BIO: Alan and Susan Raymond

In Bosnia for Children In War

“… Coming from a background of cinema vérité, the Raymonds allow meaning to emerge gradually through the direct testimonies and actions of the persons involved. The work of Video Vérité has a complexity, intimacy and accuracy almost never found on television. It gives us an understanding, not only of its particular subjects, but of what television can be.”

—Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor
Film Comment

Academy Award-winning filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond are among America’s most distinguished documentary producer-directors whose work has changed the landscape of American television.

They have been honored by their peers with a Pioneer Award from The International Documentary Association for their innovative use of experimental video in THE POLICE TAPES as well as recognized by the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences as Emmy Legends for the body of their work and as directors of the iconic PBS cinema verite series AN AMERICAN FAMILY.

The Raymonds produced their first environmental justice documentary KILLING THE COLORADO for The Discovery Channel (2016) on the water crisis in the western states with a profile of Water Asset Management, a $500 million hedge fund for water trading.

TOE TAG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A for HBO Documentary Films (2015) captured the reality of America’s extreme sentencing policies of Life Without Possibility of Parole by profiling inmates on an experimental non-violent honor yard.

After viewing TOE TAG PAROLE, California Governor Brown commuted the sentence of inmate Ken Hartman to Life With Parole. After 37 years in prison, Ken Hartman will be given a second chance in life.

In 2011 the Raymonds produced JOURNEY INTO DYSLEXIA for HBO Documentary Films, profiling students and adults who struggled in school and then succeeded in life. The program addresses the public’s misunderstanding of learning disabilities and demonstrates the great potential of each dyslexic individual. Included are entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, and Nobel Laureate Dr. Carole Greider. In support, The International Dyslexia Association created an extensive outreach campaign for the film.

The Raymonds are among the very few documentary filmmakers to have their life story dramatized in the 2011 HBO film CINEMA VERITE that re-created the making of their landmark PBS series AN AMERICAN FAMILY. This TV movie stars James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins. Alan and Susan were Consultants to the production and portrayed by actors Shanna Collins and Patrik Fugit.

AN AMERICAN FAMILY may be one of the most significant films that affected the Raymond’s career as they committed to film the daily lives of one family for seven months. As Directors of AN AMERICAN FAMILY, the 1973 PBS 12-hour cinema verite series of the Loud Family, Alan and Susan captured the life of one California family and changed the landscape of television forever. They filmed over 300 hours of a family struggling with divorce and their outspoken gay son. TV Guide designated the series as one of the 50 Greatest TV Programs and declared it the First Reality TV series.

The Raymonds continued a lasting 40-year friendship with the Loud family and produced AMERICAN FAMILY REVISITED for HBO (1983), profiling each family member and their reflections upon becoming the first media celebrities in America. And sadly, in 2001, Lance Loud called upon Susan and Alan to make one more film of his life as he spent his last days in hospice suffering from hepatitis C/HIV co-infection. LANCE LOUD! A DEATH IN AN AMERICAN FAMILY was broadcast on PBS in 2003 marking the 30th anniversary of the series. As their final contribution to this iconic series, the WNET PBS station in 2011 asked the Raymonds to produce AN AMERICAN FAMILY ANNIVERSARY EDITION that presents the series in a two-hour feature documentary film version.

Susan and Alan became known for spending time with their subjects and often were requested to film these stories over one year’s time.

The Raymonds filmed one year in the life of an inner-city high school in West Baltimore with HARD TIMES AT DOUGLASS HIGH for HBO Documentary Films (2008). The film shows the challenges faced by Principal Isabelle Grant as she battles the realities of a high staff turnover, low reading scores and 50% drop-out rate. By year’s end, the school is restructured, the principal is removed and Baltimore City hires a new school chancellor to continue the struggle to improve its schools. The film premiered at the 2008 Silver Springs Film Festival.

The Raymonds addressed the subject of religion in America for PBS with THE CONGREGATION (2004), a portrait of a progressive Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Filmed over one year, the documentary depicted the congregation’s struggles to accept a new minister while at the same time supporting their Lesbian associate pastor. As the story unfolded, associate pastor Beth Stroud declared her sexual orientation during a Sunday sermon and attracted national attention. The Methodist Church eventually would put her on trial and she was defrocked. The film captures all of the public pressure on this church to defend gay rights in the ministry. However, by year’s end, the congregation forced the new pastor to resign due to their inability to accept his preaching style.

The Raymonds are quite familiar with the American prison system and have produced several films examining the treatment of prisoners. HOW DO YOU SPELL MURDER, HBO Documentary Films (2003), the Raymonds spent a year profiling a peer-supported reading program in a New Jersey prison where the vast majority of inmates are illiterate. The film was honored with a Literacy in Media Award and was shortlisted for an Academy Award.

One of their most challenging projects was the undertaking of CHILDREN IN WAR, HBO Documentary Films (2000), a report on the greatest victims of war — children. They visited refugee camps and orphanages during both the Rwandan war and the Bosnian war. The film also included children struggling to live normal lives under the never-ending terrorist warfare of Northern Ireland and Israel. Susan received a Prime Time Emmy Nomination for Narration and they both received as producers a Prime Time Emmy Award for Best Documentary. Screened at the United Nations and received UNESCO Award. Screened at Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Screened at Council for Foreign Relations in New York and Gothenburg Film Festival in Sweden.

