Donn Alan Pennebaker (/ˈpɛniːbeɪkər/; born July 15, 1925) is an American documentary filmmaker and one of the pioneers of Direct Cinema. Performing arts and politics are his primary subjects. In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized his body of work with an Academy Honorary Award or "lifetime Oscar".
D. A. Pennebaker
Pennebaker in New York City in February 2007
Donn Alan Pennebaker
July 15, 1925
Evanston, Illinois, U.S.
Pennebaker (known as "Penny" to his friends) was born in Evanston, Illinois, the son of Lucille Levick (née Deemer) and John Paul Pennebaker, who was a commercial photographer. Pennebaker served in the Navy during World War II. He then studied engineering at Yale and later worked as an engineer, founding Electronics Engineering (the makers of the first computerized airline reservation system) before beginning his film career.
After falling under the influence of experimental filmmaker Francis Thompson, Pennebaker directed his first film, Daybreak Express, in 1953. Set to a classic Duke Ellington recording of the same name, the five-minute short of the soon-to-be-demolished Third Avenue elevated subway station in New York City is the earliest known example of Pennebaker's penchant for blending together documentary and experimental filmmaking techniques. According to Pennebaker, Ellington responded favourably to the film.
In 1959, Pennebaker joined the equipment-sharing Filmakers' [sic] Co-op and co-founded Drew Associates with Richard Leacock and former LIFE magazine editor and correspondent Robert Drew. A crucial moment in the development of Direct Cinema, the collective produced documentary films for clients like ABC News (for their television series, Close-up) and Time-Life Broadcast (for their syndicated television series, Living Camera). Their first major film, Primary (1960), documented John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey's respective campaigns in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic Primary election. Drew, Leacock and Pennebaker, as well as photographers Albert Maysles, Terrence McCartney Filgate and Bill Knoll, all filmed the campaigning from dawn to midnight over the course of five days. Widely considered to be the first candid and comprehensive look at the day-by-day events of a Presidential race, it was the first film in which the sync sound camera could move freely with characters throughout a breaking story, a major technical achievement that laid the groundwork for modern-day documentary filmmaking. It would later be selected as an historic American film for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990.
Drew Associates would produce nine more documentaries for Living Camera, including Crisis, which chronicled President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy's conflict with governor George Wallace over school desegregation. Then in 1963, Pennebaker and Leacock left the organization to form their own production firm, Leacock-Pennebaker, Inc. Pennebaker would direct a number of short films over the course of two years. One of them was a rare recording of jazz vocalist Dave Lambert, as he formed a new quintet with singers such as David Lucas, and auditioned for RCA. The audition was not successful, and Lambert died suddenly in a car accident shortly thereafter, leaving Pennebaker's film as one of the few visual recordings of the singer, and the only recording of the songs in those rehearsals. The documentary got attention in Europe, and a few weeks later, Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, approached Pennebaker about filming Dylan while he was touring in England. The resulting work, Dont Look Back (there is no apostrophe in the title) became a landmark in both film and rock history, "evoking the '60s like few other documents", according to film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. The opening sequence alone (set to Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with Dylan standing in an alleyway, dropping cardboard flash cards) became a precursor to modern music videos. It would later be included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1998, and it was later ranked at No. 6 on Time Out magazine's list of the 50 best documentaries of all time.
Pennebaker would also film Dylan's subsequent tour of England in 1966, but while some of this work has been released in different forms (supplying the framework for Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, and re-edited by Dylan himself in the rarely distributed Eat the Document), Pennebaker's own film of the tour (Something Is Happening) remains unreleased. Nevertheless, the tour itself has become one of the most celebrated events in rock history, and some of the Nagra recordings made for Pennebaker's film were later released on Dylan's own records. All of the Nagra recordings made during the 1966 European appearances were made by Richard Alderson, who, for years, never received recognition. All of his tapes are what comprise the 2016 released "Bob Dylan: the 1966 Live Recordings". It is Mr Alderson who notes that many of the UK concerts were, in fact, filmed by Howard Alk.
