ANNOUNCER: You're watching NOW WITH BILL MOYERS.
With contributions from NPR news.
This week on NOW...
Two independent filmmakers who challenge us to see the world with fresh eyes.
One has a controversial new film on Henry Kissinger, whose return to government has set off a firestorm.
ISAACSON: Kissinger had a very conspiratorial and sometimes manipulative character.
ANNOUNCER: Director Eugene Jarecki, on the man the president named to root out the secrets of September 11.
A Bill Moyers interview.
And a pioneer of the American documentary premieres a new film on NOW.
LEICESTER: I don't have any children. And sometimes I go, "Who's going to remember me?"
ANNOUNCER: Albert Maysles on his intimate portraits of America, and the extraordinary lives of people far outside the spotlight.
All that tonight on NOW.
ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. Those of us who make documentaries are gamblers. We spend years on a film without knowing whether anyone will care about the subject once it's finished. A few weeks ago Eugene Jarecki and Alex Gibney worried that might be the case with their film on Henry Kissinger.
Then last week President Bush appointed Kissinger to head the commission to investigate what our government knew and didn't know, what it did and didn't do, before the terror attacks on September 11th.
Now their film has landed smack dab in the middle of a raging debate about the fitness of Henry Kissinger to head that commission.
Eugene Jarecki who directed the film is here to talk to me about it. But first, let's look at an excerpt from THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER. This segment takes us back to 1968. President Johnson has announced that in order to concentrate on trying to make peace in Vietnam, he will not stand for reelection. His Vice President Hubert Humphrey is running neck and neck with Richard Nixon to succeed Johnson.
Talks between the US and the two Vietnams are taking place in Paris. Harvard Professor Henry Kissinger shows up in Paris as a private adviser to the negotiators. He has previously consulted with the Johnson administration and has friends close to both the Humphrey and Nixon camps. Here's the excerpt:
NARRATOR: In Paris, representatives of the Johnson Administration were negotiating with the North Vietnamese in an effort to end the war.
DANIEL DAVIDSON, PEACE TALKS DELEGATE, 1968:
We'd been in Paris since May of '68 and we got nowhere because in retrospect there was only one issue, was the United States going to get out and be defeated? And nobody was prepared to say "Yes, we've lost the war. It's over."
NARRATOR: Kissinger was an advisor to the negotiators who were authorized to provide him with privileged information.
DAVIDSON: Kissinger was in Paris in September of 1968. I thought he was intelligent, charming and just a good companion.
NARRATOR: But what Davidson and other members of the Johnson team did not know was that, on September 10, Kissinger had contacted the Nixon campaign by telephone.
DAVIDSON: We certainly did not know it. Kissinger shared his analysis of what was happening with them and he was probably by far the most brilliant mind available to them and the most sophisticated analyst.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, THE TRIAL OF HENRY KISSINGER:
Richard Nixon himself said that he admired Henry Kissinger for his ability to supply secret information.
NARRATOR: Nixon was afraid that a peace accord in Paris might cost him the election.
Kissinger notices something. Richard Nixon is prepared to undercut Mr. Johnson and Mr. Humphrey, the President and the Vice President and their negotiations in Paris.
WALTER ISAACSON, KISSINGER BIOGRAPHER:
Kissinger had a very conspiratorial and sometimes manipulative character. He really liked to please various sides, he liked to ingratiate himself and in the Paris peace talks, he was willing to talk to both the Johnson/ Humphrey camp as well as the Nixon camp.
Kissinger told the Nixon campaign that the Johnson team was close to an agreement with North Vietnam. Until the deal was final, the Johnson team wanted to keep the negotiations secret from South Vietnam.
NARRATOR: But Nixon had opened a secret channel of communication with South Vietnamese President Thieu. The go-between was Anna Chennault.
Information, information, information. And knowing that I travelled to Asia quite frequently, messages to South Vietnam always come through me.
NARRATOR: In late September, Kissinger returned to Harvard. As the election approached, he kept in contact with both the negotiators in Paris and with members of the Nixon campaign.
He was getting information from both sides, he was probably giving information to both sides too. And I don't blame him. After all, he wasn't sure which side was going to win. Whoever wins, he's going to go to their side.
By the way, Kissinger expected to work for whoever the next President was. He offered me a job in the next administration in September of 1968.
Independent of the President's name?
NARRATOR: On October 31, Henry Kissinger called the Nixon campaign to say that there had been a breakthrough in the talks. "I've got some important information," said Kissinger. "They're breaking out the champagne in Paris."
Twelve hours later, the announcement was made. The bombing of North Vietnam would cease and final negotiations would begin. The prospect of peace gave Humphrey a last-minute surge in the polls.
And then finally, just a few days before the election, we were moving to substantive negotiations for the first time and there were great hopes at that time.
NARRATOR: But just three days before the election, President Thieu defied Johnson and refused to join the peace negotiations.
Certainly one reason is the advice they got from Nixon's people. It's clear that they were being told to hold out and not go to Paris.
