At Berkeley

At Berkeley

  • BY Frederick Wiseman | IN Arts & Culture
    Premiered January 13, 2014

About the Film

“[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. MORE

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

Frederick Wiseman

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.


Film Credits

Director, Producer, Editor and Sound
Frederick Wiseman

Photography by
John Davey

Assistant Editor
Nathalie Vignéres

Camera Assistant
James Bishop

Assistant Editors Sound
Christina Hunt
Robert Todd

Production Coordinator
Karen Konicek

Sound Mixer
Emmanuel Croset

Digital Color Timer
Gilles Granier

Post Production Facility

Mixing Studio
Le Fresnoy

Sound Administrator
Blandine Tourneux

Cyrille Lauwerier

Credit Design
Fabien LeHalle


“Be My Friend”
From the musical Edges
Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Copyright © 2005 Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
All rights reserved.
Used by permission of Pick in a Pinch Music (ASCAP) and breathelike music (ASCAP).

“City of New Orleans”
Performed by Willie Nelson
Courtesy of Columbia Nashville
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
Written by Steve Goodman
Published by Al Bunetta d/b/a Jurisdad Music

"Up the Ladder to the Roof"
by Vincent Di Mirco and Frank E. Wilson
All Rights Controlled and Administered by EMI BLACKWOOD MUSIC INC. (BMI)
on behalf of STONE AGATE MUSIC (A Division of JOBETE MUSIC CO., INC.)
All Rights Reserved.

Special Thanks to

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George W. Breslauer
Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Claire Holmes
for their support, cooperation and advice

Associate Chancellor Emeritus John Cummins for his wise counsel

All the faculty, students and staff of
the University of California, Berkeley who participated in the film

The Kronos Quartet

DuArt Film and Video
Filmmakers Collaborative
La Femis
Joe Monge
Salt Lake City Film Center and Artists’ Collaborative
U.S. Army Public Affairs, Los Angeles

Production Assistance Provided by
Le Fresnoy

Executive Producer for ITVS
Sally Jo Fifer

Funding for the film was provided by
Ford Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
The Rosenthal Family Foundation
Sundance Institute Documentary Fund
Pershing Square Foundation

At Berkeley is a co-production of Berkeley Film, Inc.
and the Independent Television Service (ITVS),
with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This program was produced by Berkeley Film, Inc. which is solely responsible for its content.

A Zipporah Films, Inc. Release.

© 2013 Berkeley Film, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tell us about your own experiences in college as compared to those seen in the film. How much have things changed? Is Berkeley campus life different than where you went to school?


  • 2013 National Society of Film Critics
    Best Non-fiction Film
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Tell us about your own experiences in college as compared to those seen in the film. How much have things changed? Is Berkeley campus life different than where you went to school?