At Berkeley

Preview (:30)

About the Film

Student speaking at campus rally. Female professor lectures to seminar-style class. Cal football players charge onto the team from a cloud of steam. Female a capella group sings at a campus event. Students sing on a dark stage, clutching laptops

“[At Berkeley] is a state-of-the-nation masterwork, a vitally important piece of work, and should be seen by as many people as possible.” – Oliver Lyttleton, The Playlist

Renowned documentarian Frederick Wiseman has long been considered the “most democratic of great movie artists,” as critic Peter Rainer wrote, capturing institutions like hospitals, boxing gyms, and high schools through the eyes of the people who experience and live in them.

For his 38th documentary, Wiseman goes to college, specifically to the University of California at Berkeley — the oldest and most prestigious member of a ten campus public education system, and also considered one of the finest research and teaching facilities in the world. This wide-ranging film, named to numerous critics’ “Best of 2013” lists, shows the major aspects of university life, including the administrative efforts to maintain the academic excellence and public profile, as well as the economic, racial, and social diversity of the school’s student body in the face of drastic budgetary cuts imposed by the State of California.

Without narration or interviews, the film takes viewers from faculty meetings to classrooms, from financial aid seminars to research labs, inviting us to experience the diverse aspects of campus life through the eyes of students, faculty, administrators, alumni, the City of Berkeley, the State of California, and the federal government. Highlighting campus diversity with a keen, selective eye and at times a wry sense of humor, Wiseman’s film shows us everything from ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) practicing for war to students singing about Facebook, from engineering students building robots to a football crowd rallying behind their team. We learn from provocative lectures and discussions led by renowned professors on history, math, science, and literature. The film also takes us to adjacent Telegraph Avenue for colorful street merchants and musicians.

While At Berkeley is filmed in a wholly unique college setting, Wiseman’s extraordinary ability to capture the full human experience gives the University of California at Berkeley a sense of universality.

The Filmmaker

Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman Photo: © John Ewing

Independent filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has directed 40 films since 1967, 38 of them documentaries, that seek to portray ordinary human experience in a wide variety of contemporary social institutions. His subjects have included a state hospital for the criminally insane, a high school, a welfare center, juvenile court, a boxing gym, ballet companies in New York and Paris, Central Park, a racetrack, and a Parisian cabaret theater. Wiseman has directed two fiction features, Seraphita’s Diary (1982) and The Last Letter (Independent Lens, 2005). Wiseman has worked in the theater, directing two plays in Paris, including an adaptation of The Last Letter (the English version of La Dernière Lettre) at the Theater for a New Audience in New York. The French publisher, Gallimard, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, jointly published the book, Frederick Wiseman, which offers a comprehensive overview of his work through a series of original essays by distinguished critics and artists.

Wiseman received his BA from Williams College and his LLB from Yale Law School. He has received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, Princeton University, and Williams College, among others. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has won numerous awards, including four Emmys. He is also the recipient of the Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Society (2013); the George Polk Career Award (2006); and the American Society of Cinematographers Distinguished Achievement Award (2006), among many others.