Life through a Lens
Barbara Leibovitz shares the experience of making an intimate documentary about her sister
B Y B A R B A R A L E I B O V I T Z
I’ve been a documentary fi lmmaker for
about 15 years. I’ve always tried to go
out on my own, and not use my sister’s
name, and not go that direction. But
everyone was always asking me, “When are
you going to do a fi lm on your sister?” I really
avoided it for many years. She was doing her
thing, I was doing my thing. I felt I needed to
be comfortable with who I was fi rst. Right after
my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and
Susan Sontag was dying, was a time when we
felt extremely close. We both discussed it and felt
it was the right time.
Annie told me she needed
to be documented because of how important
she felt her work was at that time and I fi nally
felt secure with my own career.
The fi lm is a collaboration between the two
of us. It is also an enormous responsibility for
me, and so different from the other fi lms I’ve
made. It’s an intimate fi lm, because I’m her sister,
and that was the biggest difference. I fi lmed
her on my own with just the family, while she
was shooting all her commercial work.
interweaving of the family, her relationship with
Susan, and her work is a natural
because that really is her life. I
want people to see this fi lm and
say, “I really know who Annie
I spent some time with
Annie recently and I asked her
advice, and I also asked her if she
wanted me to say anything on
her behalf about the fi lm. Annie’s
only response was, “people want
to hear the truth.”
Well then, here goes...Annie
Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens
was probably one of the most
diffi cult fi lms I have ever done.
It took two years to make this
documentary. The first year
there was the money factor, we had none...
My husband, Jaime Hellman, who is also a
fi lmmaker, and I shot most of the summer in
Rhinebeck, N.Y., at Annie’s farm, capturing
her with our own cameras and our own money.
Annie helped out in the fall, getting images ofher commercial work, and by March 2006 we
had over 300 hours of footage.
That was not the only challenge. I am sure
you’ve all heard the famous saying, “you should
never work with family,” and it’s probably true.
But we decided to close our eyes and step on the
gas pedal. It was hard, especially when you are
the “little” sister and are given that certain glare
of “why did you do that?” Annie and I eventually
jumped over those hurdles, and through all the
turmoil, we realized we had each other.
knew the love of family was always there, but we
didn’t understand how strong our relationship is.
The fi lm is an intimate portrait of an artist
who grew up in a military family, who traveled
a lot, and who has translated that into her
work and her art. She’s someone who is always
searching to go further and further. Annie never
stops. She has a tremendous amount of stamina
and drive. You see that in her as a child. You see
where that comes from, and then you see how
it translates into her work. I really love my sister,
and I made this fi lm out of love.