Aerial view of UC Berkeley

About Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman

(Peg Skorpinski photo)

Frederick Wiseman has been called one of the greatest living documentary filmmakers. His body of work, developed over the last three decades in collaboration with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), consists of nearly forty full-length films that explore American institutions.

His work raises social and ethical questions, and is unafraid to confront larger metaphysical questions of the human experience. Wiseman illuminates key issues within the institution he examines and 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’s films are immersive and intimate, examining the function of various institutions and the human undertakings within, excluding the use of voiceover, interviews, on-screen titles identifying speakers, or music cues. Instead, Wiseman’s masterful editing expresses the messages and expansive themes he seeks to convey. “Documentaries, like theatre pieces, novels or poems, are forms of fiction,” claims Wiseman.

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. His numerous awards include four Emmys, and his work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010. He is also the recipient of the Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Society (2013); and the American Society of Cinematographers Distinguished Achievement Award (2006), among many others.

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