Screening 4:00 pm Saturday, Sharonville Fine Arts Center

In 1973, the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam,
the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade
the Nixon tapes nailed the Watergate Scandal
and PBS introduced the first reality TV family.


The "reality" television of today is considered by some as a cultural low point, but there was a time when it offered a more honest alternative to the families portrayed in American sitcoms.

Back in the early 1970s, filmmaker Craig Gilbert conceived a documentary series about a real California family, to contrast with shows like The Brady Bunch, a popular comedy series about a happy family that seldom faced real problems.

Without a doubt, the first broadcast of An American Family in January 1973 changed television history forever. The series, with twelve one-hour segments produced by New York public television station WNET for PBS, chronicled seven months in the day-to-day lives of the William Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. Gilbert relentlessly presented the family's daily life, captured by filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, in the observational, long-take style of cinéma verité. It was the most controversial and talked-about television program of its era.

An audience of ten million PBS viewers watched each week in fascination the real-life drama of Bill and Pat Loud, and their five children Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Michele. The series challenged conventional television representations of middle class American family life with its depiction of marital tensions, an elder son's gay lifestyle and the changing values of American families.

The media was aghast at the capture of marital discord and a New York Times writer vilified son Lance – the first openly gay person to appear on television. But the American people were enthralled by the marital drama and admired Lance as an inspiration to young people, gay and straight, for living life on his own terms. The Loud Family, 1973

Unlike most documentaries of its day, An American Family did not contain interviews and was not hosted. And unlike many participants in modern scripted reality shows, the Loud family received no compensation as incentive for sharing their dirty laundry. Nor did they have to worry about building ratings to ensure additional seasons.

That said, in her 1973 memoir Pat Loud commented about PBS's "fly-on-the-wall" cameras, which were supposed to be unobtrusive: "You can't forget the camera, and everybody's instinct is to try and look as good as possible for it, all the time, and to keep kind of snapping along being active, eager, cheery, and productive. [When the cameras are on you,] out go those moments when you're just in kind of a nothing period, hibernating until you move onto the next thing. … You don't realize how many of those you have until you're trying not to have them. And what you also don't realize is that you have to have them – they're like REM sleep."

Gilbert's documentary series was unique for its time and is credited – or blamed – as the earliest example of reality television. It led the way to more complex family portraits such as , Roseanne, One Day At A Time and even The Simpsons.

Indeed, its influence arguably extended beyond "family" shows and sitcoms: In the 1980s the hugely successful Hill Street Blues drama series utilized a cinema verite approach, continued multiple storylines across sucessive episodes and offered in-depth detail of its characters' private lives — all of which were groundbreaking elements featured in An American Family.

Thank you, Bob Pulcini, for allowing us to share your film and
Happy Birthday, August 24 – the day we show the film!
Have a great day and a terrific year!

Credits, Cinema Verite

Craig Gilbert's Film Crew

James Gandolfini ... Craig Gilbert
Patrick Fugit ... Alan Raymond
Shanna Collins ... Susan Raymond
The Loud Family
Diane Lane ... Pat Loud
Tim Robbins ... Bill Loud
Thomas Dekker ... Lance Loud
Johnny Simmons ... Kevin Loud
Kaitlyn Dever ... Michelle Loud
Caitlin Custer ... Delilah Loud
Nick Eversman ... Grant Loud

Kathleen Quinlan ... Mary
Lolita Davidovich ... Val

Dick Cavett ... Himself (archive footage)
Patricia Loud ... Herself (archive footage)
Craig Gilbert ... Himself (archive footage)
Lance Loud ... Himself (archive footage)
Bill Loud ... Himself (archive footage)

Directed by ... Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Written by ... David Seltzer
Producer ... Karyn McCarthy
Associate Producer ... Luca Borghese
Executive Producers ... Zanne Devine and Gavin Polone
Original Music by ... Rolfe Kent
Cinematography by ... Affonso Beato
Film Editing by ... Sarah Flack and Robert Pulcini
Casting by ... Randi Hiller
Production Design by ... Patti Podesta
Art Direction by ... Christopher Tandon
Set Decoration by ... Meg Everist
Costume Design by ... Suttirat Anne Larlarb  

    Cinema Verite

NOTE: To enhance your appreciation of the film, we suggest first reading the Historical Background section in the left-hand panel. Without the existance of An American Family, the creation of Cinema Verite would not be possible.


