|Born||January 1, 1930|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Alma mater||Williams College (B.A., 1951)|
Yale Law School (LL.B., 1954)
(m. 1955; died 2021)
Frederick Wiseman (born January 1, 1930) is an American filmmaker, documentarian, and theater director. His work is "devoted primarily to exploring American institutions". He has been called "one of the most important and original filmmakers working today".
Wiseman was born to a Jewish family in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Gertrude Leah (née Kotzen) and Jacob Leo Wiseman. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Williams College in 1951, and a Bachelor of Laws from Yale Law School in 1954. He spent 1954 to 1956 serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. The Korean War was effectively over by July of 1953. Wiseman spent a few years in Paris, France, before returning to the United States, where he took a job teaching law at the Boston University Institute of Law and Medicine. He then started documentary filmmaking, and has won numerous film awards as well as Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships.
The first feature-length film Wiseman produced was The Cool World (1963). This was followed by Titicut Follies in 1967, which he produced and directed. He has both produced and directed all of his films since. They are chiefly studies of social institutions, such as hospitals, high schools, or police departments. All his films have aired on PBS, one of his primary funders.
Wiseman's films are often described as in the observational mode, which has its roots in direct cinema, but Wiseman dislikes the term:
In 2003, Wiseman received the Dan David Prize for his films. In 2006, he received the George Polk Career Award, given annually by Long Island University to honor contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting. In spring 2012, Wiseman actively took part in the three-month exposition of the Whitney Biennial. In 2014, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 71st Venice International Film Festival. In 2016, Wiseman received an Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Wiseman's films are, in his view, elaborations of a personal experience and not ideologically objective portraits of his subjects.
In interviews, Wiseman has emphasized that his films are not and cannot be unbiased. In spite of the inescapable bias that is introduced in the process of "making a movie", he still feels he has certain ethical obligations as to how he portrays events:
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.
Every Wiseman film has a dramatic structure, though not necessarily a narrative arc; his films rarely have what could be considered a distinct climax and conclusion. He likes to base his sequence structure with no particular thesis or point of view in mind. Any suspense is on a per-scene level, not constructed from plot points, and there are no characters with whom the viewer is expected to identify. Nevertheless, Wiseman feels that drama is a crucial element for his films to "work as movies" (Poppy). The "rhythm and structure" (Wiseman) of Wiseman's films pull the viewer into the position and perspective of the subject (human or otherwise). The viewer feels the dramatic tension of the situations portrayed, as various environmental forces create complicated situations and conflicting values for the subject.
Wiseman openly admits to manipulating his source material to create dramatic structure, and indeed insists that it is necessary to "make a movie":
Wiseman has said that the structure of his films is important to the overall message:
A distinctive aspect of Wiseman's style is the complete lack of exposition (narration), interaction (interviews), and reflection (revealing any of the filmmaking process). Wiseman has said that he does not "feel any need to document [his] experience" and that he feels that such reflexive elements in films are vain.
While producing a film, Wiseman often acquires more than 100 hours of raw footage. His ability to create an engaging and interesting feature-length film without the use of voice-over, title cards, or motion graphics, while still being "fair", has been described as the reason Wiseman is seen as a true master of documentary film.
In addition to his better known film work, Wiseman has also directed and been involved in theater, in the US and France.