Frederick Wiseman Biography

Color photo of Frederick Wiseman, from the waist up, he leans his head into one hand and rests his other arm on a surface.© John Ewing


Frederick Wiseman is an independent documentary filmmaker. Since 1967 he has directed 41 films, 39 of them documentaries—dramatic, narrative films 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. New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis writes: “Taken together, this is work that presents a sweeping, continuing portrait of modern America, its institutions, social relations, administrative and bureaucratic controls and of course—right at the center of this filmmaker’s unyielding frame—its people.”

Mr. Wiseman has directed two fiction features, SERAPHITA'S DIARY (1982) and THE LAST LETTER (2002). He also works in the theater. In Paris he directed “The Belle of Amherst,” the play by William Luce about the life of Emily Dickinson, and two plays at La Comédie Française—Samuel Beckett’s “Oh Les Beaux Jours,” and “La Dernière Lettre,” based on a chapter of Vasily Grossman’s novel, "Life and Fate." He also directed “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.

Mr. Wiseman received his BA from Williams College in 1951 and his LLB from Yale Law School in 1954. 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.

In addition, Frederick Wiseman is a member of multiple artistic associations, including Theater for a New Audience; The Artistic Council and Board of Directors, Festival Committee, Human  Rights Watch International Film Festival; Honorary Member, Les Amis du Cinéma du Réel Association; and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.



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