It is with trepidation that I write without my collaborator and dear friend, Ed Pincus. We co-directed ONE CUT, ONE LIFE. It is our final collaboration and Ed’s last film before his death in November 2013. So, do I simply cull from early writings? What if I miss something essential? As I grapple with doubts, I am reminded of something Ed would repeatedly tell me, especially when it was clear I would be finishing our film alone,
“I trust you, Lucia.”
Ed and I had long discussed a simple idea for a film: a personal documentary told from two separate points of view. Ours would be told from two filmmakers of different backgrounds, generations, sexes, and classes — two worlds. Seeds of this idea can be seen in our first film, THE AXE IN THE ATTIC (2007). Ed would call it “a high wire act.” I was confident that the two-person concept could work because of what was going on in our lives at this time. We were both immersed in discussions of mortality, love, loss, legacy, and if ever there was a time to take the plunge and make the film, it was now.
A major strength of our collaboration was in our ability to go the distance with our differences, and even despite them. Ed’s filmmaking approach is more direct, unapologetic and confident; mine focused more on details, caveats, and emotions—but always with conviction. Some of our most daring and important creative breakthroughs occurred when we pushed and pulled each other in and out of tough places. In the heat of our debates, Ed and I would laugh and acknowledge that we made each other a better filmmaker. Ed once told me that every film he had made was a comedy, and “once you understand that, you understand everything.”
Jane, Ed’s wife of 50 years, did not initially support this project. In fact, her on-again, off-again resistance to the film evolved into one of its main story-lines. Throughout the process of making ONE CUT, ONE LIFE, Ed and I talked at length about what the project meant for Jane and we even considered shelving the film. He and I both understood the stakes. In a grant application we co-wrote in 2012, we said, “There are disturbing and squeamish aspects inherent in this choice. It is challenging and delicate territory.” Yet, we would also talk about what the film meant to us, to our collaboration, to our respective bodies of work, and to the form of first person non-fiction film. What could be learned from this tension? We agreed that, “part of the role of the autobiographical filmmaker is to challenge the comfortable assumptions about limits of propriety and good taste, and perhaps to overthrow them.”
Rather than slowing us down, Ed’s illness created a flurry of creative work, as well as the impetus to delve into difficult emotional territory. We wrote, “When he is filming, he easily immerses himself into something productive, something that extends his creative life. Making another film offers a much-needed crucial distance from his potential fate.”
As Ed’s condition deteriorated, he and I were literally racing against time. What if Ed died before we finished? Ed and Jane daily navigated the endless doctor appointments and progression of his disease while he and I experimented with new film strategies. Quickly, we decided to focus our writing efforts primarily on Ed’s voice- over. We recorded ad lib sessions while driving in the car. It was not a typical way to work. But, nothing could be typical. Ed would even joke, “Will I die on budget?”
For me, ONE CUT, ONE LIFE is the third and final film in a trilogy: a woman’s exploration of first-person documentary. I have long upheld the notion of the personal being political. It is why I have chosen to work in
this form. As a feminist filmmaker, I feel it is essential to examine the power dynamic between male and female voice and the alternating resonance among viewers. I am also interested in exploring the tension and bias around women’s roles —married with children vs. single without, older vs. younger, different classes, etc. Moreover, this film has offered me a unique chance to not only honor the memory of two close friends who were tragically killed but also to bear witness to the traumatic realities of violence against women. Ultimately, ONE CUT, ONE LIFE has allowed me to pay homage to Ed Pincus, a dear friend and colleague, and his significant role in documentary history.
It is difficult for me to speak to what this film meant to Ed. While working together, he would periodically stress that it was a way for him to focus on his love of filmmaking and living life. He would correct me when I called him “the grandfather of personal doc”. “First person non-fiction,” he would smile, “father not grandfather.” “This film,” Ed told me, “is the culmination of my life’s work.” Perhaps, his explanation of the Aikido term, which became the title of the film, communicates his thoughts best:
“There is this notion in Japanese swordsmanship called ‘one cut, one life’… Everything could be the last time. Everything counts. Everything has meaning. When you’ve trained a long time, your mind disappears. There’s something dissociative and it gets in your body. I have lost a lot of that because of my illness, but there’s still the notion of extension, of having all your meaning in your movements.”