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Frederick Wiseman Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (1)  | Mini Bio (2)  | Trade Mark (5)  | Trivia (17)  | Personal Quotes (3)

Overview (1)

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Mini Bio (2)

Born in 1930, Wiseman is a Cambridge, Massachusetts resident and member of the Massachusetts Bar Association who turned to filmmaking in 1967, after years as an instructor and/or researcher at Boston University, Brandeis University, and Harvard. In 1970 he founded Zipporah Films, Inc., which continues to distribute his documentaries. Wiseman has also written and lectured widely on law enforcement issues.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Adam <anthony-adam@tamu.edu>

Frederick Wiseman is probably one of today's greatest living documentary filmmakers. For close to thirty years, thanks to the Public Broadcast Service (PBS), he has created an exceptional body of work consisting of thirty full length films devoted primarily to exploring American institutions. Over time these films have become a record of the western world, since now more than ever as we approach the century's close, nothing North American is really foreign to us.

The institutions that Wiseman examined early in his career - a hospital, a high school, army basic training, a welfare center, a police precinct - have "problems" that the filmmaker uncovers. His approach reveals the profound acknowledged and unacknowledged conformity and inequality of American society. Wiseman's films are also a reflection on democracy. What do his films portray, the "American dream" or the "air conditioned nightmare"? Both, but also a questioning of the world and of existence.

Occasionally, his films describe less circumscribed institutions - the world of fashion, a public park, and a ski resort. In addition to examining the social and ethical questions he is not afraid to confront the "big" metaphysical questions particularly in the films about handicapped children and dying patients. The filmmaker is trying to encompass all of human experience in his films.

In the past, Wiseman had already made movies outside the borders of his own country, in the Sinai, in Germany, and in Panama. In each of these films, however, his subject was Americans abroad.

In 1993, in his film Ballet, he followed the American Ballet Theatre rehearsals in New York and performances in Europe. For a long time Wiseman had wanted to make a film in France and in 1995 he tackled that most French of institutions, The Comedie Francaise. Both in Ballet and La Comédie-Française Wiseman raises questions about the conditions necessary for artistic creation: how to create those conditions which allow a director, an actor, or a dancer to achieve the goal of a perfect even sublime performance; how the specific dialect for the theatre works, the dialect which both places in opposition and transcends the solitude of individual creation and group collaboration.

"Documentaries, like theatre pieces, novels or poems are forms of fiction," claims Wiseman. Over the years his films have become more a skillful mix of observation, testimony, reflection, an absence of prejudice, and courage, and humor. A complex body of work, as great works of fiction (novels, drama, music, and film) can be, with the same profundity, contradictions, and questions without answers.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Philippe Pilard (originally published in La Sept/Arte)

Trade Mark (5)

Systematic investigation of institutions and social settings
His films offer an unparalleled social history and critique of daily life in the United States
An all-sided picture of the phenomena he studies, leaving critical judgments to the spectator
The absence of narration, interviews, background music and other similar documentary elements
His works are principally concerned with issues of control and issues of authority

Trivia (17)

In 2014 Frederick Wiseman received the 'Lifetime Achievement Award' at the '71st Venice International Film Festival'. It was only the second time that this honor was given to a documentary filmmaker after Joris Ivens had received it in 1988.
Graduate of Yale University.
Trained as a lawyer.
Has made approximately one documentary film a year for the past fifty years, some with run times as long as six hours.
Has received the Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Film Festival, a Gugenheim and a MacArthur Fellowship.
Served in the U.S. military.
Dislikes the term observational cinema, or cinema verité.
Took a position teaching law at Boston University in the late 1950s.
The editing process is for him a careful craft that occupies a year of intensive work.
Named his production company, Zipporah Films, after his wife, Zipporah Batshaw, who is a fellow Yale Law graduate of his.
His films are, in his view, elaborations of a personal experience and not ideologically objective portraits of his subjects.
Wiseman works four to six weeks in the institutions he portrays, with almost no preparation. He spends the bulk of the production period editing the material, trying to find a rhythm to make a movie.
In interviews, Wiseman has emphasized that his films are not and cannot be unbiased.
Often doesn't know anything about a subject before the filming begins. For him, with his own words, "the shooting is the research".
Openly admits to manipulating his source material to create dramatic structure, and indeed insists that it is necessary to make a movie.
All his films have aired on PBS, one of his primary funders.
While producing a film, Wiseman often acquires more than 100 hours of raw footage.

Personal Quotes (3)

[on editing] My job as editor is to make the film as best I can from the rushes. What I think about the subject matter is what you see in the final film. At least 50% of editing has nothing to do with technique. I ask myself what it is I am seeing and hearing in the rushes. I have to at least delude myself into thinking that I understand what is going on in each of the sequences in order to (1) decide which sequences to use, (2) how to edit them into a usable form and (3) create a narrative, dramatic structure in which each segment has its proper place. This process often takes a year. A month or two before I finish I usually start thinking about what I want to do next. This is my way of avoiding a postpartum depression.
My goal is to make as many films as possible about different aspects of American life.
I like to think that I approach each subject with an open mind, because for me, there's no reason to make a film if I already have a thesis. I don't like to make thesis-oriented films. In one sense, the final film is a report on what I've learned as a consequence of making the film.

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