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At Berkeley: Interview with documentarian Frederick Wiseman

Laura Flynn
UC Berkeley Sather Tower



Titicut Follies was Frederick Wiseman’s first and most famous documentary movie. The controversial 1967 film details the degrading treatment of patients at a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane.

Wiseman’s signature no talking-heads, no narration style was groundbreaking for its time. The gritty and often degrading material depicted in the film can make it difficult to watch. That’s why soon after its release, a Massachusetts judge banned it, citing patient privacy concerns.

Eventually, though, the ban on Titticut Follies was lifted in 1991. In those 24 years since the film was released, Wiseman applied his verité approach to a series of institutions, including a high school, a prison, a meat packing plant and a ballet company—and he became arguably the most influential documentary filmmaker of his generation.

Most recently, the 83-year-old filmmaker trained his eye on UC Berkeley. Filmed during the fall 2010 semester, his film “At Berkeley” takes us into the classrooms, research labs, administrative meetings, stadiums and protests at an institution in the middle of a severe financial crisis.


Frederick Wiseman: It’s an opportunity to observe a large number of people working together by certain rules and to see what the relationship is between the rules and their behavior. It’s an opportunity to look at a vast array of human behavior. And it’s an opportunity to have a look at contemporary American life through institutions that are important for the functioning of a democratic society, and which exist in most communities.


Click the audio player above to listen to the complete interview. 

You can see Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, ‘At Berkeley’ Monday, January 13th on PBS.