Meet the DocuWeeks Filmmakers: Jane Weiner--'RICKY on LEACOCK'

Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeks™ Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from August 3 through August 30 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films—the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Jane Weiner, director/producer/writer of RICKY on LEACOCK.

Synopsis: The work (on- and off-screen) of legendary filmmaker Richard Leacock, protégé of Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, Louisiana Story), not only influenced generations of filmmakers during his long career but also changed, technically
and aesthetically, "how" movies are made. RICKY on LEACOCK is a cinematic journey that Jane Weiner began as a young filmmaker during which, over 40 years, she filmed various encounters with his friends and contemporaries including DA Pennebaker, Robert Drew, Ed Pincus, Jonas Mekas, Dušan Makavejev and others.



IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Jane Weiner: Hard question. Photography and filmmaking was part of family life—my father and cousin were deeply involved, and I guess some of the technical aspects were genetic. 

As a graduate student in film, I don't remember being terribly moved by documentaries.  The two films that made a huge impression on me were Mon Oncle (which was the first film I ever saw) and La Jetée by Chris Marker.


IDA: What inspired you to make RICKY on LEACOCK?

JW: Another "not easy" question... As a woman film student in 1972, I was told that I had only two professional choices—either do script continuity or go into the editing room. My many years as a photographer were useless in an industry that only accepted men. 

When I met Ricky, his attitude was completely different:  He said, You want to be a filmmaker?  Here's a camera; go shoot.... That's when I turned my camera on him.

I met him at a moment when he was trying to make film technology as small as possible and as democratic as possible—i.e., anyone could afford to make a film. This seems odd to say today when we have the technology he dreamed of-but then, in 1972, everyone laughed at him (even his closet colleagues) for experimenting in small-format filmmaking.

So, this guy, who had been the protégé of Robert Flaherty and had participated in the development and the creation of cinema vérité, a wholly new genre of filmmaking, was still again tinkering with technology. Hmmmm. This impressed me. That's why I started filming him 40 years ago.


IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

JW: First off, Ricky would only accept to be filmed if I did it in small format, which in those days was Super 8 Synch Sound. So, as you might image, no one took my project seriously. Also, since he was at that point head of the NEA media program, it wasn't so easy to get funding. But, I see this as a blessing in disguise. First, I was too young, and second, he had a whole life in front of him—so to think about making a film about Leacock in the early '70s is to leave out many of his more important experiments. This is especially true when it comes to his autobiography (finished the day he died), which is an invention in itself.


IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

JW: Now, we're talking about 40 years of production and every format of image-making ever invented. 

The huge breakthrough in my production was Jeff Kreines' creation of the KINETTA. 
For years I'd struggled with how to open the Pandora's Box of Super 8 Synch Sound.  Jeff, who was with me in the beginning of the production (and who filmed key scenes), invented the miracle machine that made it possible to transfer an impossible amount of shrunken and damaged footage gently and efficiently to 4K. I have to also mention AS'Image now because, without their commitment to the KINETTA, we would have no film.


IDA: As you've screened RICKY on LEACOCK—whether on the festival
circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms—how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

JW: As a work-in-progress, this film was screened at Telluride with Ricky in the audience. His comments afterwards left everyone in tears. For me, this was incredibly important; because he was my mentor, I wanted to be sure I got his story right—with him (not me)
telling it. This was a special version because it include the Moana (1926) story, which was when he and Monica Flaherty went back to Samoa in the '70s to record live audio in order to create a sound version of this silent movie. 

In 2011, not long after he died, I screened yet another version at the Flaherty Seminars.  This was hard because we still hadn't done the KINETTA transfers of the Super 8 Synch Sound footage shot between 1972 and '75, so it was as though they were watching something that didn't yet tell his story.


IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

JW: Leacock, Pennebaker, Marker, Rouch...and, many, many others.


RICKY on LEACOCK will be screening August 10 through 16 at the IFC Center in New York City and August 17 through 23 at the Laemmle NoHo 7 in Los Angeles.

For the complete DocuWeeksTM 2012 program, click here.

To purchase tickets for RICKY on LEACOCK in New York, click here.

To purchase tickets for RICKY on LEACOCK in Los Angeles, click here.