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Taking chances

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The filmmaker was young and blond, with soft features and a countenance that looked as if it might easily be wounded. From Los Angeles she had booked a flight to North Carolina when she found out her film would be shown at a festival alongside two old films of Albert Maysles, who would be appearing in person.

She sat in the row ahead of me, in an auditorium on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on the opening night of the Hi Mom! film festival. I overheard her say she was nervous and excited about having the chance to impress a filmmaker as great as Maysles.

Her film of old women in New York and the ubiquitous water towers on so many of the city's rooftops was shown during the competition. It's a meditation on time passing. In it, an old woman implores those of us who are young to "take chances." We may experience failure, she says, but still we must take chances with our lives--sensible advice, but frightening all the same.

Maysles is not young. He's made many famous films and knows many famous people. Just before his films were shown, Maysles took the microphone and offered a critique of the earlier showing. "I don't know about these films we just saw. I'm trying to find a way to be honest, yet be kind." He laughed, and we gasped. "I mean, the use of narration ... ." He shook his head. Maysles does not like voiceover narration.

Fearing the worst, I peeked over at the young lady who had flown from California to be near him. She looked stunned. I looked away.

We watched Maysles' films about Truman Capote and Marlon Brando. There was no contest--they were very good, not least because of their flamboyant and charismatic subjects. Then Maysles took questions from the audience for nearly an hour. Sometime past midnight, there were still seven or eight of us there chatting with the great man. Among our number was the woman from L.A.

Apropos of nothing, Maysles stole a mischievious glance over his shoulder and around the room.

"Does anyone know what the hell those first films were about?"

I looked at the woman from L.A. Unbelievably, she was composed, her gaze fixed on the old man. A friend of hers, on the other hand, turned and walked quickly out of the auditorium.

Our gathering finally broke up and the woman from L.A. took out a camera and approached Maysles for a photograph.

"I made one of those films," she told him. "I'm sorry you didn't like it."

The elder filmmaker embraced her and kissed her on the cheek. Then, the woman from L.A. gave me her camera, and I took a picture of her standing next to Albert Maysles.

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