|The Clocktower at University of California Berkeley, June 2014|
This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Veteran observational filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley is a four-hour meditation on the value of publicly-funded tertiary education, as seen through the lens of life at the University of California Berkeley. I saw this at Rialto Cinema as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland.
This film is a very interesting piece of work for so many reasons. It's the first film I've seen by Wiseman which eschews 16 mm in favour of high definition video, it's ridiculously long and it clearly takes the side of those in charge which previous films about institituons (for example High School and Titticut Follies) clearly do not. This is of course because the film's beautifully articulated position that public education in America is vital and in danger aligns it closely with the beliefs of Berkeley's administration.
It's an amazing film - the length is justified as it allows the audience to experience life at Berkeley - classes, debates, impassioned youth, cooler older heads, the campus, the workers, the administration, all adding another dimension to our understanding - but its gruelling to watch too. Weak bladders are surely put to the test.
For a detailed and thoughtful review which largely echoes my own thoughts, Roger Ebert's website is the business. And if you get a chance to see At Berkeley at the cinema take it. I can't imagine any universe in which it would get a general release.