I went up to Belfast, Maine, to meet with the filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. We discussed his life and career, from growing up in Boston to how he came to create a body of work of more than 40 films and a few plays.
“I arrive in Belfast late in the afternoon. As I eat a sandwich in the window of a deli I watch the vacationers stroll by, young, good-looking families in Patagonia windbreakers and Black Dog T-shirts who eschew the crowds on the Cape in favor of the slightly less populous coastal hamlets much farther north. Amidst these prosperous clans with red plastic trays of root-beer floats and $20 lobster rolls, I try to subdue my loneliness with thoughts of the encounters I had with the clerks and managers, where I played the role of customer and client. The details of the moments are already elusive, their possible suggestion of greater meaning now seems inaccessible, if it was ever available to me to begin with. It is of these very surface interactions that Frederick Wiseman has made films for 50 years, a body of work that stands up against any other artist as the most comprehensive exploration of the American condition.”
“For decades, critics in high and low places have been taking turns missing the point of Wiseman’s films, not being right or wrong in their assessments of quality—even the most critical acknowledge that Frederick Wiseman is a genius of some kind—but rather failing to assess Wiseman’s work by his own ambitions.”