NYFF52 Spotlight: Ed Pincus and Lucia Small’s ‘One Cut, One Life,’ A Film About Existence

In the latest installment of NYFF52 spotlights, FilmLinc Daily profiles Ed Pincus and Lucia Small's documentary collaboration One Cut, One Life, which now has particular poignance given that it turned out to be Pincus's final film. He passed away last November. 

Pincus is known as a Direct Cinema pioneer, documenting a black community in the South during the civil-rights era (Black Natchez, 1967), and as one of the early filmmakers to turn the camera on himself and his relationships (including his open marriage), in Diaries (1982). Though the latter was a groundbreaker, its limited distribution stopped Pincus from earning the recognition he deserved. 

Pincus used film as a medium for creation, a tool to document life. He first worked with Small on The Axe in the Attic (2007), a self-reflective journey to New Orleans to document Hurricane Katrina. The initial collaboration was not without issues but after the untimely deaths of two of Small's closest friends in close succession—the artist Susan Woolf (who was murdered in 2009) and film editor Karen Schmeer (who was hit by a car)—as well as Pincus's subsequent diagnosis of blood disease myelodysplastic syndrome, which progressed to leukemia in 2011, the pair decided to collaborate again. One Cut, One Life is ostensibly about how the two filmmakers cope with death, as well as a meta-exploration of the joint processes they both used in personal filmmaking to deal with existence.

In a 2013 New York Times article, Pincus explained to Tom Roston, “The gift of terminal diagnosis was that it opened me to the world... And it gave Lucia an opportunity to hold on.”

This exclusive clip gives viewers a preview of Pincus and Small's final, sensitive joint venture.

One Cut, One Life | Trailer | NYFF52

NYFF52 Official Description

In the mid 1970s, Ed Pincus, one of the key figures in the history of documentary cinema, gave it all up and devoted himself to flower farming at his home in Vermont with his wife and children. In 2002, Pincus met filmmaker Lucia Small and asked her to join him as a creative partner in his return to movies, which resulted in The Axe in the Attic, their raw, potent 2007 doc about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The experience took a toll on their relationship, but Small was moved to film again after two of her closest friends died extremely violent deaths in close succession. When Pincus was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes, they decided to collaborate on a new project. The reality of death laid the foundation for a piece about life—not a “celebration” but a joyous demonstration of the necessity of love, work, and beauty, one and the same. Perhaps the film’s most emotional moment is Pincus’s simple admission to the camera: “I’m a filmmaker. That’s who I am.”