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Richard Leacock (born 18 July 1921, Londonmarker) is a documentary film director and one of the pioneers of Direct Cinema.


Leacock (known to his friends as "Ricky") grew up on a banana plantation in the Canary Islandsmarker (the Leacock family, though English, have long been involved in the production of Madeira wine and bananas in the Spanish and Portuguese islands), until shipped off to School in England. He attended Bedales Schoolmarker, then Dartington Hallmarker School from 1929 to 1938, where he helped form a student film unit, and made his first film, Canary Island Bananas, an eight-minute silent film.

He married anthropologist Eleanor Burke, Kenneth Burke's daughter in 1941. The marriage lasted until 1962.

To learn more about the technical basis of filmmaking, he studied physics at Harvard Universitymarker. During the war he was a combat photographer for the U.S. army. In 1946 Robert Flaherty hired him as cameraman for Louisiana Story. In the early 1960s Leacock, Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker and others founded Drew Associates. Pennebaker had also a technical background and Drew worked as producer. Together they developed a new style of filmmaking based on synchronous sound and the use of lightweight cameras.

Leacock left Drew Associates in 1963 to found his own production firm, together with Pennebaker. In 1969 he became head of the film department at MITmarker, which he chaired until 1988. In the 1980s he was still interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking and produced videos for French television.

In its most naive formulation, direct cinema was an attempt to film "life as it is." But Leacock is not a naive filmmaker. In 1988 he concluded an interview with the following remarks:

"I have been starting to think about documentary filmmaking instead of just doing it, and I think that for a long time I have been teaching things that I don't really believe in. My thinking has changed a lot. I'm not sure how to teach documentary filmmaking, I'm even not sure what documentaries are. I think that for me I'm beginning to pay more attention to what I want and less attention to what people want me to do. In many respects I begin to think that most of my life I have filmed the wrong things and more and more I am beginning to regret it."


  • Canary Island Bananas (1935)
  • Louisiana Story (1948) directed by Robert J. Flaherty, cinematography by Leacock
  • Brussels Loops (1957) codirected with Shirley Clarke, Wheaton Galentine, and D. A. Pennebaker
  • Primary (film) (1960) directed by Robert Drew cinematography by Leacock
  • A Happy Mother’s Day (1963) co-directed with Joyce Chopra
  • Lambert, Hendricks & Co. (1964) codirected with D. A. Pennebaker
  • A Stravinsky Portrait (1966) codirected with Rolf Liebermann
  • Tread (1972)
  • Rebuilding an Old Japanese House (1981) codirected with Rachel Strickland
  • Community of Praise (1982) codirected with Marisa Silver
  • Lulu in Berlin (1984) codirected with Susan Woll - Louise Brooks talks about her collaboration with Georg Wilhelm Pabst
  • Les oeufs à la coque (1991) (for French-German ARTE TV) codirected with Valérie Lalonde
  • Les Vacances de Monsieur Leacock (1992) codirected with Valérie Lalonde
  • Rehearsal: The Killings of Cariola (1992) codirected with Valérie Lalonde
  • Gott sei Dank - Ein Besuch bei Helga Feddersen (1993)
  • Félix et Josephine (1993)
  • A Celebration of Saint Silas (1993)
  • A Hole in the Sea (1994) codirected with Valérie Lalonde
  • A Musical Adventure in Siberia (2000)

Films about Leacock

Further reading

  • Leacock (1988), Interview in: Mo Beyerle, Christine N. Brinckmann (editors), Der amerikanische Dokumentarfilm der 60er Jahre. Direct Cinema und Radical Cinema, Frankfurt am Main, New York: Campus, 1991, p. 124-133
  • Mamber, Stephen (1974), Cinéma Vérité in America. Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007

External links

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