Two New Biographical Films Address Del Close, Maya Angelou

Two New Biographical Films Address Del Close, Maya Angelou

This time on Loading Doc, we’ll explore two biographical films that are currently in production in Chicago. Both feature prominent American icons, and non-traditional documentary storytelling.


Director and producer Heather Ross is on a mission to tell the story of a comedian and teacher who trained our biggest stars, while blazing a path of destruction that would cast light on the nature of comedy itself. DEL CLOSE DOCUMENTARY (Working Title), highlights Del Close’s long career in comedy, while interviewing those closest to him.

“Chicago is the heart of the film and Del was very clear that he lived in LA, San Francisco, and New York but clearly identified as a midwesterner,” Ross said. “Not only is Chicago where he was based, but it’s where his best work was based.”

Close is most famous for his work with Second City in Chicago. About 60% of the documentary’s production will take place in Chicago. So far Ross has interviewed many of Close’s students, including Bob Odenkirk, Neil Flynn, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Brian Stack, Susan Messing, Michael McCarthy, and Howard Hesseman.

Ross said that her documentary will not be a traditional biographical film about Close. The film will utilize found audio to film re-enactments in a comedic way, similar to the style of the History Channel show “Drunk History.” The goal of this style is to capture Close’s chaotic and irreverent energy.

“He played with the truth and myologizing himself, so there’s a chance for us to use the conventions of documentary and question them” she said.

The film will be completed in 2015. Keep updated here.


From co-directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack comes a new documentary about the life of Maya Angelou called “MAYA ANGELOU: THE PEOPLE’S POET.” The film, which is slated for PBS’ American Masters, recently received a large amount of funding from both the National Endowment for the Arts and ITVS.

Hercules said this is the first film to ever be made about her life, and so this is a very special and unique opportunity. The filmmakers do not intend to create a linear story.

“Our plan is to weave the stories through themes instead of just doing it same old same old,” Hercules said.

So far, the team has interviewed people such as Quincy Jones, John Singleton, Oprah Winfrey, and Maya Angelou herself.

Maya Angelou grew up Arkansas amidst a severely segregated community, which she writes about in her first book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Hercules describes her life trajectory as being similar to that of the fictional character Forrest Gump. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and was also a close confidant of Malcolm X in the 60s. She was the first African American woman to direct a feature film. She read a poem at President Clinton’s inauguration and was awarded a presidential medal of honor by President Obama. Her national importance grown tremendously through her art and activism.

David Simpson will serve as editor of the film. Keith Walker, who is also Hercules’ business partner at Media Process Group, is the Director of Photography. The film will be completed in 2015. Stay updated here.

Katie Prentiss is a journalist and documentary filmmaker in Chicago working with Kartemquin Films as the Associate Producer of Mormon Movie (Working Title). Follow Katie at @prentkat