The same year Dont Look Back was released in theaters, Pennebaker worked with author Norman Mailer on the first of many film collaborations. He was also hired to film the Monterey Pop Festival, which is now regarded as an important event in rock history on par with 1969's Woodstock Festival. Pennebaker produced a number of films from the event, capturing breakthrough performances from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin that remain seminal documents in rock history. The first of these films, Monterey Pop, was released in 1968 and was later ranked at No. 42 on Time Out magazine's list of the 50 best documentaries of all time. Other performers like Jefferson Airplane and the Who also received major exposure from Pennebaker's work.
Pennebaker continued to film some of the era's most influential rock artists, including John Lennon (whom he first met while filming Dylan in England), Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and David Bowie during his "farewell" concert in 1973.
He also collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard, who had been impressed by Primary. Their initial plan was to film "whatever we saw happening around us" in a small town in France, but this never came to fruition. In 1968, the two worked on a film that Godard initially conceived as "One AM" (One American Movie) on the subject of anticipated mass struggles in the United States – similar to the uprisings in France that year. When it became clear that Godard's assessment was incorrect, he abandoned the film. Pennebaker eventually finished the project himself and released it several years later as One PM, meaning "One Perfect Movie" to Pennebaker and "One Pennebaker Movie" to Godard.
Pennebaker's film company was also a notable distributor of foreign films, including Godard's La Chinoise (the American opening of which became the context for One PM), but the endeavor was ultimately a short-lived and costly business venture. Then around 1976, Pennebaker met experimental filmmaker turned documentarian Chris Hegedus. The two soon became collaborators and then married in 1982.
In 1988, Pennebaker, Hegedus and David Dawkins followed Depeche Mode as they toured the U.S. in support of Music for the Masses, the band's commercial breakthrough in America. The resulting film, 101, was released the following year, and prominently features a group of young fans travelling across America as winners of a "be-in-a-Depeche-Mode-movie-contest," which culminates at Depeche Mode's landmark concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Because of this, the film is widely considered to be the impetus for the "reality" craze that swept MTV in the following years, including The Real World and Road Rules. In various interviews, DVD commentaries and on their own website, both Pennebaker and Hegedus have cited 101 as "their favorite" and "the one that was the most fun to make" out of all their films to date.
In 1992, during the start of the Democratic primaries, Pennebaker and Hegedus approached campaign officials for Arkansas governor Bill Clinton about filming his presidential run. They were granted limited access to the candidate but allowed to focus on lead strategist James Carville and communications director George Stephanopoulos. The resulting work, The War Room, became one of their most celebrated films, winning the award for Best Documentary from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Pennebaker and Hegedus continue to produce a large number of documentary films through their company, Pennebaker Hegedus Films, most notably Moon Over Broadway (1998), Down from the Mountain (2001), Startup.com (2001), Elaine Stritch: At Liberty (2004), Al Franken: God Spoke (2006), and Kings of Pastry (2009).
In May 2010, they directed their first live show when they directed a YouTube webcast of the National performing a benefit show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That same year Kings of Pastry opened at multiple film festivals, including IDFA, Sheffield Doc/Fest, DOX BOX, the Berlin International Film Festival and Hot Docs, before premiering in New York City. Needham received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Taurus World Stunt Awards. In 2012 he was awarded a Governors Award, introduced by Michael Moore. Currently, Pennebaker and his wife are creating a documentary that will focus on the Nonhuman Rights Project and its efforts to have certain animals, such as cetaceans, elephants, and apes, be classified as legal persons.
Pennebaker's films, usually shot with a hand-held camera, often eschew voice-over narration and interviews in favor of a "simple" portrayal of events typical of the direct cinema 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 Dont Look Back 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".
An accomplished engineer, Pennebaker developed one of the first fully portable, synchronized 16mm camera and sound recording systems which revolutionized modern filmmaking. His aesthetic and technical breakthroughs have also had a major influence on narrative filmmaking, influencing such realist masterworks as Barbara Loden's Wanda, which was filmed and edited by one of Pennebaker's protégés, Nicholas Proferes, and even popular satires such as Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts.
