Life and Other Anxieties: The Films of Ed Pincus

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Insightful and ever-surprising, the films directed or co-directed by Ed Pincus mark the transition between the more issue-oriented tendency of American documentary in the early Sixties and the more personal approach that characterized work in the Seventies and beyond. Pincus’s first film, Black Natchez, co-directed with David Neuman, chronicled in exciting detail the struggle for voting rights in a sharply divided southern community. The team followed this with One Step Away, a portrait of a hippie commune that explored the growing gap between commune members’s stated ideals and their actual actions and relationships. With Portrait of a McCarthy Supporter, Pincus and Neuman looked at Pincus's own father-in-law, a man whose contradictory politics, the film argues, revealed the ambiguity of Eugene MCcarthy's campaign for President.

Yet it was with his next project, Diaries: 1971-1976 (completed in 1981), that Pincus really hit his artistic stride. Taking advantage of the new Nagra SN tape recorder, a device that could capture high quality sound yet was small enough to fit in your pocket, Pincus embarked on a five-year chronicle of his own life. In many ways the film was the logical conclusion to a tendency in cinema verite documentary towards more personal, less "newsworthy" subjects. With Diaries, Pincus brought the very idea of a diary film to a whole other level.

For personal reasons, Pincus dropped out of the film scene in the late Seventies, and as a consequence the full impact of the Diaries project was seen perhaps more clearly in the work of some of his students, such as Ross McElwee and Mark Rance. In 2007, however, he returned in top form with The Axe in the Attic (co-directed with Lucia Small), a film that traces the lives of several victims of the diaspora that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

We are delighted to present a retrospective of the work of this pioneering American filmmaker, and grateful to our friends at the Harvard Film Archive for their help in making this series possible. All film descriptions by Ed Pincus. Series programmed by Richard Peña.

In This Series

The Axe in the Attic

The Axe in the Attic

Ed Pincus | Lucia Small | 2007 | Digibeta | 110 mins

Pincus returned to filmmaking after a lengthy hiatus for this riveting and provocative examination of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the ethical responsibilities of the filmmakers baring witness. A world premiere at the 2007 New York Film Festival.

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Black Natchez

Black Natchez

Ed Pincus | David Neuman | 1967 | HDCAM | 62 mins

Screening with Panola (Ed Pincus & David Neuman, 1970) 

Pincus and David Neuman’s landmark “direct cinema” look at Mississippi in the throes of the Civil Rights movement, plus a companion short film focused on a local man self-described as “the most dangerous X that ever was.”

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Diaries (1971-76)

Diaries (1971-76)

Ed Pincus | 1980 | HDCAM | 200 mins

A masterpiece of personal documentary filmmaking in which Pincus filmed his own turbulent life and marriage over the course of five years, set the footage aside for another five years, and then set about the editing.

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Life and Other Anxieties

Life and Other Anxieties

Ed Pincus | Steve Ascher | 1977 | HDCAM | 90 mins

Invited to make a film of his choice, so long as it is shot in Minneapolis, Pincus and co-director Steve Ascher decamp for the city, where they ask strangers what parts of their lives they would like to have filmed and then proceed to do exactly that. A fascinating cinema verité experiment.

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One Step Away

One Step Away

Ed Pincus | David Neuman | 1968 | HDCAM | 54 mins

Screening with Harry's Trip (Ed Pincus & David Neuman, 1969)

In One Step Away, Pincus and Neuman set out to document a rural hippie commune during the Summer of Love only to find it an eerie replication of bourgeois society; in Harry’s Trip, the leader of said commune takes center stage during an acid trip.

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