NARRATOR: FBI surveillance of the Nixon Camp's contacts with Thieu confirm this. "Hold on," he was told. "We're gonna win."
Without the participation of South Vietnam, the peace talks collapsed. Richard Nixon won the popular vote by a margin of less than 1%.
We know further that Mr. Kissinger's opinion of Mr. Nixon was very low. Why is he suddenly doing this tremendous favor during an election campaign for someone for whom he has nothing but contempt?
It's in the hope of a political reward.
NIXON (INTRODUCING KISSINGER IN 1968):
Dr. Henry Kissinger has agreed to come with the White House staff as the assistant to the President elect for National Security Affairs.
[END OF EXCERPT]
MOYERS: Joining me now is Eugene Jarecki who directed THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER. After directing stage plays, Eugene Jarecki won several prizes for his first short film and since then his work has appeared on BBC television, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, MTV and CBS.
Welcome to NOW.
MOYERS: First let me say that I served in the Johnson administration but I had left 18 months before the events we just saw. I didn't know anything about them at the time.
So did you find a smoking gun with Henry Kissinger's fingerprints on it that would prove conclusively that he did what the film alleges?
EUGENE JARECKI: I think what you see in the Paris Peace Talks is less of a crime by Dr. Kissinger than an unsavory launching pad for a career, a kind of a questionable bit of ethics.
Dr. Kissinger's role is really more behind the scenes, and it's recorded by testimonial accounts of people who had contact with him from both camps at that time.
MOYERS: Did you try to interview Henry Kissinger about this?
JARECKI: Yes, we did. We tried to interview him for the film in general, because a number of allegations were being raised and we felt it vital to hear his side of the story.
We sought his friends, we sought people who knew of him and would speak for him. Dr. Kissinger did decline to participate in the film.
MOYERS: In his memoirs, which I looked at again last night, he admits to talking to Nixon's campaign manager about a bombing halt in Vietnam but he says he advised the campaign against making a political issue out of it.
JARECKI: The accusation of Dr. Kissinger, against Dr. Kissinger, with respect to the Paris Peace Talks, has more to do with a sort of a statement about his character, his willingness to have been advisor both to the Johnson/Humphrey camp as well as the Nixon camp.
What he did was to straddle the two teams who were vying for the presidency and sort of make himself available to each and putting himself in the best possible light as a candidate for the next administration of each.
MOYERS: It's hard for me to believe that Henry Kissinger would risk his future on advising the Nixon camp to sabotage the peace talks, because if Humphrey won, and he almost did win, it would have been very easy for Nixon and the Nixon camp to humiliate Kissinger, ruin his life and his career by saying, look what he tried to tell us to do.
JARECKI: Well, I think to be fair to Dr. Kissinger, at that time he's a Harvard Professor who is being asked for, he's come to notoriety because of his sort of strength as a strategic policy analyst. And so he's made himself available in almost the purist academic sense, to both camps as an advisor.
I think the reason critics of Dr. Kissinger have focused on his conduct during the peace talks as something other than just pure academic involvement is that there was a great deal of secrecy on his part about exactly what he was doing, sort of not telling one camp that he was talking to the other camp. And again, this is at a very early point in a career.
MOYERS: But, calling Henry Kissinger secretive is like describing Frankenstein as ugly. I mean, he is just by nature secretive. And it may be why he's been successful behind the scenes and in the high councils of power.
JARECKI: Yes. Secrecy is a theme you're going to see throughout the career of Dr. Kissinger. And what we looked to do was to take full stock of his career and really try to understand partly his motivations but also a bit about his character, this tendency to be secretive, willingness to act as a double agent and so forth.
MOYERS: Why you think that is relevant to his appointment to the commission?
JARECKI: Well, I think in no small measure anyone who saw the Bush administration resist the establishment of a 9/11 commission for as long as they did, had to have been saddened by the choice of President Bush to appoint a man to chair that commission whose career has been devoted to secrecy and not to openness.
The problem is not whether Dr. Kissinger is qualified as an intellectual to process the information about 9/11, it's a question about whether his sense of the role of morality and the importance of democracy makes him a proper candidate, a qualified candidate, to chair an inquiry of this kind.
I think the reality is that Dr. Kissinger is famous around the world, if nothing else, is famous for being secretive and for being willing to put American national interests ahead of democratic processes like Congressional oversight, like exactly the form of inquiry he's about to chair. Many people allege that he lied to the Church Committee...
MOYERS: The Church Committee investigated the intelligence failings of the 1960s and 70s.
JARECKI: And worse. And many people including a US ambassador in our film and a military attache who worked under the operations that Kissinger supervised do say in the film that he...openly they say that he lied to the Church Committee, which shows a disregard for this exact kind of commission. And so I think that's why there's been a controversy about his appointment.
MOYERS: Let's look at another sequence in your film. This is one about the secret bombing of Cambodia, which began in February of 1969 when you were just...were you born then?
