: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production


Handheld uses footage from Albert Maysles’ 60 year-long career in order to create a portrait of the cinematographer himself. His daughter Rebekah mines the archive of outtakes and intimate fragments to reveal how an artist’s vision of the world is a reflection of their personality, philosophy and life experience.


In the 1960s, along with DA Pennebaker, Robert Drew and Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles (considered “the best American cameraman” by Jean-Luc Godard), created a new genre of filmmaking. “Direct Cinema” filmmakers rejected narration, artificial lighting, scripts and tripods in order to get as close as possible to their subjects.   Viewers were given the freedom to really understand the subjects on screen intimately, a radical idea at the time.


Albert always said, “people would rather disclose information than keep a secret.” Our goal is to let the footage shot by Albert, sometimes uncomfortable and frequently intimate, tell his story. We will do this by piecing together fragments and long takes from his camerawork that embody his philosophy.  Direct cinema filmmakers were opposed to narration because it told an audience how to feel rather than leaving it open to interpretation. It’s surprising how much of Albert Maysles’ personality shines through in his footage, an innate ability to find humor and human moments: Jackie O’s nervous hands during JFK’s primary speech, or a music lover’s sly grin after an Ozawa flourish.


Although his career was extensive, and he enjoyed critical acclaim for his work Albert often struggled as a filmmaker. There were failing projects, difficult relationships with other collaborators, and the sudden death of his longtime filmmaking partner and brother David in 1986. He never had an easy time raising money to make the films he wanted to. While in the beginning he was drawn to filming characters he was truly interested in, he frequently worked commercially in order to cover the overhead of Maysles Films, Inc.  Albert was happiest when he was working, the attention the camera demanded was something that made him calm, in a trance and totally focused. This film will showcase that unwavering dedication-- his ability to observe, his sympathy, his understanding- and steadfast sense of composition.


When Albert died in 2015, his daughter Rebekah was left with the task of shaping a film about a poetic innovator of cinematography, using the enormous amount of archival material. Seemingly endless reels, tapes, various odd formats of commercial work, home footage,  long takes from unfinished films, all remains fodder for this portrait film--and offers an incredible opportunity to be able to glimpse Albert’s life as a cameraman, a father, and an artist.  


Throughout his career Albert frequently talked about favorite moments of filming: in the early 60s on a Kenyan train, in the 70s with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, a shot of a little girl playing on the piano interrupting the awkward sales pitch of a Bible salesman. These moments stuck out to him- where he felt like so many different things could be understood from one gesture of a character. Through these details of filming, often left out of the edit, is how we hope to shape the portrait of Albert as an artist. As a shy man Albert was able to connect without words, he would smile and keep one eye in the camera and the other observing.  The camera was an extension of himself, and gave him the freedom to go almost anywhere with everyone--which is surprising considering the weight and sound of a 16mm camera. We want to share the naturalness of his camera work, the raw moments: locking eyes for too long with a character, laughing at a mistake, getting things wrong on the first take.


As a cameraman and collaborator Albert worked in film for over six decades, working on projects he had complete control over along with many projects where he was just the camera for hire. His approach was always the same- recording the poetry of what’s happening around him. From side projects like his Russian train journey  in the 1980’s following a family and following them home as they make dumplings drunkenly and start singing, to the actual footage from the Rostropovich film, Soldiers of Music, that he was paid to make- Albert always became one of the family.

Through difficult times in his life and career Albert felt ease in expressing his emotions through his camera work. In moments of depression he would go to music, and found calm in recording subjects like Ozawa and Horowitz.



Rebekah Maysles - Director

Rebekah Maysles (Director) is a New York City based artist. In 2009 she co-edited and illustrated the book Grey Gardens- filled with Maysles Films ephemera and many handmade illustrations. For the past four years she has been the President of Maysles Films, Inc. founded by her father Albert and his brother David Maysles. At MFI she has focused on preserving the archive, generating international and educational distribution deals, and special projects. She collaborated with her father on the Emmy-nominated film IRIS (2015)- one of his final films which premiered the 52nd New York Film Festival. Rebekah is on the board of the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem which is dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action. She is currently working on a film about the life work of Albert Maysles- focusing on his camera work, outtakes and rare footage.

Laura Coxson - Producer

Laura Coxson (Producer) is a New York City-based documentary producer who began her career at Maysles Films. Recent films include Chef Flynn (2018) which premiered at Sundance, played the Berlinale and SXSW and will open theatrically in November, and The Proposal (2018), with Field of Vision, premiering at Tribeca Film Festival and earning special mentions at Hot Docs and Sheffield. Iris (2015), Albert Maysles' last film, premiered at the 2014 New York Film Festival and was released by Magnolia Pictures in 2015. She has done archival research and producing for the shorts Bayard and Me (2017) and Graven Image (2017), as well as features Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018), National Geographic TV series I Am Rebel (2016) and is currently working on a film about Keith Haring. Coxson produced The Love We Make (2012) with Paul McCartney for Showtime; Muhammad and Larry (2009) for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series; and a Documentary Yearbook piece for the 81st Academy Awards. She previously worked for Janus films, notably on the theatrical release of The Great Beauty (2013 Academy Award Winner- Foreign Language Film). In 2016, she was chosen to take part in the Impact Partners Producers Salon and in 2018 was invited to the Sundance Creative Producing Summit.


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