The genre of documentary would not be the same without him: tireless, prolific and incredibly intuitive, Frederick Wiseman, the director who reinvented the documentary, has made an enormous contribution by elevating and legitimizing it to the status of narrative film.
One of the issues on which he has insisted above all in the unfolding of his cinematic look is the statement of the obvious lack of objectivity, as every film is a precise choice of editing. On one hand, he seeks to adhere closely to the reality of the film without contorting it aiming at the reduction of the amount of filmed material. On the other, it is the assembly phase that provides the narrative and dramatic structure that he considers necessary for his films, which would otherwise lapse into mere documents. Wiseman doesn’t do any research, nor does he draw the characters of his films from his life: he inserts himself into the reality in which he is interested in, and his research itself coincides with the shoot. Afterwards, the editing gives shape to the film and channels the bulk of the movie a posteriori, giving it the communicative power of film. The shooting is the real research.
“It’s obviously impossible to be objective. It’s a non-argument because every aspect of making a movie represents a choice, and of course in making a movie (…), there are millions of choices.” The choices of making films and documentaries aren’t very different from narratives, in fact the definition of “cinéma verité” has always been categorically rejected by the director. His films are based on completely un-staged events and contain no interviews or voiceover narration. These are among the many reasons Wiseman is considered to be one of the pioneers in avoiding the use of any form of clarification (or influence) in the making of his films.
From his first and highly-discussed, TITICUT FOLLIES (1967), which encountered legal problems and censorship to CRAZY HORSE, BOXING GYM, THE GARDEN, LA DANSE, HOSPITAL – he has completed 43 films by the age of 84. He has been able to build a broad and multifaceted perspective of the world and in particular of American society, his homeland.
Each film is almost like a journey in itself, often starting from an enclosed, physical space averaging 100 hours of raw footage. It returns into a filtered memory of the film, new but not entirely unprecedented. His last internationally acclaimed film, NATIONAL GALLERY (released in Paris on October 8th) brings the spectator a cross observation of the London museum, presented as a hub of stories, told from different points of view.
This year, the 71st Venice International Film Festival made history by granting the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award to a documentary filmmaker. For Wiseman to receive this award demonstrates documentary’s standing in the world of cinema as an equal to narrative film.
Frederick Wiseman is one of the greatest documentary filmmakers out there and ÉCU considers him an exemplar of the independent spirit. We encourage all filmmakers with an idea and a camera in hand to make films; after all, that’s exactly where Wiseman began.
Chiara Asia Carnevale