A Look Back at the Films of Frederick Wiseman

From Wiseman's Welfare.

From Wiseman’s Welfare (1975).

The television premiere of Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley [on PBS Monday, January 13; check local listings], his 42nd film, seemed an especially apt time to introduce viewers who may not be as familiar with the prolific documentarian’s previous work. In a career that has spanned more than five decades, beginning with 1967’s hugely impactful, and once-banned, Titicut Follies, Wiseman has focused his lens on institutions and everyday settings, bringing out the humanity in each film’s diverse cast of characters.

From Titicut Follies

From Titicut Follies

While reading about each film is one way to learn more about them, here instead is a collection of clips from some of his work, as well as how to get a hold of them via Wiseman’s company, Zipporah Films. And if you want to dig in deeper to learn more about Wiseman, here are two books we recommend: Five Films by Frederick Wiseman; and Frederick Wiseman.

Titicut Follies (1967)

Frederick Wiseman introduces the film before a screening and then is interviewed at the Stranger Than Docs Film Festival.

Clip from Titicut Follies:

High School (1968)

(There also was a follow-up, High School II, in 1994.)

Hospital (1969)

Basic Training (1971)

Model (1980): Two quick pieces on this glimpse into the fashion industry, early ’80s style: Jezebel; The Fader.

Missile (1987):

Public Housing (1997)

Belfast, Maine (1999):

Domestic Violence (2001):

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009):

Also, look for The Last Letter (2002), which aired on Independent Lens. A DVD for this film is available via the Zipporah site.

Fred Wiseman at the ol’ Steenbeck editing deck.

Go to the Zipporah Films website to see complete list of all of Wiseman’s films, including the ahead-of-its time Law & Order.

About Craig Phillips

ITVS/Independent Lens Interactive Editor and film nerd, based in San Francisco.
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