WHEN I LEARNED that Albert Maysles had died in March, I was not surprised. The man was, after all, 88 years old and in failing health. But I have allowed myself some sadness at his passing, given his incredible achievements as a documentary filmmaker and also the beautiful person he was.
It’s one of the greatest things about being a journalist and critic: the chance to talk with the people who have made films that have left a profound impact on you. And Albert was so intensely lovely and generous on every level: if he felt he’d forgotten something or hadn’t been clear enough in an answer, he’d call or e-mail you back with thoughtful follow-up. When talking to him, you were struck by how much he’d seen and filmed in his life, from the three films he and his late brother David are most famous for— Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1975)— to the countless other people they profiled, including Orson Welles, Truman Capote and Marlon Brando.
So often when you meet the people who have created something you’ve loved they aren’t what you’d expected. Not so with Albert. He was full of warmth and humanism—like a perfect reflection of his greatest work. When I moderated the question-and-answer session of a special screening of Grey Gardens at Concordia University in 2007, a fan had come dressed up as a raccoon (in honour of the mansion’s infestation). Albert thought it was priceless, laughing and chatting with the fan after the screening. There was no snobbery about Albert—he was down-to-earth and gentle with everyone. It was this overwhelming interest in other people matched by a compassion and sincere desire to make the world a better place that made Albert such a magnificent filmmaker. His work will live on in film schools and festivals everywhere, but I can’t help but be struck by the sadness that I’ll never share his beautiful company again.