Telluride: Alfred Hitchcock-Francois Truffaut Documentary Captures Master Filmmakers in Conversation

Kent Jones' doc, which tells the story behind one of the most seminal film studies books of all time, headed to the Rockies just months after its world premiere at Cannes.
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Francois Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock pose for a photo after their week-long conversation chronicled in 'Hitchcock/Truffaut'

Any self-respecting film buff counts Hitchcock/Truffaut as part of his or her book collection. The thick volume, first published in 1967, was the product of a week-long interview, requested and conducted by Francois Truffaut, the young leader of the French New Wave, of Alfred Hitchcock, the American auteur he admired more than any other and who at the time was widely regarded in his own country more as a maker of popular entertainment like Psycho than an artist of any real note. As demonstrated by Kent Jones' new doc Hitchcock/Truffaut, which had its first North American screening at the Telluride Film Festival on Sunday, the book changed cinephiles' perceptions of both filmmakers — and film scholarship — forever after.

The doc, which Jones co-wrote with Serge Toubiana, premiered at Cannes back in May. It chronicles how Truffaut began wooing Hitchcock four years before the publication of the book (original correspondence is featured in the film); conveys the convivial tone of their conversations, which were translated by a third party also in the room, Helen Scott (original audio recordings are featured in the film); and features testimonials from major filmmakers who followed about how much the resulting book shaped their own desires and work.

Soft-spoken Jones has made other doc films — perhaps most notably, he co-wrote and co-directed 2010's A Letter to Elia with Martin Scorsese — and oversees programming as director of the New York Film Festival, which may explain how he landed interviews with not only Scorsese but also semi-reclusive American filmmakers such as David Fincher and Wes Anderson, as well as others from around the world, such as Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin and Kiyoshi Kurasawa.

The story behind the Hitchcock/Truffaut book previously was chronicled in a 1999 short that aired on German TV, Monsieur Truffaut Meets Mr. Hitchcock, which was made by Truffaut's friend Robert Fischer. That film also employed impressive talking-head interviews and excerpts of the original audio. Even so, it's nice to have a fresh appreciation, 16 years later, of a text that remains, nearly 50 years after its first publication, well worth a read.

It's been a while since the Academy's documentary branch nominated a doc about film history, as they used to do quite often — see: Hollywood on Trial (1976), Agee (1980), Marlene (1984), Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey (1990), Music for the Movies: Bernard Herrmann (1992) and The Battle Over Citizen Kane (1995). Perhaps this one, which will be released in select theaters by the Cohen Media Group on Dec. 2, will break the cold-streak.