101 is a live album and documentary by English electronic music band Depeche Mode. It was released on 13 March 1989 by Mute Records. It chronicles the final leg of the band's 1987–1988 Music for the Masses Tour and the final show on 18 June 1988 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.Band member Alan Wilder is credited with coming up with the name; the performance was the 101st and final performance of the tour (and coincidentally also the number of a famous highway in the area). The film was directed and produced by D. A. Pennebaker.65 Revisited
65 Revisited is a 2007 American documentary film directed by D. A. Pennebaker. It was made from footage the director shot for his 1967 film Dont Look Back. Both films show Bob Dylan and entourage during their 1965 concert tour of the UK. The newer film includes outtakes from its predecessor, and adds several full-length song performances.
The film opened in theaters on November 28, 2007. It is also available as the second disc in a DVD reissue called Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back - 65 Tour Deluxe Edition.65 Revisited also features Joan Baez, Bob Neuwirth and Nico.Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl
Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl is a 2-part comedy and documentary show on HBO. It stars actor Robert Wuhl. The show looks at the facts and myths of American history in a comedic view.Bob Dylan England Tour 1965
The Bob Dylan England Tour 1965 was a concert tour by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan during late April and early May 1965. The tour was widely documented by filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, who used the footage of the tour in his documentary Dont Look Back.Chris Hegedus
Chris Hegedus (born April 23, 1952) is an American documentary filmmaker and partner of D. A. Pennebaker in their company Pennebaker Hegedus Films.
Hegedus was nominated for an Academy Award for The War Room, a behind-the-scenes film about President Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. The film also won the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures prize for Best Documentary. In 2001, she was awarded the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Startup.com. The film is a boom-bust story of two young internet entrepreneurs, co-produced with Jehane Noujaim. Hegedus is also the recipient of CINE's Golden Eagle Award, an Emmy Award, and lifetime achievement awards from several organizations including the International Documentary Association. Her recent films include the 2010 feature release, Kings of Pastry, about the legendary French pastry competition, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France. In 2011, Hegedus received the Athena Film Festival Award for Exemplary Directing.Dont Look Back
Dont Look Back is a 1967 American documentary film by D. A. Pennebaker that covers Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour in England.
In 1998 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." In a 2014 Sight & Sound poll, film critics voted Dont Look Back the joint ninth best documentary film of all time.Down from the Mountain
Down from the Mountain is a 2000 documentary and concert film featuring a live performance by country and traditional music artists who participated in the Grammy-winning soundtrack recording for the Joel and Ethan Coen film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The concert, held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on May 24, 2000, was a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The documentary was directed by Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker. The artists in the concert also participated in a Down from the Mountain concert tour.Eat the Document
Eat the Document is a documentary of Bob Dylan's 1966 tour of the United Kingdom with the Hawks. It was shot under Dylan's direction by D. A. Pennebaker, whose groundbreaking documentary Dont Look Back [sic] chronicled Dylan's 1965 British tour. The film was originally commissioned for the ABC television series ABC Stage 67.
Though shooting had completed for the film, Dylan's July 1966 motorcycle accident delayed the editing process. Once well enough to work again, Dylan edited the film himself. ABC rejected the film as incomprehensible for a mainstream audience.
It has never been released on home video and prints are rarely screened in theaters. Some footage from Eat the Document was used in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home and 3 song excerpts are Special Features on the DVD.Gotham Independent Film Awards 1992
The 2nd Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, were held in 1992. At the ceremony hosted by Charles Grodin, Arthur B. Krim was honored with a Career Tribute with Spike Lee, D. A. Pennebaker, Susan Sarandon, Jay Presson Allen, Thelma Schoonmaker and Lindsay Law receiving the other individual awards.Monterey Pop
Monterey Pop is a 1968 concert film by D. A. Pennebaker that documents the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. Among Pennebaker's several camera operators were fellow documentarians Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles. The painter Brice Marden has an "assistant camera" credit, and Bob Neuwirth, who figured prominently in Pennebaker's Bob Dylan documentary Dont Look Back, acted as stage manager. Titles for the film were by the illustrator Tomi Ungerer. Featured performers include Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas & the Papas, the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, whose namesake set his guitar on fire, broke it on the stage, then threw the neck of his guitar in the crowd at the end of "Wild Thing".
In 2018, the film was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Moon Over Broadway
Moon Over Broadway is a 1997 documentary film starring Carol Burnett and directed by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker.One P.M.