JARECKI: I was about.... I was born eight months after the secret bombing of Cambodia began.
MOYERS: All right. Let's take a look at this.
NARRATOR: Less than a month into Nixon's Presidency, he and Kissinger began planning an attack against North Vietnamese "sanctuaries" in neighboring Cambodia.
WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, AUTHOR, SIDESHOW:
The problem was that whole areas of eastern Cambodia - which was in theory a neutral country, not on the side of the North Vietnamese or the South Vietnamese - whole areas of the country had been taken over by the North Vietnamese communists...and they were using them as staging areas and bases for their attacks on the South Vietnamese armies in South Vietnam and upon the American army in South Vietnam.
GENERAL ALEXANDER HAIG, JR., FORMER KISSINGER AIDE:
Cambodia, Thailand, they were gonna overrun the whole peninsula...
And this led to all sorts of problems, because taking the war secretly into a neutral country meant you had to destroy the actual records, or to conceal them very effectively, to lie in fact.
ELIZABETH BECKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Well one motivation was for the secrecy was because it was illegal, I mean that's simple.
NARRATOR: Under the U.S. Constitution, bombing Cambodia was an Act of War that would require the approval of the U.S. Congress.
I don't know that Congress would have allowed it. The last thing that Congress wanted was an expansion of the war.
NARRATOR: In February, 1969, in a secret meeting on Air Force One, Kissinger and his Aide, Alexander Haig, met with Air Force Colonel Ray Sitton to plan for the secret bombing of Cambodia.
SEYMOUR HERSH, AUTHOR, THE PRICE OF POWER:
What Kissinger wanted done was they ask Sitton to find a way to mask the bombing so nobody would know what was going on and Sitton did. He found a way.
The initial secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 was called Operation Menu. And each of the targets were different or supposed to be different North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. And they were called after names of meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack.
NARRATOR: Starting with "Breakfast," Kissinger approved a plan to conceal the Cambodian bombing missions from military records.
Under this "duel reporting system," B52 pilots would be pre-assigned targets in South Vietnam.
In mid-flight, their planes would be re-routed by ground radar stations and guided to secret targets in Cambodia.
The returning pilots would report that their bombs had been dropped on South Vietnam.
Cambodia would never appear in the record.
[END OF EXCERPT]
MOYERS: Secrecy was so much a part of the way the Johnson administration conducted the war in Vietnam. What's exceptional about what Kissinger did after that period?
JARECKI: I think what those who worked with Kissinger in the White House during that time tended to note time and again when we spoke to them was the need to maintain the secrecy of that, to conceal it from the US Congress and from the American public was so great that inevitably leaks happened, somebody in the White House told somebody in the press that this bombing was happening. And before long, stories about it began to appear in the press.
When that happened, Dr. Kissinger did authorize, in contacts with the FBI, the wiretapping of his own staff. And that was such a...for people who were devoted to him and who cared deeply about him and had followed him into the White House with great devotion to his thinking, I think it was an enormous personal shock.
And many of them talked to us about what it felt like to have found out that they had been wiretapped by their own supervisor.
MOYERS: In the Kennedy and the Johnson administrations, the FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King because they feared that he was being infiltrated by communist elements. I mean, secrecy, wiretapping. It was an ugly world, and every administration did some of what you're saying in your film Henry Kissinger did.
You and I can have individual morality that we try to live by, but diplomacy, statecraft are about dealing with countries that do not share our morality. It's a pretty realistic world out there.
JARECKI: Well, I've heard this, and audiences sometimes say, well, maybe you're being naive if you're looking to hold morality up to US foreign policy. Dr. Kissinger in our film, he talks about how morality cannot be applied to the conduct of states as directly as to human relations because statesmen have to choose among evils.
Well, we all choose among evils. And so to me in a sense I think it remains vital to ask ourselves what the role of morality will be in US foreign policy and in the foreign policy of any country. And if that's naïve, then I have to say I think democracy is naïve.
MOYERS: Did you start out with a personal animus against Henry Kissinger?
JARECKI: No, not at all. I mean, like a lot of kids growing up in the early seventies, I was fed Dr. Kissinger with my Fruit Loops. He was the Dr. Ruth of American foreign policy, and the model statesman.
I mean, my father left Nazi Germany a year after Dr. Kissinger, and so in my household he was very much an icon. He was a kind of immigrant success story, a refugee success story.
And so in a sense the film reflects a certain coming of age on my part, which is not a personal vendetta about Henry Kissinger; it is far more a kind of a glimpse through the role of Dr. Kissinger into the workings of US foreign policy and the very desperate moral and legal issues that face it.
MOYERS: You started this film two years ago, right?
MOYERS: Long before 9/11.
MOYERS: Long before Kissinger's appointment last week.
When you heard about the appointment last week, having finished this, having gone on to other things, what was your first thought when you heard that President Bush had appointed Kissinger to head this important commission?
