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Direct cinema pioneer Frederick Wiseman takes an in-depth look at the preeminent American university during a fall semester that saw a vigorous debate taking place over tuition hikes, budget cuts, and the future of higher education in the United States.
Frederick Wiseman has dedicated the past
four decades to documenting how people
function inside of institutions. In recent
films such as Boxing Gym and Crazy
Horse, he focused on modest-sized enterprises.
Now he turns to one of the most
sprawling and complex organizations of
his career: the pre-eminent University of
California, Berkeley. Wiseman and cameraman
John Davey embedded themselves
at the school during the fall of 2010 while
a vigorous debate was taking place over
tuition hikes and budget cuts. The resulting
four-hour film gives us unrestrained access
inside classrooms, student protests, and
administrative meetings, as newcomers and
old-timers alike hash out the future of higher
education in the United States.
Berkeley has a storied reputation as a
battleground for free speech. (See Mark
Kitchell's documentary Berkeley in the
Sixties for perspective on an era that still
looms large.) Today, the school attracts highprofile
professors such as Robert Reich (the
former US Secretary of Labor, who Wiseman
captures lecturing on "self-evaluation"), and
pursues cutting-edge research that earns
vital revenue. But cutbacks are felt throughout
the school, down to a landscaping staff
with only one person left to mow the lawns.
Wiseman practices his craft with great
subtlety. As viewers, we're dropped into
situations and left to figure out what's going
on and how we feel about it. One recurring
figure is the white-haired university chancellor,
Robert J. Birgeneau (who previously
served as University of Toronto president).
In one memorable scene, Birgeneau contrasts
his own student days confronting
authority to the demands of this new generation.
It's a classic Wiseman moment:
candid and open to interpretation.
- Frederick Wiseman
- Frederick Wiseman was born in
Boston and graduated from Yale
Law School. He has directed nearly
forty feature documentaries and has
received multiple honours, including
a Peabody Award. His filmography
includes Titicut Follies (67); High
School (68); Law & Order (69);
Welfare (75); Zoo (93); La Comédie
Française ou l'Amour Joué (97); The
Last Letter (02); Public Housing (97);
Boxing Gym (09); CRAZY HORSE
(11), which played at the Festival; and
At Berkeley (13).