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On The Passing of D A Pennebaker

By Steven Wise

With great sadness I acknowledge the passing of my dear friend, the great filmmaker, D A Pennebaker.

I had the privilege of knowing and working with Penny and his equally talented wife, Chris Hegedus, during the years it took them to make the HBO film, Unlocking the Cage, about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project and through our long pilgrimage through numerous film festivals. During those filming years I would often ask Penny what the film was about and he would invariably respond, “You tell me.” And, of course, I would lift the Oscar he received for Lifetime Achievement when I visited him at his office. He would never allow me to carry his suitcases, even though he was 90 years old. In this and in other ways he showed me how one can grow old in a dignified way, adventuresome and intensely curious. And he evolved into an animal rights advocate right before my eyes. In the time since I have never failed to see if Penny and Chris were available to spend time together whenever I passed through New York City, and they often were. Penny eventually began teaching a masters class for me on early 20th century jazz and blues. He would pluck one of the thousands of 78s he had on his wall, spin it on the stereo, and talk me through the music and the musician, many of whom he had known.

I will miss him keenly and send my deepest condolences to Chris and his entire, large, family, all of whom I hope to keep seeing for a very long time. Goodbye my friend.

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