×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Chris Hegedus on Her Partnership With D.A. Pennebaker

In the doc world, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker are a legendary filmmaking combo, and their presence has been felt at IDFA since the festival first began. The pair attended regularly over the years, but this year, sadly, only Hegedus was able to make the trip, having bade farewell to her longterm partner just a few months before (Pennebaker passed away on Aug. 1, at the age of 94). It was expected, then, that Hegedus’s Film Talk would be a sombre affair, but the filmmaker spoke brightly and articulately about the pair’s work together, opening with a fascinating clip from Pennebaker’s 1962 film “Jane,” a portrait/sketch of Jane Fonda’s disastrous attempt to conquer the Broadway stage, at the age of 25 (the play, “The Fun Couple,” closed after just three performances).

Speaking to writer Pamela Cohn, Hegedus said she came to the film world almost by accident. “When I grew up,” she said, “I didn’t really know that women could be filmmakers. I mean, I’d heard there were some women in Hollywood, in the back room, with white gloves on, gluing films together. But I didn’t really have that as an image of something that I could do. [Instead] I went to art school, and I went at a time when art was really deconstructing itself. It was getting rid of art objects, it was turning into conceptual art, and it was something that was interesting to be part of, because it was a movement that was starting while I was actually part of the art world. But I didn’t want to do that.”

It was during this time that Hegedus found out about the avant-garde film movement and began making experimental films. “I went to a couple of different schools,” she recalls, one being the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design (NSCAD). “They [invited] all sorts of people there, from Andy Warhol to Philip Glass—y’know, whoever was at the height of their art at the time—and they let the students do whatever they wanted. So I decided I would put on a film festival.” This led her to the catalog of Drew Associates, a loose cabal of cinema vérité filmmakers, assembled by Robert Drew, that included directors such as Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles.

Popular on Variety

“These films, even though they’re famous now, very few of them were on TV,” she said. “So you really only saw them if you were at a university or a festival that was screening them. I decided to rent some.” She couldn’t remember them all, but one that stood out was “Primary,” Drew’s film that follows presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey during the 1960 Wisconsin primary. “They instantly changed my life,” she enthused. “I didn’t know that you could film real-life stories in that way. And so I stopped doing experimental films and decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

Hegedus met “Penny” (as she calls Pennebaker) in New York in the mid-’70s, and their first film together was “Town Bloody Hall” (1979), which saw Hegedus going through Pennenaker’s footage of an anarchic meeting of minds that occurred in 1971 when the famously macho writer Norman Mailer hosted a debate on the feminist movement. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration, which Hegedus illustrated with clips from films as diverse as “DeLorean” (1981), “Depeche Mode 101” (1989), “The War Room” (1993), “Down From the Mountain” (2000), “Al Franken: God Spoke” (2006), and “Kings of Pastry” (2009).

Asked about the future, Hegedus showed no signs of stopping. “Since I made ‘Startup.com,’” she said, referring to the 2001 documentary she made with Jehane Noujaim, “I’ve made a lot of films without Penny, or where Penny had been more of my cheerleader, in a sense. Especially on films like ‘Unlocking the Cage’ [2016] — he didn’t come and shoot it with me, but he was definitely there to look at it and be there for me. I mean, that was part of our partnership. A lot of these films we’d shoot just by ourselves, and edit by ourselves, and in the days of film we’d even cut our negative by ourselves. We were true mom-and-pop grocery-store kind of filmmakers. The process slowly became different through the years, especially with digital, where you could go out and shoot the entire film by yourself. But I have been producing quite a few different projects, and working as a creative consultant. I directed a small project this spring, a music film, and I will continue making films in some version or another.”

More pressing was the question of what to do with all the material that she and Pennebaker amassed over the years. “We have this huge archive of films and equipment,” she explained, “and it documents a certain history of film, because we have this equipment that was some of the very first equipment that was engineered to do synch-sound films. I’m looking to find a home for our archive, and it’s a very [important] thing. Because, unlike fiction films where you have maybe 20 takes of somebody doing [the same scene], in documentary films you have all these outtakes that have a lot of very [different] things in them. They really are the history of our time, and they could be interesting to sociologists or historians or geographers or fashion people or whoever. Because you film so much more than you use, and that footage has value.”

She sighed. “But there’s a lot of stuff…”

More Film

  • The Irishman

    'Captain Marvel,' 'The Irishman,' Other Original Scores to Miss Out on Oscar Nominations

    The Regina Spektor song from “Bombshell” and at least six major scores including “The Two Popes” and “The Irishman” won’t be on Oscar’s music shortlists when they are announced next week. That’s because none of them are on the official Academy eligibility lists from which music-branch members are now voting. Preliminary voting ends tomorrow afternoon, [...]

  • Golden Globes Zodiac signs

    Golden Globes Nominees as Zodiac Signs

    The Golden Globes nominees aren’t the only stars of awards season. Variety turned to astrology to assign Zodiac signs to this year’s nominees. Some selections required a little more nuance — Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart” is a Virgo with a prominent Sagittarius rising and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” is a Sagittarius that wishes it were a [...]

  • Two-time Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks portrays one

    How Production Designer Jade Healy Recreated the Beautiful Neighborhood of Mister Rogers

    Production designer Jade Healy is doing double duty this awards season. For one, her work can be seen in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” There, she created a world of angst and individuality, making use of negative space as a couple reaches the end of their relationship. In Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” [...]

  • Eddie Murphy Awkwafina

    The Golden Globes Polish Up Their New Respectability (Column)

    It’s always a fun ritual to peruse the nominations for the Golden Globes, because you’re probably going to see a handful of eyebrow-raisers and maybe a jaw-dropper, the sort of “Oh, did they actually do that?” choices that make the Golden Globes the Golden Globes. That’s the theory, at any rate. But it may be [...]

  • Greta Gerwig Lulu Wang Ava DuVernay

    Hollywood Responds to Golden Globes Female Director Snub: 'Advertisers Should Weigh In'

    Snubs and surprises are par for the course when it comes to award show nominations, but outrage over the shut-out of women in the best director category for the 2020 Golden Globes is proving considerable. Women nominees and Hollywood gender equity watchdogs have expressed disappointment and anger over the exclusion of at least four women [...]

  • Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is

    Golden Globes: Six Things to Know About the Film Nominations

    Most of Monday morning’s Globe nominations didn’t come as a big surprise. “Marriage Story,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Parasite” have been ruling awards season – their many nominations were expected. But Globe wins don’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold — about half of best pic wins have been in sync [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content