JARECKI: Well, I did think that it sad that the President had made a very rather callous choice in the appointment of Dr. Kissinger a choice that made a statement about secrecy more than about openness.
As for Dr. Kissinger, I had to ask myself and I wish I could ask him, and maybe if he's watching, or if anyone who knows him is watching, my question to him is, I'm very aware that he rejects the charges that have been raised by jurists and journalists around the world over a quarter century, the charges that we assess in our film.
These are charges of having lied to certain instruments of democracy that sought to question him, the charges of having concealed information from the Congress and the American public, charges in other countries of having conducted activities which people view as crimes against humanity.
He objects to all of that. He objects to the lawsuit currently filed against him in Washington D.C. courts for the wrongful death assassination of a Chilean general.
So given that he objects to all that, and that is his privilege, because it's for the courts to resolve, his guilt or innocence, he does know that there are millions of people around the world who view him with a shadow of doubt and who see in him a figure of secrecy and of covert American policy.
MOYERS: So what do you think his appointment to this important commission means to those people, to people around the world?
JARECKI: I think it means that the United States is sending a signal that the investigation means to be one that puts American national interests before democracy, before democratic processes like inquiry, like openness, open society, full answers.
MOYERS: But you know a lot of people honestly believe that it's important to put the national interests above secrecy that protecting us is more important than our knowing how we're being protected.
JARECKI: I think you have to draw a distinction between national interests and national security. And I think very often those are at odds if what you do is throw out democracy, say, we're experiencing technical difficulties, we're going to put democracy on a back burner for the moment. Please stand by.
You may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And injecting secrecy into the event says, it's that line from A FEW GOOD MEN. It says, "you can't handle the truth." Well, I think we can handle the truth as a people. And I think we need to handle the truth to be able to find a way in the world to coexist all of us together.
MOYERS: Do you think the commission will get to the truth? Will we know?
JARECKI: I fear that it won't, so long as Dr. Kissinger chairs it. And I know people say, well, there are nine other commissioners. But, Dr. Kissinger will be the chairman, and he is certainly one of the most visible people in the United States and one of the most powerful people in the world to this day, especially on the media.
And so to put a figure of Dr. Kissinger's credibility into that job, sends a statement that the answers may be shrouded with doubt.
MOYERS: Has your film appeared on television in this country?
JARECKI: Not yet. We did...it's shown around the world, and it's currently in theaters across America, in New York, and Chicago, and Boston, and a lot of cities. And we're very happy about that.
We did find that Dr. Kissinger remains a kind of media darling, and the film was a bit of a hot potato for American broadcasters to show.
MOYERS: What do you mean "media darling"?
JARECKI: If you watch the evening news, Dr. Kissinger is very often brought on to sort of be the statesman of his age and to reflect dispassionately on world events. And so a film challenging his legacy, a film that assesses charges that are quite grave against him, is something that is touchy for the media to show.
And I hate to say that we did have some trouble finding American broadcasters. We have, I'm very happy to announce, that the Sundance Channel is going to launch their new documentary division using the film as its premiere in March of next year.
MOYERS: THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER, directed by Eugene Jarecki, co-produced with Alex Gibney. Thank you for joining us.
JARECKI: Thank you very much.
MOYERS: This is the season when public television stations reach out to you for support.
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Your support makes it possible for us to deal with controversial subjects without fearing the reaction of some advertiser or some angry partisan.
Your help also supports our web resources where you can find out much more about the Kissinger debate, the film we've been discussing, and government secrecy among other subjects.
Check out pbs.org you'll see another dimension of what public television offers the hungry and curious mind.
THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER, WASHINGTON WEEK, WALL STREET WEEK and NOW, quite a lineup for a Friday night. And you're the reason for it.
In a few minutes, you'll meet one of America's pioneer filmmakersthe true soul of independenceand he'll premiere a new film he made just for NOW.
MOYERS: Tonight we're meeting independent filmmakers who try to record the truth about our society.
Their kind of truth-telling is rare in the mass media.
That's because the corporate media have little tolerance for independent filmmakers and journalists, so their work often struggles to find an audience.
It's a fact that a handful of conglomerates controls most of what you see and hear.
And now, the last place in Washington where there has been any challenge to media monopoly is crumbling.
There's a move afoot for a major rewrite of the laws that would actually allow more monopoly control of the media.
It's happening at the Federal Communications Commissionthe FCC.
And the odds are, big media won't even tell you about it.
BILL MOYERS: The FCC was established in 1934 to see that the nation's broadcasters served the public interest making sure the airwaves were used for more than commercial purposes alone.
HISTORICAL TAPE: "The item is adopted..."
MOYERS: Things have changed over the years. Just listen to FCC Chairman Michael Powell:
FCC CHAIRMAN MICHAEL POWELL (FROM TAPE): This is the most unique period in the history of the Federal Communications Commission. Every single area that we have regulatory oversight for is in the midst of its most profound revolution ever."
