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 Frederick Wiseman - Dados Bibliograficos + Philosophy + Process and style

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Morais Sarmento

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Frederick Wiseman (born 1 January 1935 in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.) is an American documentary filmmaker. Born into a Jewish family, he came to documentary filmmaking after first being trained as a lawyer.
In 2006, Wiseman received the George Polk Career Award given annually by Long Island University to honor contributions to journalistic integrity and investigative reporting.
The first feature-length film that Wiseman produced was The Cool World in 1963. He next produced and directed Titicut Follies and has both produced and directed all of his films since. All have been aired on PBS, one of his primary funders.
The style of Wiseman's films are often referred to as the observational mode, which has its roots in direct cinema. However, Wiseman dislikes the term:
What I try to do is edit the films so that they will have a dramatic structure, that is why I object to some extent to the term observational cinema or cinema verité, because observational cinema to me at least connotes just hanging around with one thing being as valuable as another and that is not true. At least that is not true for me and cinema verité is just a pompous French term that has absolutely no meaning as far as I'm concerned. Aftab, Weltz Wiseman's film distribution company is Zipporah Films, Inc. DVDs of most of his films are available for purchase through his website, www.zipporah.com.


Wiseman's films are, in his view, an elaboration of a personal experience and not an ideologically objective portrait of his subjects.
In many interviews Wiseman has emphasized that his films are not and can not be unbiased. In spite of the inescapable bias that is introduced in the process of "making a movie", he still feels he has certain ethical obligations regarding how he portrays the events in his films:
[My films are] based on un-staged, un-manipulated actions... The editing is highly manipulative and the shooting is highly manipulative... What you choose to shoot, the way you shoot it, the way you edit it and the way you structure it... all of those things... represent subjective choices that you have to make... In [Belfast, Maine] I had 110 hours of material ... I only used 4 hours – near nothing. The compression within a sequence represents choice and then the way the sequences are arranged in relationship to the other represents choice. Aftab, Weltz[1]
All aspects of documentary filmmaking involve choice and are therefore manipulative. But the ethical ... aspect of it is that you have to ... try to make [a film that] is true to the spirit of your sense of what was going on. ... My view is that these films are biased, prejudiced, condensed, compressed but fair. I think what I do is make movies that are not accurate in any objective sense, but accurate in the sense that I think they're a fair account of the experience I've had in making the movie. Spotnitz I think I have an obligation, to the people who have consented to be in the film, ... to cut it so that it fairly represents what I felt was going on at the time in the original event. Poppy

Process and style

Wiseman works only four to six weeks in the institutions he portrays, with almost no preparation in advance. He spends the bulk of the production period editing the material, trying to find a rhythm to make a “movie”. Unlike some documentarians, he does not invite his subjects to participate in the process of editing.
Present in every Wiseman film is a dramatic structure. Not necessarily a narrative arc per se – his films rarely have what could be considered a distinct climax and conclusion; any suspense there may be is at a per-scene, human experience level and not constructed from carefully placed plot points; there are no consistent human characters with whom the viewer is expected to identify. Nevertheless, Wiseman feels that drama is a crucial element for his films to "work as movies" (Poppy). The "rhythm and structure" (Wiseman) of Wiseman's films pull the viewer into the position and perspective of the subject (human or otherwise). The viewer feels the dramatic tension of the situations portrayed in the films, as various environmental forces create complicated situations and conflicting values for the subject.

Wiseman openly admits to manipulating his source material to create dramatic structure, and indeed insists that it is necessary to "make a movie."
I'm trying to make a movie. A movie has to have dramatic sequence and structure. I don't have a very precise definition about what constitutes drama but I'm gambling that I'm going to get dramatic episodes. Otherwise, it becomes Empire. ... I am looking for drama, though I'm not necessarily looking for people beating each other up, shooting each other. There's a lot of drama in ordinary experiences. In Public Housing, there was drama in that old man being evicted from his apartment by the police. There was a lot of drama in that old woman at her kitchen table peeling a cabbage. Peary A very distinctive aspect of Wiseman's style is the complete lack of expository (narration), interactive (interviews), or reflexive (revealing to the viewer some part of the filmmaking process) elements. Regarding the lack of reflexive elements, Wiseman has stated that he does not "feel any need to document [his] experience" and feels that such elements in films are vain. (Lucia)In the process of producing a film, Wiseman will often acquire more than 100 hours of raw footage. Cutting this down to a feature length film that is engaging and interesting, without the use of any voiceover, title cards, or motion graphics, while still being "fair", is the reason that Wiseman is seen as a true master of documentary film.
This great glop of material which represents the externally recorded memory of my experience of making the film is of necessity incomplete. The memories not preserved on film float somewhat in my mind as fragments available for recall, unavailable for inclusion but of great importance in the mining and shifting process known as editing. This editorial process ... is sometimes deductive, sometimes associational, sometimes non-logical and sometimes a failure... The crucial element for me is to try and think through my own relationship to the material by whatever combination of means is compatible. This involves a need to conduct a four-way conversation between myself, the sequence being worked on, my memory, and general values and experience. Wiseman

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