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 A Most Violent Year

    A Most Violent Year

    New York, 1981. An ambitious immigrant businessman tries to stay legit, despite stiff competition and violent threats from his ruthless, corrupt and often criminal rivals

  • Film4 Kingsman The Secret Service

    Kingsman: The Secret Service

    Kingsman agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) takes on a new rough-edged protégé (Taron Egerton) as tech mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) enacts his plans for world domination

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Gearing up for the Glasgow Film Festival 2015

    The Glasgow Film Festival programme is announced and features Film4-backed films Second Coming and Catch Me Daddy plus much, much more, from 18th February to 1st March It¿s almost time once more for

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance

    As Louise Osmond's inspirational documentary about an unlikely group of friends who breed themselves a racehorse is about to premiere at Sundance 2015, Catherine Bray catches up with the director for

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

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

or Register

Tweets @Film4

  • Up next @ 10.50pm, a couple on their way to a music festival get lost in rural Irish lanes in Jeremy Lovering's Film4-backed horror In Fear.

  • RT @iFlicks: The rather chilling #InFear is on @Film4 at 10.50pm. What scares its director most? Tinnitus. My interview with him: http://t.…

  • Horror fans! At 10.50pm, we're screening Film4-backed chiller In Fear, starring Iain De Caestecker & Alice Englert: http://t.co/qydJSTigZD

  • Reminder! Our Werner Herzog season kicks off tomorrow with classic conquistador drama Aguirre, Wrath Of God. http://t.co/PSYzzTOhi7

  • Have you seen Ex_Machina yet? Here's our interview special with Alex Garland, Domhnall Gleeson & Alicia Vikander: http://t.co/7NWgzJowBG

Share