Q&A: Seminal Documentarian Albert Maysles on Fashion Maven ‘Iris’

Note: This interview originally ran during the 2014 Hamptons Film Festival. 
Iris is now playing in select theaters!

The great documentarian Albert Maysles’ latest film Iris is about fashion- and interior-design maven Iris Apfel, now 93 years old, as she celebrates the late wave of popularity she enjoyed on the heels the Met’s 2006 exhibition of her collection of often affordably priced fashion accessories. Maysles (Grey Gardens), who pops up from time to time as a cheerful on-camera presence, follows Iris as she makes selections for the touring exhibition, advises young women on their fashion choices, and bargains with store owners, usually in the company of her husband of 66 years, Carl, now 100.

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What drew you to Iris Apfel’s story? Were you friends before you decided to make the film? The two of you are a match made in heaven.

Albert Maysles: Jennifer Ash Rudick brought the story to us. From the moment I met her I knew there was a film there, and I just looked at her eyes through those wonderful glasses and she was so warm and communicative.

How do you describe Iris, either the woman or the film? 

Albert Maysles: Warm. It was easy to film so that the viewer could identify with her, as someone you want to spend time with. It happened immediately upon meeting her.

How did you work with Iris and Carl, in terms of access? Was anything off limits? How do you develop such an intimate rapport with your subjects?

Albert Maysles: My mother used to say there’s good in everybody, and there was no difficulty whatsoever in finding good in Iris and her relationship with her husband.

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You’ve seen radical changes in filmmaking over your long and storied career. Does new technology make filmmaking any easier? Or do you prefer to use tried-and-true, classic equipment?

Albert Maysles: The new equipment makes it much easier: you don’t have to change film, the camera can run for 8 hours, the cameras are totally silent, and almost weightless. The film camera I used at the time was excellent for its time but it weighed 26 lbs and could only run for 10 minutes at a time. Now my camera weighs only 7 lbs.

As one of our most revered documentarians, do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Albert Maysles: Empathize.

We’re delighted to welcome you back to the Hamptons, the location of the seminal Grey Gardens. (What I wouldn’t give to have seen Iris and Little Edie in a room together!) What would you like HIFF audiences to take away from your film?

Albert Maysles: True love for this woman and her life.

We are honored to have you in attendance at HIFF 2014. What are you most looking forward to at the Festival?

Albert Maysles: I get sentimental about the Hamptons, so mindful of those two wonderful women, Big and Little Edie.


Iris is now playing in select theaters.
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Albert Maysles is a pioneer of direct cinema filmmaking along with his late brother David. Among his more than 40 films are some of the most iconic works in documentary history, including Salesman, Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. More recently, Maysles reunited with Paul McCartney for The Love We Make (2011). He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards, six Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Columbia DuPont Award, and the award for best cinematography at Sundance for Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy Of Cotton (2001), which was also nominated for an Academy Award.

Comments

  1. Vicki Quinn says:

    My husband Herb and I live in NYC and Bridgehampton NY…
    My very famous Uncle was Robert Goodman. Top 3 Men’s illustrator
    In 20th century. Iris worked for my Uncle ( one of her first jobs)
    Scouting locations for him. I would like so much to meet her. She
    Writes about him in her biography.
    Albert, will you be at the question and answer in Sagg tonight?
    Vicki