My last evening on June 10, 2011 at Sheffield International Documentary Festival was a real treat when the noisy party was interrupted and brought to a whispering silence when Roger Graeff announced the arrival of the veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Helped to the stage by festival director Heather Croall (someone should create an award for most energetic festival director), he walks shakily to the microphone in his crumpled black shirt, and wearing odd socks, one grey, one green, to a standing ovation by the crowd.
The minute he started talking, you could see the teenage twinkle in his eyes. He was moved and his reaction to the crowd reflected his genuine surprise. All his films are about people, so he proceeded to tell us about developing empathy with his subjects. "Constant empathy. That's my technique."
He believes he has a "duty to find the good" in his subjects. “We wanted to feel. What was great about our kind of filmmaking was the whole process of discovery”. No surprise that he is still a working filmmaker! Discovering forever.
He walked off stage with his little statue and went straight to the dance floor, a few shots of vodka and started shuffling his feet to the disco beat, surrounded by young female admirers, till the early hours of the morning. Not bad for 84!
As he left the party an impromptu wave of applause exploded and a corridor of arms rose, saluting, like a guard of honour. A special moment for a very special man.
Hope you enjoy the excerpt from his acceptance speech. Watch Albert "pontificating "on how to show "people are at their best."
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