BLUE RIBBON AWARD
Nominated Best Documentary of the Year (1992)
International Documentary Association
Special Screenings: Gallery, Film Forum, Pacific Film Archives, Washington Film Festival, Festival of American Film, Sinking Creek Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, Wine Country Film Festival, Heartland Film Festival
"Ambitious. Enlightening. Revealing."
-- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Extraordinarily effective, both as an inquiry into the ethics of rendering lives and as a closer look at American poverty."
-- Georgia Brown, The Village Voice
"Simply not to be missed! It's one of the very few recent American films that made me glad I went to the movies."
-- Stuart Klawans, The Nation
In 1936 the writer, James Agee, and the photographer, Walker Evans, traveled to Hale County, Alabama, to document the lives of three families of desperately poor cotton farmers. The result of their brilliant work was published in 1941 by the Houghton Miflin Co. as the book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book destined to become an American classic.
Initially fewer than 600 copies of the book were sold. Both critics and readers were baffled by the book's unique form and intensely subjective style. Reissued in 1960, however, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men achieved instant critical acclaim and became one of the most read books of the Civil Rights Movement. For many writers, photographers, artists, and historians, the book became an important inspiration. It has become essential reading in American Studies, American History, and American Literature, as well as ethnography, sociology, and photography.
To Render a Life is the first feature film to be made aboutLet Us Now Praise Famous Men. Central to the film is a portrait of a contemporary, poor, rural family living under the same conditions as the cotton sharecroppers of the Depression. The filmmaker Ross Spears, and the writer Silvia Kersusan, spent more than three years filming with a family living near the edge of survival in one of the richest counties in America. The result is a detailed and dramatic portrait of a family seen through the eyes of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It is a portrayal unique in cinematic history.
To Render a Life is also a film about the making of documentary art. It features some of the outstanding writers and documentary artists of our time, such as Robert Coles, Ted Rosengarten, Ruth Behar, Frederick Wiseman, Wilma Dykeman, Will Campbell, Alex Harris, Alan Cheuse, Howell Raines, and others. The ethical and artistic tensions of the documentary process are central questions in the media-dominated environment in which we live.
To Render a Life is now available via streaming and download, as well as on DVD. View the trailer below, and click on Watch Film to rent or download the film.
Click here to order a DVD of To Render A Life.
This film is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, dedicated to expanding American understanding of history and culture. Also funded by the Humanities Councils of Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama.