89-year-old documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock died this past Wednesday at his home in Paris.
Born in London, Leacock wrote, directed, filmed and edited a 10-minute film called Canary Island Bananas (he was raised on his father’s banana plantation in the Canary Islands). From there, he forged a career in documentary filmmaking. He moved to the US and majored in physics at Harvard so as to gain a better understanding of the technology involved in his craft.
During this time he worked on other people’s films like To Hear Your Banjo Play and Louisiana Story as a cameraman and assistant editor. He worked with filmmakers like Robert Drew and Roger Tilton. He also worked as cinematographer on a film called Primary, which was a feature film that followed presidential hopefuls John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey during the 1960 Wisconsin primary. For this film, a classic example of the cinema verite style, he worked alongside Drew, Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker.
The critics called Primary “groundbreaking” and was hailed as “perhaps [one of] the most important documentaries since the brothers Lumiere.” All of Leacock’s efforts to use technology to facilitate his craft paid off.
In the late 60s, he founded a small film school at MIT. Many well-known filmmakers emerged from this school, including Ross McElwee. The last film to bear Leacock’s name in the credits was A President to Remember in 2008, which brought together rare personal footage and well-known archival footage of President Kennedy.
Rest in peace, Richard Leacock, and thank you for your incredible contribution to the craft.