The Washington Times - June 18, 2009, 11:34PM

In front of a packed house at the AFI Silver’s main theater, Albert Maysles received the Charles Guggenheim Symposium award for his career in the field of documentary filmmaking. Conceptual artists — and Maysles subjects — Christo and Jeanne-Claude were on hand to pay homage, as was two time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple. Miss Kopple asked those in the audience who had worked with, been influenced by, or been mentored by Mr. Maysles to stand. Roughly half of the crowd rose to their feet.

After a series of clips spanning the director’s career — from “Salesman” to “Grey Gardens” to “Gimme Shelter” and more — Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum and Mr. Maysles discussed his storied career. “In your attempt to understand people, you love them,” he said of the secret to making a great documentary. A good eye and a nose for the perfect moment also helps: “If you don’t have the poetic instinct, forget about it.”


Finding the good in people — and actually showing it in the finished product — is another of Mr. Maysles’ keys. He said the one subject he wish he could have examined is Richard Nixon, even though he couldn’t stand the oft-vilified president’s politics. “As much as I disliked him and his policies, I think I would have turned out a film he would have liked,” he said. After showing a clip from a new, unfinished work (“Close Up: Portraits”), Mr. Maysles accepted the trophy with a short acceptance speech and the crowd broke up for the after-parties. All in all, it was a dignified celebration of a great career and a life well-lived.