Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman wins over SMU community
The lecture ran the gamut of creative possibilities, from film clips to a forum featuring techie talk and witty banter.
From film clips depicting the American Ballet Theatre and a sardine-packing factory in Belfast, Maine, to a forum featuring techie talk and witty banter, “A Conversation with Fred Wiseman” ran the gamut of creative possibilities Tuesday night.
Students, professors and members of the Dallas film community filled the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater to hear guest lecturer and award-winning documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman speak about and share his craft.
Senior cinema television major, David Redish, was among the inspired audience and admits he was a bit awe-struck by the whole evening.
“He’s really the Godfather of documentaries,” said Redish. “He is absolutely prolific.”
Capping off a semester-long series of programs, classes and creative work discussing human rights, the event kicked off with selections from six of Wiseman’s most notable documentaries and was followed by an open-mic discussion between the audience and filmmaker.
Chair of SMU’s Art History department and co-sponsor of the lecture, Janice Bergman-Carton, introduced Wiseman to the crowd and highlighted his ability to seamlessly blend human rights with film-making.
“His films respect the viewer and demand a lot from them,” Bergman-Carton said in an interview with the Daily Mustang. “He knows that people, not art, make real change.”
Freelance documentary photographer and avid Wiseman fan for the past nine years, Loli Kantor said she’s learned a lot from the classical technique and gripping subjects used in the films screened at the lecture.
“His work is very pure,” said Kantor. “What you see is what is there in that moment at that place.”
When asked by the Daily Mustang what drives him to pursue the tedious stories of daily life on which his films focus, Wiseman admitted he really didn’t know other than the fact he’s a curious person.
“I suppose in a sense it’s because it’s a form of natural history,” Wiseman surmised. “I mean, I would have loved to have seen a film about life in the 18th century.”
Wiseman said that with each film, he truly learns something new and almost always ends up with a different stereotype or notion of his subject than that with which he started.
“Every film is an illustration of my experience,” said Wiseman.
Michael Cain, CEO and Artistic Director of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival, loved hearing Wiseman’s insights and believes it’s clear now just how much Wiseman’s work has affected other documentaries.
“In today’s world, it’s all little blurbs and tweets, but with documentaries, a story can really breathe,” said Cain. “It’s good for us to slow down and enjoy this kind of film.”
During the question and answer portion of the night, many asked technical questions about crew size and filming rights.
“Never underestimate the power of vanity,” Wiseman said in response to a question about how he’s able to get such raw footage of human emotion.
At other times, the session led to more humorous moments, like when one woman asked who funded Wiseman’s directorial debut, Titicut Follies in 1967.
“It was funded by a well-known American institution: my American Express card,” replied Wiseman to a laughing crowd.
Meadows Studio Art graduate student Patrick Schneider initially attended the lecture as part of a class and because of a friend who is also a documentary filmmaker.
By the end of the lecture, Schneider said he was riveted by Wiseman’s films.
“It was surprisingly great to see his work,” said Schneider at the evening’s close. “I definitely want to see more.”
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