Cinema Verite is a well-conceived and well-acted film that acquaints us with groundbreaking history from 40 years ago — events that changed television and our concept of privacy forever.

It builds a sense of anticipation: How much will the family reveal? What becomes of the family members and their relationships? How far will Craig Gilbert go to get the on-camera effects he desires?

Ultimately it conveys the impact, and cost, of naively exposing one's family to constant and invasive media scrutiny. And, it raises questions about the nature and ethics of non-fiction filmmaking as well as the contemporary effects of our insatiable desire to be seen by others via electronic and social media.


HBO Films' Cinema Verite, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the documentary An American Family. James Gandolfini stars as director Craig Gilbert, Diane Lane and Tim Robbins star as parents Bill and Pat of the Loud family, and Patrick Fugit and Shanna Collins portray the filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond. The Cast, 2011

The filmmakers faced a major challenge in creating a docudrama about the making of An American Family, how to condense 12 hours of drama and exposé into 90 minutes?

Berman and Pulcini had perfect credentials for the task. Their award-winning documentary, Off The Menu: The Last Days Of Chasen's, was named one of the Ten Best Movies of 1998 by USA Today and CNN. And, their first narrative feature, American Splendor, won the Grand Jury Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.

Unlike today's surreal world of over-scripted tightly controlled reality TV, the PBS documentary series was based on over 300 hours of raw 16mm film footage, edited by Craig Gilbert into twelve one-hour segments. From this launch point, Berman and Pulcini were able to focus on a manageable number of key events and thus craft a film that fluidly conveys the essence while remaining concise.

The story centers on family anchor Pat Loud, caring mother and victim of her husband's neglect and wandering eye. Diane Lane excels in the role, and Gandolfini and Robbins are excellent as well, even though they portray much less likeable characters. Thomas Dekker shines as the oldest son Lance, the first openly gay man on television. See Cast and Crew List. Occasional cut-aways and split-frames show us the real footage and the real Loud family, making the entire film seem totally real.

Gandolfini's role was particularly challenging: Part visionary and part charmer, Gilbert persuades Pat and Bill Loud to let his camera crew capture their family's daily life for seven months by appealing to their intellectual vanity. And when family relations become rocky he pushes, persuades and cajoles to capture the turbulence on camera. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

Marital discord and a son's coming out as gay comprise one thematic track. Berman and Pulcini also look at the back story — the conflict between producer Gilbert and filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond, who were uncomfortable with Gilbert's tactics and challenged his motivation and ethics on several occasions during the original filming.

In making Cinema Verite, Berman and Pulcini faced yet another challenge. The original work was aired in 1973. Boomers may remember it, but younger people have not seen it, as the series was not released on VHS or DVD. When An American Family was made, the Loud family was obviously naive with respect to downstream media fallout.

But times have changed. According to filmmaker Shari Berman, says the New York Times, the task was "to convey the surreal enormity of An American Family to viewers who are more accustomed to the idea of living in public, whether in front of cameras or through social media. It can be hard to understand the innocence of the time."

Regardless of one's age or perspective, viewers will find that Cinema Verite uses the distance gained via intervening decades as a vantage point for the examination of family. And, the film shines a light on the controversy surrounding the original series, as well as the contempory and now pervasive phenomena of constantly living "on display" with one's thoughts, images and personal information often part of the permanent fabric of the Internet.

Cinema Verite also raises questions, yet again, about how objective a documentary can and should be; what should be off-limits to the camera; how the desires of filmmakers affect the behavior of their subjects and vice-versa, and why people have a seemingly insatiable desire to be seen, warts and all, in the public eye.