10 Iconic Frederick Wiseman Films to be Presented by ACMI, Sydney Film Festival and National Film & Sound Archive 

10 Iconic Frederick Wiseman Films to be Presented by ACMI, Sydney Film Festival and National Film & Sound Archive 

American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has offered a revealing perspective on humanity – and human endeavour – across the late 20th and 21st centuries. Recognising his immense contribution to cinema, ACMI – in association with the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) and the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) – will present It Takes Time: Ten Films by Frederick Wiseman. This retrospective of Wiseman’s work will screen at ACMI in Melbourne from 22 May to 25 September, at Sydney Film Festival in Sydney from 11 June to 31 July, and at NSFA in Canberra from 12 June to 23 October. 

The retrospective will spotlight Wiseman’s multi award-winning career over seven decades, where he has expertly invited audiences into worlds they may have never known or previously cared about to discover what makes communities tick. Ten iconic films draw from a peerless body of work, spanning Wiseman’s work from the ’60s right through to his latest 2020 release. 

It Takes Time: Ten Films by Frederick Wiseman will include the Melbourne premiere of City Hall (2020), where Wiseman continues his lifelong project to observe the inner workings of American institutions – this time in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. With his trademark observational style, Wiseman captures democracy in action and documents an organisation striving to do the right thing against difficult odds.

The remaining program includes: Titicut Follies (1967), Wiseman’s harrowing and now legendary debut, shot in 1966 in a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane and kept out of circulation by court order for nearly a quarter of a century; Welfare (1975), a film exploring the staggering complexity of the American welfare system; and Central Park (1989), focusing on the 340-hectare idyll in the heart of Manhattan’s hectic metropolis, capturing New Yorkers – and others – enjoying the park’s enviable habitat and tensions.

Twenty-five years after focusing on a lower-middle class school in Philadelphia, Wiseman travelled uptown to Spanish Harlem, New York, to capture the workings of Central Park East Secondary School for his second take on the American education system in High School II (1994); in Belfast, Maine (1999) all walks of life are painstakingly chronicled and honoured in an unvarnished portrait of a small American town on the cusp of the 21st century; a Florida-based domestic violence shelter comes under Wiseman’s curious and unflinching eye as he records the extraordinary transformations it enables in Domestic Violence (2001); and the on and off-stage drama of one of the world’s great dance companies is featured in La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009), where Wiseman captures – in thrillingly sustained takes – the tireless perfecting of technique and astounding talent. 

Back in the city Wiseman has returned to so many times during his career, the filmmaker celebrates the vibrant streets and bustling community life of one of New York’s most ethnically and culturally diverse neighbourhoods in In Jackson Heights (2015). And one of the world’s greatest knowledge institutions opens its many doors for a riveting behind-the-scenes exploration in Ex Libris: New York Public Library (2017), where Wiseman encounters passionate readers, archivists and educators, budget-focused administrators and inspiring speakers including Patti Smith and Elvis Costello. 

Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley said: ”Sydney Film Festival has long celebrated the works of Frederick Wiseman and has screened, over the years, 18 of his films beginning with Welfare in 1976. We’re delighted to be highlighting the works of this living legend at our next festival in June, and to once again be collaborating with ACMI and the National Film and Sound Archive.”

As part of the 2022 SFF running 8-19 June, a pre-recorded masterclass with Wiseman, created by SFF and ACMI, will be available for a limited time to stream on ACMI’s online film platform Cinema 3. Stay tuned for further details.

Tickets for the Sydney Film Festival begin at $14. To book visit sff.org.au/wiseman-retrospective

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