One of the highest honors bestowed upon Alan and Susan is the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary for
I AM A PROMISE: THE CHILDREN OF STANTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (1994), a profile of a heroic elementary school principal combatting the effects of a drug-ravaged neighborhood while striving to education these young students. This film also received a Prime Time Emmy for Best Documentary, a George Foster Peabody Award and an Alfred I. DuPont Award. Screened at Cinema du Reel in Paris and Gothenburg Film Festival in Sweden.

The Raymond’s received their first Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary for DOING TIME: LIFE INSIDE THE BIG HOUSE, HBO Documentary Films (1990), filmed inside Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. The film explores the effect of long-term incarceration with no hope of rehabilitation. Received a News and Documentary Emmy Award for Best Direction.

Alan and Susan also take a change from social issues and enjoy making cultural documentaries — especially on rock and roll.

SWEET HOME CHICAGO for BBC Omnibus (1991) told the history of urban blues music as seen through the lens of the Chess Records label. Includes interviews with rock legends Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Johnson, James Cotton and Mick Jagger.

One of their first projects for HBO Documentary Films was an exploration of schizophrenia with INTO MADNESS (1988) that profiles three families coping with their adult children suffering from this mental illness. Three families share their personal stories: one family cares for their 40-year-old son at home while another family commits their 30-year-old son to a mental institution and another family finds a suitable group home for their 28-year-old daughter. This film captures the intimacy and love of families coping with the care of their children.

One project that the Raymonds took special pride in producing is ELVIS ’56 for HBO (1987) that chronicles the one year Elvis journeys from a Southern Rock-a-Billy local performer who made that year’s biggest multiple hit records, continuing on to his acting appearance in Love Me Tender and his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show which created his status as the King of Rock and Roll. The film uses the iconic photographs from the Alfred Wertheimer estate that captured many intimate moments from this one year. Rolling Stone has deemed ELVIS ’56 “the best documentary ever on Elvis.” Screened at Sundance Film Festival.

POLICE CHIEFS for PBS POV (1984), is the story of three Big City Cops who demonstrate their different approaches to managing crime. Chief Darryl Gates of Los Angeles, Chief Lee Brown of Houston and Chief Antony Bouza of Minneapolis.

Alan and Susan were the first independent filmmakers to cross over to a network news organization. In 1979, ABC NEWS contracted the Raymonds to produce three films beginning with broadcasting their experimental WNET TV Lab video THE POLICE TAPES as an ABC NEWS Close-Up!

In 1980, they produced TO DIE FOR IRELAND, a report on The Troubles in Northern Ireland through the eyes of the British soldiers as well as Irish Republican Army volunteers and won an Emmy Award for Cinematography.

The third film would be HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD in 1981 that explored the relationship between art and commerce.

Scorsese W DeNiroDeNiro and Scorsese from
Hooray for Hollywood

They interviewed Ridley Scott while making BLADERUNNER, Martin Scorsese directing Robert DeNiro for KING OF COMEDY and Paul Schrader directing on the set of CAT PEOPLE. Emmy Nomination for Editing.

Another cultural film that inspired the Raymonds was THE THIRD COAST for PBS (1979) that documents the rapid growth of Houston during a time of enormous change. Using a magazine format, this film profiles Karl Lagerfeld and his fashion show at Neiman Marcus, a casting call for URBAN COWBOY, tired bus riders awaiting non-existent bus rides home, a ship channel pilot, and a last interview with Eugene McCarthy, legend oilman and inspiration for GIANT starring James Dean. Screened at Houston Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival.

After the success of THE POLICE TAPES and their experiment with video, the Raymonds produced BAD BOYS for PBS (1978). This two-hour video documentary follows the story of school dropouts in a New York City high school, a profile of the now-closed jail for juvenile offenders in Spofford Detention Center in the Bronx, and a close-up story of juveniles serving time in the only correction facility for juvenile felony offenses in Brookwood, NY. It is here that the Raymonds interviewed Willie Bosket at age 15 just before his parole and subsequent murder of a subway rider for 13 cents. Willie would become one of the most wanted criminals and his crime established new laws to strengthen sentencing juveniles at age 14.

After the enormous ratings and media success of AN AMERICAN FAMILY in 1973, Alan and Susan were given the opportunity to join David Loxton’s WNET TV Lab to experiment with a new and unknown media called “video.” Using a low-light level Nuvicon tube in a simple amateur Sony Port-a-Pak deck, they ventured into American’s highest crime precinct in the South Bronx.

Over a 90-day period they recorded the inner workings of one police precinct and made a statement on the role of the police in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
THE POLICE TAPES in 1976 forever changed the landscape of American television and influenced numerous dramas and the creation of reality TV programs. The film was honored with Emmy Awards for Best Documentary, Best Directing, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing — and was the first independent documentary to be broadcast on both the PBS local station WNET and the ABC NEWS NETWORK. This would be the first documentary directed by Alan and Susan who would now claim Video Vérité as their production company. Screened at Cinema du Reel in Paris.

Many of Alan and Susan Raymond’s films are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Paley Center for Media and The Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. Their films have been broadcast on PBS, ABC News, HBO, the BBC and The Discovery Channel, and have been screened at The Tate Museum in London and as well as art galleries throughout Europe and the United States.

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