Bernard MacMahon (filmmaker)
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Bernard MacMahon Filmmaker
Bernard MacMahon
Bernard MacMahon in February 2014.jpg
Bernard MacMahon
Bernard MacMahon

ResidenceSanta Monica, CA and London, England

Bernard MacMahon is an American film director and screenwriter.

Early life

Bernard MacMahon was born in England and grew up in South London.[1] He developed an interest in early American cinema at a young age[2] and was shooting and editing 8 mm short films by the age of 12.[3] MacMahon said "America has fascinated me since I was a child. My big love is American cinema, especially early American cinema, and I've always been fascinated by that period in the 20s when the technology and artistic language of film was being invented." [2]

Film career

Bernard MacMahon's debut film was American Epic, an award-winning documentary film series about the first recordings of roots music in the United States during the 1920s and their cultural, social and technological impact on North America and the world.[4] Directed and co-written by MacMahon, the story was told through twelve ethnically and musically diverse musicians who auditioned for and participated in those pioneering recording sessions; The Carter Family, the Memphis Jug Band, Elder J.E. Burch, The Williamson Brothers, Dick Justice, Charley Patton, The Hopi Indian Chanters, Joseph Kekuku, Lydia Mendoza, the Breaux Family, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Willie Johnson.[5]

The film series was created, written and produced by MacMahon, Allison McGourty and Duke Erikson. It was first broadcast on May 16, 2017 in the United States and was narrated by Robert Redford.[5] The film was the result of ten years of intensive field research and postulated a radically new take on American history, namely that America was democratized through the invention of electrical sound recording and the subsequent auditions the record labels held across North America in the late 1920s, which were open to every ethnic minority and genre of music.[6][7] The films contained many previously untold stories,[8][9] a vast amount of previously unseen and extremely rare archival footage[10][11] and dramatically advanced audio restorations of the 1920s and 1930s recordings.[12][13] When MacMahon presented his vision for the films and the archival footage to Robert Redford at their first meeting, Redford pronounced it "America's greatest untold story".[14] Many critics have cited the American Epic films as being one of the best music documentaries ever made.[15][16][17][18][19]

During production of the American Epic documentary series, MacMahon directed and co-wrote The American Epic Sessions, a documentary film in which a sound engineer restored the fabled long-lost first electrical sound recording system from 1925 and twenty contemporary artists paid tribute to the momentous machine by attempting to record songs on it for the first time in 80 years.[4][18][20] The film starred Steve Martin, Nas, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Alabama Shakes, Jack White, Taj Mahal, Ana Gabriel, The Avett Brothers, Rhiannon Giddens, and Beck.[4]The American Epic Sessions employed a diverse line-up of performers both ethnically and musically to represent the breadth of cultures that were first given a national platform through the invention of this recording machine.[7][18][21] It also explored the extent to which the recordings made on it in the 1920s influenced and inspired contemporary music.[7][18][22] The film involved a decade of work restoring the machine, which was pieced together from spare parts scattered across the globe,[23] in order to better understand the origins of modern recording technology,[7][24] and the influence the machine had on world culture.[8][25] The film received widespread acclaim for its direction, musical performances, sound and cinematography.[15][18][19][23][26][27]

In September 2017 the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools announced a nine-month preschool to high school educational program based on MacMahon's American Epic films beginning on October 6, 2017.[28] The school founded by American educator John Dewey in 1896 has over 2,015 students enrolled in 15 grades.[29] The program featured MacMahon and producer and co-writer Allison McGourty as Artists-in-Residence.[28]

MacMahon draws and paints detailed storyboards and lighting designs in advance of production, and has stated that he was influenced by the cinematography of John J. Mescall and the painting of Diego Velázquez.[30][31] He is a member of the Directors Guild of America, the Television Academy, the Writers Guild of America West, the Sundance Institute and is the co-founder of Lo-Max Films.[3]

