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Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment

Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Peter Wintonick
VHS, color with b& sequences, 102 min.
High School - Adult
Film Studies

Reviewed by Heather Munger, Health Sciences Library, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended    ALA

Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment opens by showing the documentary Basic Rescue 5. The Extension Ladder. This is an example of the traditional, dry, stilted documentaries that were being made until the late 50s and 60s when there was a revolution in documentary filmmaking. This revolution has many names: cinéma vérité (France), direct cinema (US), free cinema (England), and candid eye (Canada). Regardless of the name used, filmmakers wanted to show real life.

Shooting the film first and discovering it later in the editing room is the radical notion behind cinéma vérité. There are no actors, no scripts, and no sets. Instead the people, setting, and dialogue are authentic. To capture these situations filmmakers needed to be liberated from the cumbersome heavy equipment being used at the time. They began to develop and utilize synchronized handheld cameras and portable sound equipment.

Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment visits numerous vérité filmmakers who discuss their interpretation of the genre. There are interviews with Richard Leacock, Bob Drew, Wolf Koenig, Jean Rouch, D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles, and Barbara Kopple. The interviews are intertwined with classic vérité clips from documentaries like Jane (Jane Fonda during her Broadway debut), Don't Look Back (a young Bob Dylan during his 1965 English tour), Lonely Boy (1950s singer Paul Anka), and Primary (JFK campaigning). Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment also proves how influential cinéma vérité is today. The Blair Witch Project, Webcams, docu-soaps, and reality-based TV all stem from the principles of cinéma vérité.

Directed and recorded by Peter Wintonick, who also directed Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. The addition of a 2nd camera to create a vérité diary of the documentary's making was a great idea. Cinéma vérité is continually reinforced throughout, but not overdone. The viewer receives a short but thorough lesson in cinéma vérité with instruction from the genre's most important figures.

Highly recommended. An essential addition to all libraries with film studies collections.