Who makes documentary films like Frederick Wiseman?
September 9, 2010 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Who are the artistic heirs to documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman? Which contemporary individuals/groups are making similar films, filming similar things, or documenting life in the U.S. (with or without film) in similar ways?

Bonus points if you can point me to where I can watch them. Also: I'm not incredibly well-versed in Wiseman's oeuvre, but I'd be excited to read about his place in 20th century filmmaking -- his influences and his legacy... so if you have any publications or essays to link me to, I'd be thankful for that as well.

In short: Who's filming similar things, documenting things in similar ways, or producing similar projects? And what is it, exactly, that makes something "Wiseman-like"? I'm trying and failing to verbalize my own definition.

(I'm not an expert, but feel free to speak to me [or refer me to potentially challenging readings] as though I was a conscientious, interested, motivated undergrad in your 200-level film theory seminar. And many thanks.)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much all reality programming borrows his "fly-on-the-wall" style.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:19 PM on September 9, 2010

Much as I love Wiseman's work, Ironmouth is right. Following someone around with a camera is what reality TV is all about.

Here's what makes Wiseman's work different from other doc. makers.

Wiseman doesn't cut much in the camera. He lets things run, and lets the scene play out, even at the expense of conventional ideas of drama. He also doesn't do quick cuts in edit, uses little or no Broll (filler shots), no jump cuts, no cutaways to a different speaker or actor. His work is primarily in the edit bay, and he shoots the shit out of the situation.

There's almost no story arc, in the film school sense. There's no suspense, no drama, or at least not any contrived drama. He doesn't use VO narration, interviews or self-revelatory materials (no little glimpses behind the camera).

Piece from the Independent.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2010

You might look into the genre of Ethnographic Film or Visual Ethnography.
You might also be interested in the work of Les Blank
You might also like a recent documentary called Sweetgrass
posted by kid_dynamite at 9:33 PM on September 9, 2010

Short, serious answer: Wiseman has no heirs. His techniques have been absorbed by reality television, but no individual or institution is willing to fund his style of stark, uninflected "direct cinema."

Wiseman once had a long-term contract with PBS that would fund a film of his per year "on any subject, at any length", for (I believe) half a million dolllars, and they agreed to broadcast it at least once.

That kind of agreement is inconceivable today for any documentarian.

There are simply too many people with cameras doing documentaries for free, and the audience's expectations have changed.
posted by meadowlark lime at 2:27 AM on September 10, 2010

Frederick Wiseman is sort of his own worst enemy. Until *very* recently, Wiseman's films were ridiculously expensive. Hundreds of dollars for VHS tapes-expensive. I used to run an arthouse video store and, even though I'd spoken directly with Wiseman and others at his company, it was nigh impossible for us to carry his films. As a result, though he's appreciated by serious film buffs, his work isn't as well known as it should be.

That said, I'd recommend the works of Allan King (2009 CBC obit), though I wouldn't call him an heir to Wiseman as his early shorts predate Wiseman. His first feature doc, Warrendale, a classic of the genre--no interviews, no narration, he called the genre he helped create "actuality drama" and says they're "undirected"--came out the same year as Titticut Follies. His next two docs, A Married Couple and Come on Children also provide foundation for the genre.

And, not at all similar in style, but if you haven't seen the work of Peter Watkins, I highly recommend you do. His 1965 film The War Game is the only fictional film to win an Oscar for Best Documentary. It's a worst case scenario look at a nuclear war and was so powerful that the BBC (who'd commissioned it), confiscated it and refused to air it. Watkins had a provision in his contract that he retained the theatrical rights to the film but he ran into a problem when the BBC wouldn't surrender the only print. So he broke into the offices and stole the film and managed to get it a pretty wide release. His The Battle of Culloden, Privilege, Punishment Park, and La Commune are also worth hunting down.
posted by dobbs at 12:07 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older It's BACON!   |   Embarrassment of riches or just embarassment Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.