Independent Lens – At Berkeley

Posted on:

< < Back to

Monday, January 13 • 10 p.m.

The latest film from legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, At Berkeley is a revealing four-hour documentary about the University of California at Berkeley, the oldest and most prestigious member of a ten campus public education system and one of the finest research and teaching facilities in the world. Eschewing narration and standard interviews, the film takes viewers from faculty meetings to classrooms, from financial aid seminars to research laboratories, to show the myriad aspects of university life. Filmed during the fall 2010 semester, Wiseman reveals the administration’s struggles as it faces drastic budget cuts imposed by the State of California. Through this wide-ranging approach, both sweeping and intimate, Wiseman shows how a major American university is administered, revealing the complex relationships among its various constituencies — students, faculty, administrators, alumni, the City of Berkeley, the State of California and the federal government. The film also looks closely at Berkeley’s intellectual and social mission, its obligation to the state and to the larger ideals of higher education.


Frederick Wiseman on At Berkeley:


My film about the University of California at Berkeley presents a strong and accomplished administration and faculty working hard to maintain — in the face of a

severe financial crisis — the standards and integrity of a great public university, which is at the service of highly intelligent and diverse students. It was a privilege to film at Berkeley.


The film is consistent with my efforts to make documentaries about as many aspects of human behavior as I can. I think it is just as important for the filmmaker to show people of intelligence, character, tolerance, and goodwill hard at work as it is to make movies about the failures, insensitivities, and cruelties of others. At Berkeley is an illustration of this idea.


At Berkeley is the 38th film in my series about contemporary institutions. I spent twelve weeks at Berkeley and shot 250 hours of material. The crew consisted of myself and two others. No events are staged and there is no artificial lighting. The editing of the film took 14 months spread out over a two-and-a-half-year period. The film presented a particularly interesting editing problem since the diversity of material was much greater than in any of my previous films. A public university is a complex organism made up of many parts — students, faculty, administrators, staff, police, alumni, politicians, and the community in which it is located. In the editing I had to try and find a way to suggest these interrelationships, and their complexity, while simultaneously giving a sense of the entire institution.