Awards and honors

The American Epic documentary series and The American Epic Sessions film received a number of awards, including the Foxtel Audience Award at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival,[32] the Audience Award and Discovery Award for Best First Time Director at the 2016 Calgary International Film Festival,[33] and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy.[34] MacMahon was nominated by the British Academy Film Awards as a Breakthrough Talent for directing The American Epic Sessions.[35] On April 23, 2018, the Focal International Awards nominated MacMahon for Best Use of Footage in a History Feature and Best Use of Footage in a Music Production.[36]

Award Category Recipients and nominees Result Ref.
Calgary International Film Festival The Discovery Award Bernard MacMahon Won [37]
Calgary International Film Festival Audience Award The American Epic Sessions Won [37]
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Music Direction Bernard MacMahon, Duke Erikson, T Bone Burnett and Jack White Nominated [34]
Sydney Film Festival Foxtel Audience Award American Epic Won [38]
Tryon International Film Festival Best Documentary Bernard MacMahon Won [39]
Tryon International Film Festival Best Overall Picture Bernard MacMahon Won [39]
Association for Recorded Sound Collections Best History in Recorded Folk or Roots Music Bernard MacMahon Won [40]
British Academy Film Awards Breakthrough Talent Bernard MacMahon Nominated [35]
Focal International Awards Best Use of Footage in a History Feature Bernard MacMahon Nominated [41]
Focal International Awards Best Use of Footage in a Music Production Bernard MacMahon Nominated [41]


Year Film Director Writer Score Producer Appears in
2017 American Epic: The Big Bang Yes Yes Yes Yes
2017 American Epic: Blood and Soil Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
2017 American Epic: Out of the Many the One Yes Yes Yes Yes
2017 The American Epic Sessions Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes


MacMahon was the co-author of a collaborative memoir chronicling the 10-year odyssey researching and making the American Epic documentary films and The American Epic Sessions. The book was co-written with producer Allison McGourty, and music historian Elijah Wald. American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself was published on May 2, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.[42] The book was the winner of the 2017 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award.[40]


MacMahon was the co-composer of the film score for the American Epic documentaries[43] and was the editor and compiler of a series of album releases that accompanied the American Epic films. These albums received widespread acclaim, with the 5-CD box set American Epic: The Collection being named as Rolling Stone's Reissue of the Year[44] and many critics acclaiming it as being the best box set of its kind ever to be released.[45][46][47][48][49][50]



