In a multi-award-studded career spanning seven decades, acclaimed veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has invited us into worlds we may never have known we cared about until he showed them to us. His ‘reality fictions’ – he disdains notions of cinéma verité, direct or observational cinema – chronicle the functioning of contemporary American institutions, with occasional explorations of illustrious international establishments of every ilk (pedagogical, carceral, cultural, civic) and what makes communities tick.
Wiseman’s patient gaze, which eschews narration, interviews and background music, reveals the lives and experiences of people within these structures or neighbourhoods; on the job or enjoying iconic sites such as Central Park. At times it also captures the creative process. Despite his apparently neutral camera dispassionately recording whatever it happens upon, often from up close, Wiseman’s highly structured oeuvre – editing the many hours of footage can be a year-long process – conveys empathy with its subjects. It is also clear that he engenders trust; his camera is never intrusive.
After an early venture into film production, Wiseman decided to make films he would direct, produce and edit himself. “The most sophisticated intelligence in documentary”, to quote Pauline Kael, has followed this path ever since, creating a peerless body of work that, with passing time, offers a historical perspective of humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
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