MOYERS: That revolution has brought new technologies, like the Internet, cable and satellite television. But it has also brought on the greatest concentration of media ownership in American history.
Now the FCC is considering dismantling the last rules that would prevent even more consolidation. That's exactly what media giants have been lobbying for...in the name of economic efficiency.
SHAUN SHEEHAN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE TRIBUNE COMPANY: In Chicago, we have 650 people on the editorial staff. In LA, in Los Angeles for the LA Times, it's well over 1,000.
MOYERS: Shaun Sheehan is Vice President of the Tribune Company, one of the country's largest broadcasters and newspaper publishers. The Tribune is pushing for an end to the rule that prevents a company from owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
SHEEHAN: If you take that reportorial talent and put it to use on television, Internet, what have you, get the words out over multiple platforms, you better serve your audience.
MICHAEL COPPS, FCC COMMISSIONER: If you take this to its logical conclusion, you could end up with a situation where one company owns the newspaper, the television station, the radio station and the cable system.
MOYERS: Michael Copps is the lone Democrat on the FCC.
COPPS: That may have some economic efficiencies attached to it, but I daresay it also has some profound democratic and social and political considerations that we ignore only at our own tremendous peril.
MOYERS: But consolidation is the trend. In 1975 there were some 1500 owners of full-power TV stations and daily newspapers. By 2000, that number had dropped to about 625.
And remember the Telecommunications Act of 1996? It led to a wave of mergers. There are now 1,700 fewer owners of commercial radio stations a one-third decline. Today, just a few players dominate. One conglomerate alone - Clear Channel - owns more than 1,200 stations and controls 11 percent of the market.
And by the way - that legislation was also supposed to lower the rates you pay for your cable service. Instead, costs have increased almost 30 percent. Why? Because the big giveaway of '96 did not increase competition - it increased monopoly. The nation's seven largest cable operators control more than 75 percent of the market.
Yes, it's true: the typical cable consumer today receives about 60 channels. But those so-called "choices" are determined by a handful of corporate giants … companies like Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Disney, and NewsCorp.
But do we hear about all this from the mainstream media? Hardly.
Of the major broadcasters, only ABC reported the FCC's recent decision to review media ownership rules … and that report was at 4:40 in the morning. While the big newspapers did somewhat better, only the LOS ANGELES TIMES mentioned that its corporate owner, the Tribune Company, was actively lobbying for deregulation.
GENE KIMMELMAN, CONSUMERS UNION: Those broadcasters and newspapers are whom we rely upon to tell that story and allow the American people to have that public debate. And they don't want to have that debate. They want a deregulatory minded administration just to get out of their way, eliminate ownership limitations, let them join together. And the American people unfortunately may find out about this on the back end after its all happened.
MOYERS: And while the public's been left unaware of what's happening, time is running out. The FCC has set a January 2nd deadline for public comments on the proposed changes.
Commissioner Copps wants more debate and more time for it.
COPPS: I think we need to go out across the country and talk to all of the stakeholders in the great American communications revolution of our time. And in point of fact, every American is a stakeholder.
MOYERS: And now my colleague from NPR, Daniel Zwerdling.
ZWERDLING: Now we turn to another filmmaker who's also made portraits of famous people. He's profiled John F. Kennedy and the Rolling Stones.
But Albert Maysles is probably best known because he makes astonishing films about ordinary lives. In fact, Maysles helped invent what you might call the forerunner of reality TV.
I don't mean the version you see all over television these days, where regular people eat maggots or an aging rock star rants at his family.
Back in the 1960s, Maysles was one of the first filmmakers who harnessed a new generation of lightweight documentary cameras. Maysles used them to peer into people's souls in a way that nobody had ever done before.
We asked Al Maysles to make a short film for us on any topic he wanted. So he picked up his latest camera and he gave us this work. He calls it "Before I Leave."
[FILM: "BEFORE I LEAVE"]
PTOLOMY SLOCUM: I don't think we have a good sense of why we're here, per se, like the other thing that was bothering me about this question about, "What I would want when I go?" is that there is a component of me, and a component of, I think, everyone here that when I die, I really want everybody to be sad.
Like, I want... I want everybody to be sad. And I want them to like not get over it, and I want them to be like...
Off Screen Voice: A glass coffin... that's marching through the streets...
PTOLOMY SLOCUM: ... I want them to talk about me, and I don't know what the... I don't know what I'm doing. You know what I mean? Like, I don't know...
CHAD CARTER: Why would you want people to be sad? I mean, why...
PTOLOMY SLOCUM: I want to have an effect.
When you think about after you die, like when you die, you just imagine that people like say these great things about you, and it's like, this is how important it is, and that you're never forgotten.
JACKIE CLARKE: But you will be forgotten!
PTOLOMY SLOCUM: I know! But you don't want to be.
JACKIE CLARKE: I remember thinking that when my mom died. I was like, I'll think about my mom every day. And then it's like months will go by before I think about my mom. And it just happens, you know? Over 20 years ago she died.