  1. ^ Wald, McGourty, MacMahon 2017, p. 4
  2. ^ a b "Quest for old americana". NewsComAu. Retrieved .
  3. ^ a b "An 'Epic' Journey | MaxTheTrax". Retrieved .
  4. ^ a b c "BBC - Arena: American Epic - Media Centre". Retrieved .
  5. ^ a b "About the Series - American Epic". Retrieved .
  6. ^ Lewis, Randy. "'American Epic' documentary on birth of recorded music to premiere May 16". Retrieved .
  7. ^ a b c d "The Long-Lost, Rebuilt Recording Equipment That First Captured the Sound of America". WIRED. Retrieved .
  8. ^ a b "'American Epic' solves mysteries, brings lost musical era back to life". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "PBS's 'American Epic' is a love letter to U.S. | TV Show Patrol". TV Show Patrol. 2017-04-18. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "Mule Calls and Outlaws: A Conversation With 'American Epic' Director Bernard MacMahon". Men's Journal. 2017-05-23. Retrieved .
  11. ^ "'American Epic' Recreates Music History With Elton John, Beck & More". uDiscoverMusic. 2017-05-10. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "American Epic". 2017-06-12. Retrieved .
  13. ^ Lewis, Randy. "'American Epic' explores how a business crisis ignited a musical revolution". Retrieved .
  14. ^ "American Epic: How Jack White helped piece together the story of a nation's musical roots - Uncut". Uncut. 2017-04-21. Retrieved .
  15. ^ a b Bradley, Mike (June 4, 2017). "Arena: American Epic". The Observer. One of the most interesting programmes ever broadcast
  16. ^ "Don't Miss PBS' Roots Music Documentary Series 'American Epic'!". Acoustic Guitar. 2017-05-15. Retrieved .
  17. ^ "The first time America heard itself sing". 1843. 2017-05-20. Retrieved .
  18. ^ a b c d e Boyd, Joe (2017-05-19). "How the record industry crisis of 1925 shaped our musical world". the Guardian. Retrieved .
  19. ^ a b "American Epic - Reviving Record Production's Past". Long Live Vinyl. 2017-06-16. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "AMERICAN EPIC - A Journey Through the Music that Transformed America | PBS About". AMERICAN EPIC - A Journey Through the Music that Transformed America | PBS About. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Lewis, Randy. "Reinventing the machine that let America hear itself on the PBS-BBC doc 'American Epic'". Retrieved .
  22. ^ "SXSW Film Review: 'The American Epic Sessions' - An Amazing Journey Through Musical History | Blogcritics". Retrieved .
  23. ^ a b "'American Epic': Inside Jack White and Friends' New Roots-Music Doc". Rolling Stone. Retrieved .
  24. ^ Wald, McGourty, MacMahon 2017, pp. 238-239
  25. ^ "America Hears Itself". WTTW Chicago Public Media - Television and Interactive. 2017-05-16. Retrieved .
  26. ^ "'The American Epic Sessions': London Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved .
  27. ^ "SXSW review: 'The American Epic Sessions' | Austin Movie Blog". Retrieved .
  28. ^ a b "News Detail - University of Chicago Laboratory Schools". Retrieved .
  29. ^ Recordings, Legacy. "University of Chicago Laboratory Schools announce 9-month educational program based on the "American Epic" films, music and book". Retrieved .
  30. ^ "SXSW '16: Reviving recording history in "American Epic"". Retrieved .
  31. ^ [1] Wald, McGourty, MacMahon 2017, p. 254
  32. ^ "63rd Sydney Film Festival Complete Foxtel Movies Audience Award Announced" (PDF). June 22, 2016.
  33. ^ "And the Winners are... | Calgary International Film Festival". Retrieved .
  34. ^ a b "Nominees/Winners". Television Academy. Retrieved .
  35. ^ a b "Nominations Announced for the British Academy Television Craft Awards in 2018". Retrieved .
  36. ^ "Production Nominations". FOCAL INTERNATIONAL AWARDS. 2018-04-17. Retrieved .
  37. ^ a b "And the Winners are... | Calgary International Film Festival". Retrieved .
  38. ^ Shedden, Iain (2017-07-14). "Stars out for American Epic". Retrieved .
  39. ^ a b "TRIFF 2016 Winners". 2016-10-10. Retrieved .
  40. ^ a b "ARSC Awards for Excellence: 2017 Winners". Retrieved .
  41. ^ a b "Focal International Awards 2018" (PDF). Focal International Awards.
  42. ^ American Epic. 2017-05-02. ISBN 9781501135606.
  43. ^ "Arena" American Epic - Part 4: The Sessions (TV Episode 2017), retrieved
  44. ^ "David Fricke on 2017's Best Reissues: Bob Dylan, Beatles and More". Rolling Stone. Retrieved .
  45. ^ "Greil Marcus' Real Life Rock Top 10: The Epic Tradition". Retrieved .
  46. ^ "Album Review: 'American Epic' 5-CD Box Set". Acoustic Guitar. 2017-08-30. Retrieved .
  47. ^ Cosyns, Simon (May 2017). "The Big Album: American Epic: The Collection review". The Sun Something for the Weekend. p. 33.
  48. ^ "Robert Christgau on 'American Epic,' Americana, and an Epic". Noisey. 2017-10-13. Retrieved .
  49. ^ Cartwright, Garth (November 2017). "Magnificent book-box soundtrack to BBC TV series about music of the 20s". Country Music Magazine. p. 106. Retrieved .
  50. ^ "Various Artists: American Epic - The Collection". PopMatters. 2017-07-14. Retrieved .


External links

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