Richard Leacock, one of the founders or inventors of direct cinema style of documentary film making (a close cousin of cinema vérité) and a prolific documentary filmmaker, has passed away. A good obituary and discussion of his work is on the blog All These Wonderful Things by AJ Schnack. Ricky Leacock’s own web site doesn’t have an obit yet, but is a great source of info and links.
Wikipedia isn’t too bad a place to start learning about cinéma vérité, as well as direct cinema. The former includes a touch of participant-observer (or even provocateur) from the filmmaker, while direct cinema aspires to be a bit more of a fly on the wall endeavor. Of course, modern critical thinking about documentary film, as with journalism in general, questions the pretense of objectivity. A nice academic discussion is found in Michael Whitney Van Laane’s 2010 Masters thesis, The Pose Of Neutrality In Social Documentary Films.
Ricky Leacock, along with Robert Drew and DA Pennebaker, pioneered the esthetics of direct cinema. He was also responsible for a crucial technical advance – the development of equipment that was portable, but could record sync sound. That is, the equipment allowed filmmakers to record sound and images in real time, on the fly, with a handheld camera. This was revolutionary – until the 1960s, recording sync sound was the realm of the studio sound stage, complete with bulky blimped cameras and the like.