary. I don't like them much. To my mind, the most interesting filmmaker that I ever knew about was Robert Flaherty, who made Nanook of the North. It was about this Eskimo, and Flaherty didn't try to tell you everything there was about the life of an Eskimo. He just wanted to show you what it was like to be with an Eskimo for little bit. And that's the feeling I tried to put across. I was never interested in educating people about Dylan. First of all, I don't know enough about him. Who does? Besides, that's Dylan's business. If he wanted to educate people, I'm sure he knows how to do it. What I wanted to do was just be present when Dylan enacted his whole life and show you what he deals with and what interests him. It may not be so much about Dylan because Dylan is sort of acting throughout the film. And that's his right. He needs some protection in a sense against that process. But I think what you do find out a little bit is the extraordinary pressure of having to go out and be absolutely perfect on call. That is, he had to fill a house. It wasn't just enough that he had every seat booked, he had to have standees. He had to be extraordinary where most of us settle for just being adequate." (D.A. Pennebaker on Don’t Look Back Media Center: DVD 447


  • Pennebaker Hegedus Films
  • Books/articles about Pennebaker

  • Salesman (1968)

    A Film by Albert and David Maysles

    Salesman follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen as they walk the line between hype and despair. First making calls in and around Boston, where the company is based, then in Chicago at a sales conference, and finally in the promising new "territory" of Miami and vicinity. Their mission is simple: to convince people to buy what one of them calls "still the best seller in the world." Media Center: DVD 817


  • Maysles Films
  • Books/articles about the Maysles brothers

  • Titicut Follies (1967)
    A Film by Frederick Wiseman

    A stark and graphic portrayal of the conditions that existed at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Titicut Follies documents the various ways the inmates are treated by the guards, social workers and psychiatrists. The film was banned for over 25 years by the state of Massachusetts on the grounds that it invaded the privacy of its subjects. Media Center: Video/C 1276


  • Zipporah Films
  • Books/articles about Wiseman

    Chronicle of a Summer (1960)
    A Film by Jean Rouch

    Jean Rouch, a veteran of a decade of ethnographic filmmaking in Africa, shoots the pioneering cinéma vérité work Chronique d'Un Eté (Chronicle of a Summer) (released 1962) with sociologist Edgar Morin. The film deals with Parisians' thoughts and feelings at the end of the Algerian war. In the film, Rouch attempts to provoke a "psychodrama" in the people interviewed. His approach to documentary is to place his characters in a situation with dramatic possibilities, let them improvise, and then film them. Rouch states that Chronique is an attempt to combine Vertov's theory and Flaherty's method. He describes this film as "cinéma vérité" in tribute to Vertov—a direct translation of Vertov’s term "Kino Pravda." Media Center: VIDEO/C 4839


  • Books/articles about Rouch

  • Exhibit Home Page

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    Media Resources Center
    Last updated 5/5/03.