PTOLOMY SLOCUM: That's why a little bit of this project is a little strange…because what you pass on is a lot different than what you would want to pass on.
BRIDGET LEICEISTER (CANCER SURVIVOR): It's strange to think about being remembered, for me, because I don't have any children. And sometimes I go, "Who's going to remember me? I suddenly think, "Who's going to look through all my old photographs and my books, and even my clothes and go, I want to remember that part of her."
And sometimes that makes me sad.
I mean, I have two nephews, who I love madly. I think they will remember me.
But it's... it's a poignant thing for me sometimes.
What will happen when I'm gone?
LOUIS DIPALO (OWNER OF DIPALO'S CHEESE SHOP IN LITTLE ITALY): I miss my father everyday. But you wanna know something? I see him everyday. I really feel his presence. You know? My mother I know she comes here…she's at… she's at the greatest joy when she's working 'cause I think she also feels my father's presence together when she's working.
You know, I'll turn around and all of the sudden I'll see his face and sometimes I look in the mirror and see his face and say "Oh my God!" I say, "I can't believe it! You know, I'm looking like my father. I'm proud to be like him, but now I'm looking like him. You know."
Looking at his face, you wouldn't believe it, but he always used to tell me when things we're down: "Smile. God Loves You."
This captured the true character of my father. Someone who was…was…was a pretty big man but very gentle man.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON (SON, JOURNALIST): Well since I…I…I guess I'm the one that almost, that most recently almost went.
JOE JOHNSON (FATHER, UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR): Yes…Yeah.
JEREMIAH JOHNSON: I almost died about… a block away from here. I did think about you, and I did think about the family. And I thought about... I remember when the first tower went, I started running towards the tower because you guys live so close. And then surviving the first collapse, and then surviving the second collapse... What I was thinking was, you know, I wanted you guys to know that I was doing what you taught me to do. I was doing what I do best to make the world a better place. And from moment to moment "best" changed. First it was just saving my own butt, you know, by jumping off, you know, jumping onto a boat and surviving the first collapse. And then after that it was helping people, and you know, pulling them up and pulling them out.
JOE JOHNSON: But…I think that so much of who I am is you and your sister, in so far as what that you've given me, in terms of what you've given me, in terms of a kind of a focus. The whole idea of the family not being this kind of static kind of thing, but something that eh... I don't think I'm going to leave. When I say that, I mean, of course, that I'm going to go on. I'm going to go on through you. I'm going to go on and not stop. I mean just like my father went through…I went through him, and his grandfather, and his grandfather. It's like that African thing about the dead, the living in the unborn. And there sort of all integrated in some sort of force that sort of just moves, stays still, or just goes ahead.
RABBI JOSEPH GELBERMAN (INTERFAITH RABBI): I came here in 1939 from Europe. I was already married and I had a child. And they wouldn't let them come. And the only reason I got a visa is to come as a... as a... guest for the World's Fair, which was in 1939. And I had to buy a ticket to return.
So... but fortunately because I was a rabbi, there was a law here in America. If you find a congregation that needs you, you can stay here. That can make your visit permanent. And then... but I had to serve the congregation for a whole year. And then at the end of the year, I could have brought out my family. But unfortunately at the end of the year, I found out I have no family. My wife, my child, she was only about 6 years old, my father, my mother, about 5 or 6 of my brothers and sisters. So that was... not a laughing matter, and certainly depressing.
No matter how positive you are in your thinking, that that goes beyond it. But not for too long. As I meditate on it, I came to a conclusion which helped me in the last, almost 40 years.
And the conclusion came, they did not die. What do you mean they did not die? Well my brothers are right here. You and you. Every time I teach, these are all my children. I have about 1500 of them. Every time I do a wedding, these are my children getting married. Nobody dies who is alive.
BRIDGET LEICEISTER (CANCER SURVIVOR): I think I really learned after I was diagnosed with cancer how important it is to connect to other people. You know? Like, we're mammals. We're warm-blooded. We need connection. And it's so important for me and here it's so important.
Somebody in our group who's 24 has just died, and…he was just this radiant, loving, incredible, wonderful young man. And I'm… definitely feeling him, and why? Who knows? But he was just magic. And he died, at age 24?
CHARLES LEIGHTON (CANCER SURVIVOR): We all want to be remembered. I think it's less important what we want to be remembered for than just the fact that we want to be remembered.
BRIDGET LEICEISTER: Anyway. I..
CHARLES LEIGHTON: But we don't know how others will see us
BRIDGET LEICEISTER: Because we don't... even while we're living, we really don't know how people see us. Which is strange.
JIM CARROL (POET, SINGER, SONGWRITER, SPOKEN-WORD ARTIST): You know, people will think of you the way they want to but I just want people to whisk me away really quickly. You know, because I don't wanna, you know, just like, you know, I really don't wanna die from some hideous protracted illness or something. I wanna really go quick. [Snaps fingers.]
