Through His Eyes: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Richard Leacock (1921-2011)

I had the privilege of attending a tribute to Ricky Leacock over the weekend at MIT’s Media Lab. The program was filled with honest, funny, and moving stories from those who knew him best – his collaborators, his students, and, of course, his beloved family.

What struck me most deeply listening to these stories was this amazing spirit of “the possible” during Ricky’s early years as a filmmaker and his time at MIT. The stories from his former students particularly evoked an adventurer’s spirit; a sense of documentary work as a calling and one where formal curriculum might sully true learning. In his remarks, Ed Pincus noted that Ricky taught his students, “This is the ‘on’ button. This is the ‘off’ button. Now go make a movie.” Ricky provided the inspiration, the confidence, and the freedom for these groups of budding filmmakers to try to understand the world through the camera. And the movies he called for came from students like Ed, Robb Moss, Ross McElwee, MJ Doherty, and so many, many more.

Just about everyone who spoke at the event, spoke of amazing dinners with Ricky. His talents as a chef were heralded, but what was most valued was Ricky’s ability to form community around a shared devotion to art, cinema, and the world of ideas. It’s this sense of community, one where creativity trumps competition, that I hope we can not only revive in Boston (and believe that this is already so), but throughout the field.

My favorite parts of the program were the collections of clips from Ricky’s work peppered throughout. Ricky had a gift for capturing scenes, making them feel very real and familiar, but also like art. The one benefit from his passing is that it will inspire a revisiting of his work. I, for one, have this in my future plans.

I brought my 9 month old son Oscar with me to the event. I felt a bit odd doing it, but I had no choice and knew that I could not miss this great gathering of the tribe in Boston. When I arrived, I apologized to filmmaker and tribute-planner Glorianna Davenport for having the wee one in tow. She smiled and shook her head, “Are you kidding? Ricky loved babies and he’d be glad there were some here.”

Thank you to Glorianna and all those who pulled this amazing tribute together, and for making those on the periphery like Oscar and me feel welcome and part of the family!

For more on Ricky and his work, please visit this site. Also, MIT did an amazing job collecting stories online from Ricky’s friends, students, collaborators, competitors and more. Check out this collection here – it’s well worth your time!

– Sara

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