CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • TBC
  • Documentary
  • 2013
  • 244 mins

At Berkeley

Film4 At Berkeley

Synopsis

Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman sits in on meetings, lectures and seminars at UC Berkeley, one of America’s largest publicly funded higher education institutions, as they suffer drastic budget cuts.

About

At Berkeley is the latest opus from veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who has been documenting human behaviour in various contexts for upwards of 40 years, and has perfected a purely observational style that dispenses with narration and the overt directorial fingerprints of intertitles and interviews in favour of placing the camera in the middle of a room and watching conversations unfold.

By that token, 244 minutes of university seminars, lectures and administrative meetings may sound dull, but Wiseman’s gentle, seamless editing and delicate storytelling allow these voyeuristic sequences to build meaning en masse – an effect that, by the time the credits roll, is truly staggering. By mixing classroom discussions on social policy in a post-financial crisis America with the bureaucratic realities that the Chancellor’s cabinet deal with behind closed doors, a full picture starts to appear.

Students are encouraged to aggressively question and criticise, but cynicism is staved off as discussions range from access to education and the rise in college fees to the invisible prejudices that haunt even a world-class institution like Berkeley. Meanwhile, the administrative staff deal with diminishing public funding to keep the university accessible in testing economic times – a particular coup, and recurring theme, being that they had just admitted the most scholarship-assisted students in Berkeley’s history. So when, around the three-hour mark, a student protest breaks out, demanding “no cuts, no fees” and occupying one of the college’s libraries, we’re treated to both sides of the matter – and wonder whether, in this intellectually engaged community, such action is tolerated and even encouraged as an expression of the students’ passion.

But to focus on that thread would be to ignore the little glimpses of campus life that Wiseman wisely inserts among the discourse: close-harmony groups, a robotics lab, the Kronos Quartet in concert, poetry readings and, in the film’s closing moments, a lecture on human life on other planets open up the film even further, adding up to a voluminous observation of American higher education in action.

Cast & Connections

  • Director: Frederick Wiseman

In a nutshell

A four-hour long documentary about higher education certainly isn’t going to arouse everyone’s interest, but this is the real deal: insightful, revealing and comprehensive.

by Michael Leader

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 The Love Punch

    The Love Punch

    A divorced couple (Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson) plot to recover the retirement fund that was swindled away from them in Joel Hopkins romantic caper

  • Film4 Catch Me Daddy

    Catch Me Daddy

    Sameena Jabeen Ahmed stars as a girl on the run from her family with her drifter boyfriend in Daniel Wolfe's thriller

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Tweets @Film4

  • @coeur_en_hiver True, cooking and films don't mix. Would Film4+1 help? Then you could catch the 6.30pm film an hour later.

  • RT @WeWenttoWar: Not long now! Tune in/set your recorders for @WeWenttoWar on @Film4 tomorrow night! @FilmAgencyWales http://t.co/9jDby50X0v

  • Good morning, folks! Up next at 11am, Glenn Ford, Edward G Robinson & Barbara Stanwyck star in Cold War-influenced Western The Violent Men.

  • Our late-night highlight at 12.45am is Adrian Lyne's controversial 90s adaptation of Lolita, starring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain.

  • "The people who got off the roller coaster are going to die. Unless we can find a way to stop it." Up next at 10.55pm, Final Destination 3.

Share