Widely hailed as one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of all time, Frederick Wiseman has chronicled the institutions of modern society for fifty years. With a particular focus on American life, he has examined subjects ranging from public parks to mental care facilities (and almost everything in between). Using his signature observational style of filmmaking, Wiseman discovers the surprising interactions that populate these structures, from sensitive displays of compassion to absurd social rituals and even severe cruelty. Our sampling of Wiseman’s work takes us from one of his most acclaimed early efforts (High School) to his most recent (Ex Libris), all of which demonstrate his commitment to full, honest portrayals of the contemporary experience. (MSJ)

  • Fri., Oct. 6 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Wiseman’s second film, released just one year after Titicut Follies, observes a suburban Philadelphia high school, where students, teachers, administrators, and parents debate the policies and principles that structure daily life at the school. As the students learn to follow strictly regimented schedules, daily bulletins, and even formalwear guidelines, this environment instills much more than English, biology, and sex-education lessons. One of Wiseman’s most acclaimed films, High School finds an education in social conformity beneath the familiar curriculum of American classrooms. New 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center from original camera negatives in the Zipporah Films Collection. (MSJ)

  • Fri., Oct. 6 | 8:30 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Inside the Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem, Wiseman accesses the struggles of patients and their doctors, who face challenges from lacking resources to miscommunications that prevent them from providing proper care. While the procedures and treatments expected from a hospital appear in the film, the focus remains on the personal, often tense interactions that fill the building. As people try to overcome both medical problems and bureaucratic obstacles, Wiseman presents an institution that strains to fit the complexities of people’s real lives into the abstract regulations meant to aid them. New 35mm print preserved by the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center from original camera negatives in the Zipporah Films Collection. (MSJ)

  • Fri., Oct. 13 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

In a government assistance office in 1970s New York City, workers try to explain a maze of rules and requirements to desperate people who find themselves shuffled between offices with little to show for it. With unflinching attention on prolonged, circular interviews, Wiseman observes a bureaucracy that can be just as frustrating and unmoving for its employees as the people who need their help. Welfare is a compelling study of a complicated American system that puzzles and discourages its citizens as often as it fulfills its purpose. (MSJ)

  • Fri., Oct. 20 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

From marathons and boat races to public hearings and cocktail parties, Central Park is one of Wiseman’s most diverse and detailed portraits of a contemporary social institution. The vast differences in the meanings and uses of the park become clear, as birdwatchers explore, gay men cruise, and tennis players fight for (or against) a new tennis house. Through an expansive study of the activities in Central Park, the film shows its vitality and necessity for New York life, even when it serves a new purpose for every group and individual Wiseman discovers. (MSJ)

  • Fri., Oct. 27 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

Having tackled subjects ranging from inner-city high schools to Madison Square Garden, renowned documentarian Wiseman shifts his gaze to the Paris Opera Ballet. Blending style and substance, the dancers’ rigorous training closely matches the precision and dexterity of the film’s own investigation. We’re given a thorough and nuanced portrait of this very traditional European institution, examining a labor spectrum that includes both janitors and administrators. Wiseman’s style wisely eschews obvious framing devices and voiceover, allowing us to forge a very personal connection with the abundant footage he’s delivered.

  • Fri., Nov. 3 | 7:00 PM
    4070 Vilas Hall

In his newest film, the 87-year-old Wiseman examines the New York Public Library, from the daily challenges facing its devoted staff to the needs of its passionate users. Spanning 92 branches, the enormous scope of this system offers a complex topic for a masterful filmmaker creating another essential study of a cultural institution. In Ex Libris, Wiseman finds a treasured subject that faces a period of change and uncertainty, even as the system continues its dedicated service to its community. (MSJ)