One P.M. (alternately said to stand for One Pennebaker Movie or One Parallel Movie) is a 1972 film by documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who had collaborated with Jean-Luc Godard on the unfinished film project One A.M. and had shared duties as cinematographer with Richard Leacock. Godard filmed One A.M. (One American Movie) in America in 1968.Shake! Otis at Monterey
Shake! Otis at Monterey is a 1987 short film directed by D.A. Pennebaker documenting Otis Redding at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.Sweet Toronto
Sweet Toronto (sometimes referred as Sweet Toronto Peace Festival) is a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker of the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, a one-day festival held September 13, 1969 at Varsity Stadium on the campus of the University of Toronto and attended by some 20,000 persons. The event was produced by John Brower and Ken Walker. John Lennon played as part of the Plastic Ono Band, whose members also included Yoko Ono, Klaus Voorman, Alan White, and Eric Clapton. (Their set was released as the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969.) The video also features a selection of other acts: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley. The actual concert lasted twelve hours, but Pennebaker's documentary focuses mainly on the final hours of the concert. At the time of the performance Yoko Ono's popularity was sufficiently low that the audience booed and left the Plastic Ono Band performance. There was a similar response from film reviewers at the time. The performances "and this film have grown in interest and watchability since that time, particularly given the rarity of such thorough documentation of these key performers' work in concert."The film is available on DVD from Shout! Factory, under the name John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto.The War Room
The War Room is a 1993 American documentary film about Bill Clinton's campaign for President of the United States during the 1992 presidential election. Directed by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker, the film was released on December 5, 1993.Toronto Rock and Roll Revival
The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was a one-day, twelve-hour music festival held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 13, 1969. It featured a number of popular musical acts from the 1950s and 1960s. The festival is particularly notable as featuring an appearance by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as the Plastic Ono Band, which resulted in the release of their Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album. The festival was also the subject of the D.A. Pennebaker film, Sweet Toronto.Town Bloody Hall
Town Bloody Hall is a 1971 documentary film of a panel debate between feminist advocates and activist Norman Mailer. Filmed on April 30, 1971, in The Town Hall in New York City. Town Bloody Hall features a panel of feminist advocates for the women's liberation movement and Norman Mailer, author of The Prisoner of Sex (1971). Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker produced the film, which stars Jacqueline Ceballos, Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, Diana Trilling, and Norman Mailer. The footage of the panel was recorded and released as a documentary in 1979. Produced by Shirley Broughton, the event was originally filmed by Pennebaker. The footage was then filed and rendered unusable. Hegedus met Pennebaker a few years later, and the two edited the final version of the film for its release in 1979. Pennebaker described his filming style as one that exists without labels, in order to let the viewer come to a conclusion about the material, which inspired the nature of the Town Bloody Hall documentary. The recording of the debate was intended to ensure the unbiased documentation, allowing it to become a concrete moment in feminist history.Unlocking the Cage
Unlocking the Cage is a 2016 American documentary film about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and lawyer Steven Wise's efforts to achieve legal rights for nonhuman animals directed by D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
The Guardian called it an "exemplary animal rights documentary", and that it "presents some fascinating legal and ethical issues". Variety called it "tiresome".Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (film)
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (sometimes called Bowie 1973) is a 1973 documentary and concert film by D. A. Pennebaker. It features David Bowie and his backing group The Spiders from Mars performing at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 3 July 1973. At this show, Bowie made the sudden surprise announcement that the show would be "the last show that we'll ever do", later understood to mean that he was retiring his Ziggy Stardust persona.The full-length 90-minute film spent years in post-production before finally having its theatrical premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 31 August 1979. Prior to the premiere, the 35 mm film had been shown in 16 mm format a few times, mostly in United States college towns. A shortened 60-minute version was broadcast once in the USA on ABC-TV in October 1974.In 1983, the film was finally released to theatres worldwide, corresponding with the release of its soundtrack album entitled Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture. The following year, in 1984, the film was released to home video under the title, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture. The film was first released on DVD in 1998. A digitally remastered 30th Anniversary Edition DVD, including additional material from the live show and extras, was released in 2003.