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Donn Alan "D. A." Pennebaker (born July 15, 1925) is an Americanmarker documentary filmmaker and one of the pioneers of Direct Cinema/Cinéma vérité. Performing arts (especially pop music) and politics are his primary subjects.

Pennebaker was born in Evanston, Illinoismarker, the son of Lucille Levick (née Deemer) and John Paul Pennebaker, who was a commercial photographer. In the early 1960s Pennebaker (known as "Penny" to his friends), together with Richard Leacock and Robert Drew, founded Drew Associates. In 1963 Leacock and Pennebaker left to found their own production firm. Later he often worked with his wife, Chris Hegedus. Their company, Pennebaker Hegedus Films, has made a number of influential documentaries.

Sometimes called "Pennebaker documentaries", these films, shot with an obviously hand-held camera, typically eschew voice-over narration and interviews in favor of a "simple" portrayal of events typical of the cinema verite style Pennebaker helped popularize in the U.S. Of such an approach, Pennebaker told interviewer G. Roy Levin published in 1971 that "It's possible to go to a situation and simply film what you see there, what happens there, what goes on, and let everybody decide whether it tells them about any of these things. But you don't have to label them, you don't have to have the narration to instruct you so you can be sure and understand that it's good for you to learn." In that same interview with Levin, Pennebaker goes so far as to claim that Don't Look Back, one of his most celebrated works (next to Primary), is "not a documentary at all by my standards." He instead repeatedly asserts that he does not make documentaries, but "records of moments," "half soap operas," and semimusical reality things."


Further reading

  • Aitken, Ian ed. Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Routledge (2005)
  • Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007
  • Pennebaker, D.A. "Interview with Donn Alan Pennebaker by G. Roy Levin." In Documentary Explorations: 15 Interviews with Film-makers, 221-70. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.
  • Jeanne Hall. "Don't You Ever Just Watch?: American Cinema Verite and Don't Look Back." In Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, 223-37. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1998.


  1. D. A. Pennebaker Biography (1925-)

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