Over the last couple of weeks, George Stoney (born 1916) and Chris Marker (born 1921), two documentary filmmakers with careers dating back to the 1950s but with very different filmmaking styles, passed away.
Stoney was someone who made documentary films than just about anyone else who has lived, but his teaching at NYU liberated his most recent work. Because he earned income from teaching, he could afford to make documentary films about topics of his choosing, not simply because they paid the bills. He could document a conversation with the philosopher and activist Paulo Friere, Finding Friere, or he could be an active agent in community television. His life is documented in George Stoney: A Life on Film and the generically named George Stoney Documentary, two shorts both available on YouTube.
Marker was more of a film essayist than a visual documentarian: he used the documentary form to explore deeper, more philosophical themes that were not always inherently visible. Because of the stylistic complexity and multimodal narration of his films, Marker has been a darling of film scholars, and he shows up on many film studies syllabi. I showed Sans Soleil in a spring 2011 version of my History of Cinema III course at Queens College.
If you haven’t seen any of Marker’s films, there are high quality streaming versions on Hulu Plus of his two most popular films, courtesy of the Criterion Collection: the science fiction short La Jetée from 1962, and the fictional memoir and essay film Sans Soleil from 1983.
These two luminaries of the documentary from will be celebrated at December’s Visible Evidence XIX Conference in Canberra, Australia.