I have a real sense of, you know, not beingoverstaying my welcome, you know, and I don't wanna be a pain in the ass to anybody. And I don't wanna be a burden to anybody.
A lot of people have bailed me out of jams and I've bailed other people out of jams. So I would, you know, I would just like to, like I said just get slipped into the oven and everybody, you know (claps hands) walks away and thinks what they may, you know? And if, you know, if some friends wanna plant a tree that would be great, you know. And if some neighborhood dog wants to pee on it then that's fine too.
But, it's true just um...just throw, I mean, just make sure that I am dead 'cause I don't wanna be in that oven if there's any spark of life, man.
Al Maysles. Thank you so much for that film. And thanks for joining us in the studio.
All right. That's a pleasure.
It's unbelievable that this is only eight minutes. It's like "whump." I mean this film just gets you right in the gut.
I think it's an idea that I've had a long time with myself that I would sit down some day with a tape recorder and record a message for my family. And so then I thought, "Well, why don't I do that with a number of ordinary people." And because I have to believe that ordinary people should bemore attention should be paid to them. And they've got some things to say to others and to us as viewers.
And what do you want your family to remember and what do you want society to remember about what you gave to filmmaking? I know it's hard to sum up in a few words. But try.
Well, I've made films that have come from the heart. And I think the best that we could do in making a film is to somehow or other call into action memories, childhood experience, cravings. Something that comes from our heart.
And in any case, I'm always filming heart-to-heart. I think that it's important that you establish a kind of a friendly friendship relationship with people. And you can do that right away so that in the presence of the camera, your presence, isn't gonna interfere with what's going on. So it's entirely different sort of thing from what we normally experience when we see a Hollywood film.
A Hollywood film, it has to cost $100 million, or $50 million in order to have high production value. Well high production valueprofessional lighting and the use of a tripod and 35 millimeter. All these things are artificial devices that in fact steer you away from common experience, from giving you the feeling which I think is so important and which we are so much deprived of, the feeling that you're on common ground with another person. Whether that other person is from a different class or a different occupational kind of role or from another country or whatever.
Before the era of handheld cameras came in, tell us how a filmmaker would shoot his or her
Well you'd have to have a crew of maybe five or six people. You have to have lights because for one thing the film wasn't sensitive enough to a dark or light situation. And the philosophy at that time was different. If we can't get at the thing itself, well then don't worry. The narrator will explain what's going on.
And it seems like that situation, I mean just the idea of sitting down with this whole group of people around you and lights and everything. You know, it must've made film so artificial. Documentary films even.
It was almost impossible to really do something where the person would see the film and say, "Yeah. It's just like being there. Ah, I'm so glad that I saw that film. Now I know what it's like to go through that kind of an experience, whatever it is."
I'd like to talk more about that in a few minutes. But first I wanna go back to 1960, because I take it that for you the
That was a turning point in my life.
Why? This was the presidential campaign.
Yeah. It was the presidential primary campaign between Kennedy and Humphrey.
Why did it change you?
Well, if I didn't have this kind of equipment that Time and Life had spent almost $1 million to develop, I couldn't have gone behind the scenes with these guys to come up with anything. Because I'd have to keep reloading and using a tripod and havingasking them to do that, this and that for me. But with the equipment that we had, I didn't have to ask for anything. I could observe and the same vein get everything that was going on. So that for the first time you really felt you were behind the scenes with these guys. And you felt exactly what they go through when they're campaigning.
Give us an example or two of what you saw behind the scenes.
Well, there was a moment where JFK walked into this big auditorium. There were some 2,000 people in Chicago, in this auditorium waiting for him. And as he walked through the crowd I was walking behind him with a camera held up like this and down behind his head.
But with a wide enough angle lens so that you could see all the people looking at the camera, but really looking at him. So it had that psychological impact of almost being an inside his head. I remember Elia Kazan, the famous movie director. When he saw that shot he said, "Oh my God! I can never get a shot like that because the studio would never approve it or it would cost too much money.
Over 2,000 people. I remember Jackie turning to me and saying, said, "Look at my gloves. They're turning black just from shaking people's hands." In her white gloves. Right? So when she got up to speak I thought, "I gotta get her hands." Right? And it wasn't that they were dirty. But she was so nervous that getting those hands revealed something that you couldn't have seen from the front. So it was a delicate moment that really wasn't embarrassing. It was a humanizing moment that she adored when she saw the film. And she said, "You know, I've gotta save this film. I gotta show it to my grandchildren."
Let's leap ahead a few years to the late 1960s when you made possibly your most famous documentary about bible salesmen.
We took this very simple notion of filming a subject that would tap into what is supremely characteristic of America.
Here we talk about rugged individualism. Who is a more rugged individualist than a salesman knocking on a door but with a Bible and he's gonna sell it as a product.
