When seminal documentarian Ed Pincus, considered the father of first person non-fiction film, is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he and collaborator Lucia Small team up to make one last film, much to the chagrin of Jane, Ed’s wife of 50 years. Told from two filmmakers’ points of view, ONE CUT, ONE LIFE challenges the form of first person documentary. Ed and Lucia’s unique approach to filming offers a vulnerability and intimacy rarely seen in non- fiction, questioning whether some things might be too private to be made public. The film is an intense, raw, and sometimes humorous exploration of the human condition which invites the viewer to contemplate for themselves what is important, not only at the end of life, but also during.
Filmmakers Lucia Small and Ed Pincus have long discussed the idea of experimenting with first person documentary form – making a film told from two points of view, each one filming the other. When Lucia loses two of her closest friends to sudden, violent deaths, and one year later learns that Ed, her former collaborator, has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness – she and Ed know this might be their last opportunity to work together.
Jane, Ed’s wife of 50 years, is against the idea. She wants privacy. Sympathetic to Jane’s concerns, Lucia shares a reluctance to deal publicly with the loss of friends. As the “father of first person documentary”, Ed is torn too. He understands the implications of such a project. Yet filming offers a much needed creative outlet and distraction from his potential fate. When sudden loss is at your doorstep, you have no choice but to absorb the shock. What should Lucia and Ed do? The choice is not simple, but it is clear. Ed’s diagnosis gives the former collaborators an opportunity to come together, heal from past wounds, and embrace and examine life in the face of death through a medium they know best — filmmaking.
The film opens in the middle of Ed’s dilemma of whether or not to have a risky bone marrow transplant — the one possibility for a cure. If the operation is not successful, it could accelerate his death. But if he waits, his chances of success could get worse. Can Ed hedge his bets and buy more time to have a normal spring and summer? As Lucia struggles with trying to make the film and be present for Ed, she grapples with the loss of her two friends — Susan Woolf, a visual artist murdered by an ex lover, and Lucia’s roommate, Karen Schmeer, an esteemed editor, who was killed by a hit and run driver fleeing a crime scene in Manhattan. As the story unfolds, the two filmmakers must reconcile Jane’s on-again, off-again resistance to the film with their own determination to finish.
Both filmmakers are aware of the more disturbing and squeamish aspects inherent in this kind of film. One of the roles of the artist is to examine the comfortable assumptions about limits, propriety and good taste, and perhaps to overthrow them. It is that aspect of nonfiction work, when both the audience and filmmaker wonder why the filmmaker is not turning off the camera but instead chooses to keep it rolling, that underlines this film.
Set against the bucolic Vermont landscape and frenetic New York cityscape, ONE CUT, ONE LIFE interweaves current day footage with past footage of their 12-year collaboration, early film work, and old movies. It is more a story about life and cinema than a story about death. Ed and Lucia’s unique approach to filming offers a vulnerability and intimacy rarely seen in non-fiction film, even within the genre of first person documentary. It is an intense, raw, and sometimes humorous exploration of the human condition which invites the viewer to contemplate for themselves what is important, not only at the end of life, but also during.