Shy of his 90th birthday, documentary filmmaking pioneer Richard Leacock passed away today in Paris. A founder of the cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema movements, Leacock was born the same year that Robert Flaherty made Nanook of the North, considered the first great non fiction film.

Leacock's own first documentary, made when he was just 14 years old, caught Flaherty's attention and the two later worked together. Richard Leacock, referred to affectionately as 'Ricky' in film circles, worked on films into the 1990s, living recently in France.

Robert Drew's 1960 documentary Primary, catapulted Leacock and his contemporaries (The Maysles Brothers, D.A. Pennebaker, Drew et. al) to wider attention. Barely embraced in America at the time, the doc pioneers were celebrated in France. At the Cinematheque Francais in Paris, Henri Langlois introduced the film as “perhaps the most important documentaries since the brothers Lumiere”!

“What am I looking for?” Leacock wrote in a 1997 essay. “I hope to be able to create sequences, that when run together will present aspects of my perception of what took place in the presence of my camera. To capture spontaneity it must exist and everything you do is liable to destroy-it… beware!”

“Filming is searching for and capturing the ingredients with which to make sequences,” he continued. “You are not going to get “the whole thing”, you are lucky to get fragments but they must be captured in such a way that you can edit. If there is dialogue you know that editing is more restricted and you must find ways to deal with this problem without recourse to that dreadful concept: the “cut away”. If music is involved the problems are even more complex. The making of sequences is, for me, at the heart of film making.”

In France, where the Cinéma du réel documentary festival opened tonight, organizers will present a tribute to Richard Leacock, screening seven of his films in the series, “Richard Leacock: the Feeling of Being There.”

More on Richard Leacock and his films can be found on his website.

We invite friends and fans of Richard Leacock to share thoughts in the comment area below.