By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2013--AT BERKELEY  Send This Review to a Friend

Teaching at New York University andintrigued by what it takes to keep a major university going, I was naturally curious as to how documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman would reveal the workings of the University of California at Berkeley in his four-hour coverage of that institution. As is his style, Wiseman takes his cameras on the scene and looks in without narrations or comments typical of most documentaries. He has done that again with this one, which was showcased at the 2013 New York Film Festival.

The result is mostly enthralling. We get to look into classrooms and watch professors teaching an array of subjects, which gives us a sense of the scope of education and the learning process. We are taken inside executive meetings to meet the honchos trying to sort out the various problems the university faces. We get a striking visual look of the campus and its facilities. We see the caretakers at work and construction under way, although I think a just a few shots of such construction would be sufficient rather than the repeated focusing on work sites. That would make the film a bit shorter, and there are opportunities for more such editing.

Especially interesting and fortuitous is a student occupation of the university library as a means of protest about conditions militant students feel need addressing. The powers that be meet to keep an eye on the situation and discuss options. The student demands are very broad. What impresses in this situation is the calmness with which the occupation is addressed, and it ends peacefully with a promise to take up some of the demands.

The most interesting professor to watch is Robert Reich, former United States Secretary of Labor, who is flamboyant in his approach to students as he tries to fire up their enthusiasm with his effort to stimulate a thirst for learning. Reich is a piece of work, often amusing in his comments.

Not everyone has patience for a four hour visit to a university on film. But for those willing to give themselves over to the project, the experience is constantly illuminating and provides insight into the many, many elements that go into this particular place of higher learning. A Zipporah Films release. Reviewed November 8, 2013.


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