Frederick Wiseman’s long career exploring the functions of American institutions continues with his recent City Hall. On this episode, we contrast it with Ex Libris, considering how Wiseman’s films differ when looking at systems which function well and systems which are not working.
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This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney, Executive Editor Orla Smith, Associate Editor Brett Pardy, and special guest Michael Snydel.
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Ex Libris: New York Public Library (2017)
Ex Libris will get you excited about the role of the library in contemporary society. Libraries are no longer merely buildings that house books. They are meeting places to discuss community issues and to get information delivered with passion straight from the experts. At the same time, the library is where people go to find answers to personal questions, from how to deal with a cancer diagnosis to tracking family history.
The New York Public Library is an especially interesting subject because not only does it have local branches across New York City, but it also has specialized branches with special collections. Wiseman visits the Performing Arts Library to see concerts and shows. At one branch, people are creating audio versions of books to make the library’s collection more widely accessible. And at branches in low income neighbourhoods, community outreach programs for tutoring are especially important. By giving us wide shots of each branch’s exterior and interior, we learn about the context of the proceedings we see and how this supports the community – Alex Heeney
City Hall (2020)
Wiseman’s most recent film explores the numerous ways municipal government interacts with a city. From Mayor Marty Walsh’s pitches to developers to holding public meetings about cannabis stores, from sports championship parades to pest control inspection, Wiseman looks at all the angles.
- Purchase our Documentary Masters ebook, featuring interviews with Wiseman on National Gallery (2014), In Jackson Heights (2015), and Ex Libris (2017). The book also features interviews with Joshua Oppenheimer, Hubert Sauper, Sophie Fiennes, Gianfranco Rosi, Steve James, Penny Lane, Chris Hegedus, D. A. Pennebaker, and Alanis Obomsawin.
- Listen to our “Look back at TIFF 2020” episode, where Angelo Muredda named City Hall his favourite film of the festival
- Read Alex’s interview with Wiseman on Monrovia, Indiana
- Listen to Michael on The Film Stage
Where to watch the films
Ex Libris is available to stream on Kanopy in the US and Canada. You can also purchase a region-free DVD or Blu Ray of the film here.
City Hall is currently streaming in virtual cinemas across the US. For screening details, click here.
At the moment, City Hall is only streaming in British Columbia in Canada via VIFF Connect here.