[FILM EXCERPT: SALESMAN]
The best seller in the world is the Bible, for one reason. It's the greatest piece of literature of all time. It's really tremendous, isn't it? There's the shepherd and the three Kings, flight into Egypt, the childhood of Jesus, Mary turns near, Mary finds Jesus in the temple. So you can see how this would be an inspiration in the home. You like that honey? What's your name?
Well she's as bright, she's pretty like her mother. Huh? Christine, you know what my name is?
Paul. You know, Paul?
You have a cousin named Paul.
You can see how complete it is. The Bible runs as little as $49.95. We have three plans on it: cash, COD, and also they have a little Catholic honor plan. Which plan would be the best for you? The A, B, or C?
I'm really not interested unless I speak it over with my husband
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you wouldn't want to give him a surprise? Does he have a birthday coming up? It would be a lovely gift. It plays a tremendous...the Bible is still the best seller in the world, so...
I just couldn't afford it now, I'm swamped with medical bills.
[END OF EXCERPT]
There you have it.
It still gives you pleasure.
Oh, yeah. It's just everything just worked just so beautifully when that child got up, and poked her tune on the piano it was the most beautiful kind of orchestration of what was going on in his mind. So you rely on coincidences.
How do they let you come in with your camera and film them being so exposed?
You know when people who are in the films when they see the films, the first thing they say is, "Yeah, that's the truth." And the...
So the people in the film like it.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. People want to be recognized for what they are, not for what they necessarily think they'd like to be and there are moments that are somewhat embarrassing but they say, "Yeah, that's me. That's right. That's what I'm going through. I'm glad you got that."
You have said frequently that every time you make a documentary it's an act of love.
I think I'm paraphrasing you. But...
It had better be. Yeah.
Why? Because so many filmmakers these days are bam, bam, bam. in your face. Out to get you.
Because when they do that, when they're out to get people, it bounces back. I mean it becomes a piece of propaganda. It bounces back. But I must say, I must say that so far maybe because my sort of approach isn't practiced enough and it doesn't get on enough. I don't know what it is. But so far the most popular, the most profitable for the filmmaker has been this sledgehammer approach of being brutal. And of showing the nastiness of people.
I just would like to see the opposite get shown so that we can prove once and for all that people maybe are not so not so bad in their tastes. That they really would like to see people who are like themselves and who are like their neighbors.
You are now, what, how old?
In several days I'll be 76.
Well, hey, happy birthday. And all your colleagues say that you are still reinventing your work.
And that now this whole generation of teeny-weenie cameras has come along and how do you want this new technology, first of all, to liberate you even further? And what about young filmmakers? I'm especially interested in what you would tell young filmmakers to do with this technology.
The great still photographer Robert Capra was asked once what would he advise people going into photography what would be his advice.
He expressed it in one sentence. He says, "Get close, get very close." And so these little video cameras allow you to get very close.
You mean physically like this?
Well, not just necessarily that. But because the camera, for example, is away from your face and you can hold it over here, you can use your eyes to supplement whatever other means you're using to maintain a rapport with the person. And that's very important so that that will allow you to be that much closer to that person. Not physically, but getting into the heart and soul of the matter.
I'm dying to know what you think of these so-called reality TV shows. Do you feel heart and soul in 'em?
I saw the Osbourne show and at least that show that I saw was just a continuous flow of profanity, which I didn't particularly appreciate.
You see, entertainment has gotten to be a bad word for us who watch this stuff and are very critical of television. Why? Because entertainment, most of it is of a diversionary nature, it's a diversion. It's just a distraction. And as an artist, whether in film or anything else, or as a human being, it's much more satisfying for you to be engaged with what's going on rather than disengaged. And most of it is a disengagement through, I mean, how can you relate to a family that is swearing all the time? You'd like to know what really is going on in their life rather than swearing. It doesn't delineate really any of their true feelings.
Albert Maysles. Al Maysles, thank you so much for being with us.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW: the rapidly shrinking middle class.
SPEAKER: The feelings that people have are very real.
What's going to happen tomorrow?
Where will I get my next check?
Am I going to lose the house?
ANNOUNCER: The new realities of the American dream as the gap between rich and poor keeps growing. Next week on NOW.
ANNOUNCER: And coming up on NPR radio...
SIMON: Hi, I'm Scott Simon of NPR News.
Tomorrow on Weekend Edition, the deadline draws near for Iraq to make a full weapons disclosure this weekend.
Small towns along the U.S.-Mexico border feel the crunch of tightened security, and we'll chat with Heather Mills McCartney.
You can find your local public radio station on our web site, NPR.org.
MOYERS: And there is a final note tonight.
Some weeks ago we reported on the story of Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
He is a citizen both of Egypt and America who has been in jail for two years in Cairo for speaking up for democracy and human rights.
His wife Barbara, an American-born scholar, told us on the show that her husband's health was declining in prison.
Now I'm delighted to report Ibrahim has been released from prison this week and will be given a new trial. This time Egypt's highest appeals court will hear his case, not the state security court that has twice sentenced him to jail for speaking out.
For NOW, I'm Bill Moyers.