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D.A. Pennebaker

D.A. Pennebaker

D.A. Pennebaker is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cinema verite filmmaking, which revolutionized the documentary genre. Since 1977, Pennebaker has partnered with Chris Hegedus on a host of acclaimed films, most recently serving as producer for Startup.com, directed by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim. The team received the D.W. Griffith Award for Best Documentary of the Year and an Academy Award nomination for their 1994 film The War Room. Moon Over Broadway, about Carol Burnett's return to Broadway, was cited by the New York Times as the Best Documentary of the Year.

D.A. Pennebaker made his filmmaking debut with the 1953 short Daybreak Express. In 1959, Pennebaker joined Drew Associates, a group of filmmakers dedicated to furthering the use of film in journalism. Drew Associates developed the first fully portable 16mm synchronized camera and sound system. This technical development helped Pennebaker and his colleagues establish what became known as cinema verite, a new style of filmmaking that rejected voiceover narration in favor of recording real people and events as they happened, with as little direction from the filmmaker as possible. Together, they produced such landmark films as Primary, Crisis and Jane.

In the ‘60s, Pennebaker's portrait of Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back, and Monterey Pop, starring Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, were two of the earliest films using real life drama to have a successful theatrical distribution. 1972 saw the release of Keep On Rockin' with Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others; and it was Pennebaker who filmed David Bowie's final concert appearance as his most famous persona in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Pennebaker detoured to Broadway for the television documentary Company-The Original Cast Album, about the Stephen Sondheim musical.

In 1977, the filmmaker met and began collaborating with Chris Hegedus. Their early films include the five-hour, three part documentary The Energy War and Town Bloody Hall. Additional films co-directed with Hegedus include Elliot Carter at Buffalo, DeLorean, Rockaby and Dance Black America.

Most recently, the filmmakers teamed up with Joel and Ethan Coen to create Down From The Mountain, a celebration of bluegrass music, featuring the musicians from the Coen Brothers' film, O Brother Where Art Thou? Their film of Randy Newman's song Baltimore predated MTV and was one of the templates for the music video format; subsequent music video credits include clips for John Hiatt, Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, Victoria Williams and Marti Jones. Other music-related films include Happy Come Home, The Music Tells You, Open Hand and Depeche Mode 101. Recent credits include Keine Zeit and Searching for Jimi Hendrix.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

D.A. Pennebaker Facts

Birth NameDonn Alan Pennebaker
BirthdayJuly 15, 1925 (96)
BirthplaceEvanston, Illinois, USA

Selected Filmography

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival
Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
Unlocking the Cage
Down from the Mountain
Jimi Hendrix: Live at Monterey
Depeche Mode: 101
Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969
Elaine Stritch at Liberty
Bob Dylan
Depeche Mode
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