ZimbelismCo-Director | co-Writer | co-Producer
A feature documentary about the humanist photographer George S. Zimbel.
Remarkable tales from the darkroom on Marilyn Monroe, JFK and others from one of the last working elders of the Photo League school of street photography, photographer George S. Zimbel.
In my career I have sat in many darkened screening rooms anxiously awaiting notes from network executives after the viewing of a show or film I’ve made. I have never been more nervous than at a screening with my parents for the first rough cut of Zimbelism, a film in which they are both the principal subjects. They loved it! Well, some of it.
Zimbelism is a feature documentary about the work of my father the humanist photographer George S. Zimbel. It’s a 70-year photographic voyage through the back half of the 20th century framed with presidents, farmers, prime ministers, railroad engineers, movie stars and children. At 92 George Zimbel is one of the last surviving elders of the street photography movement informed by the values of the legendary Photo League in New York City in the 1950’s.
A wonderful storyteller, Zimbel’s tales from the darkroom walk the viewer through shoots with JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Harry Truman, the real Mad Men of Madison Avenue and the David and Goliath rights battle with his beloved New York Times.
As Zimbel takes us into his lab to print, he recounts his time at the Photo League and shares his own humanity in the moving and very often funny story of his family life.
The film is a photographic testament to documentary black and white street photography, once an essential record of society, now under siege by the digital camera, copyright infringement and privacy laws.
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I was creating what we were calling a “performance – lecture” for my father, which was a blend of stills, video clips, spoken word treatments and storytelling from his years of shooting street photography all over the world. He suggested that I meet a fellow photographer whose work he greatly admired and who had proposed doing a documentary about him. “I think you guys would get along”, my father said. Indeed my father was correct – Jean François Gratton and I got along wonderfully, each bringing a different skill set to the film. Two years later we premiered the 90-minute documentary Zimbelism to a sold-out crowd at the FIFA Festival in Montreal. It then toured the world for the next few years appearing at many different festivals, and in numerous TV broadcasts. Making any art film is challenging in these times, but making one about your family presents its own specific set of challenges. Trying to raise money for the film I would speak to producers and tell them I was making a film about my father. I could almost hear their eyes glaze over as I imagined them saying to themselves “oh, great another admiring son making a crappy film about his dad, yawn, I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch today”. They would attempt to dump out of the call as quickly as possible. I would email them the trailer and wait – 20 minutes…they would always call me back. No longer thinking about lunch. The other particular challenge is to ensure journalistic integrity while profiling your family! I’ll leave that to your imagination.