Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Happy 94th Birthday to DA Pennebaker the Greatest Documentary Filmmaker, Lifetime Oscar Recipient


The man who helped to invent cinema verite, DA Pennebaker, turns 94 years young today.

Pennebaker — Penny, as we call him — created the cameras, and the ideas, that led to anything we call documentary filmmaking today. An Oscar nominee with his filmmaker wife Chris Hegedus for “The War Room,” (1994) Penny received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2013. His comrades in arms were Albert Maysles and Richard Leacock. With those guys and Bob Drew, Penny was invited into the JFK presidential campaign. They made four landmark films about JFK and Robert Kennedy, as well.

And yes, today we celebrate Penny– father of 8, grandfather of (who can count), mentor and friend to so many.

Penny’s great major film achievements came with Bob Dylan’s “Dont Look Back,” “Monterey Pop,” “The War Room,” and dozens more including the great Emmy nominated film about Elaine Stritch, “At Liberty,” for HBO. I was lucky to make a film with him and Chris in 2002 called “Only the Strong Survive.”

Right now on IFC you can see Seth Meyers and John Mulaney’s tribute to Penny, a parody of his famous film about Stephen Sondheim recording the cast of “Company” with Elaine Stritch. It’s in their “Documentary Now” series and it’s priceless.

Penny’s short film of “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” taken from “Dont Look Back,” is the most copied, most revered, music video of all time.

Yes, the credits and accolades are endless. But today we just give a nod to the whole Pennebaker oeuvre. And blow out the candles with a wish for many good years to come!


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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