Frederick Wiseman is an 87-year-old documentary director who has been making films for over 50 years and in that time produced 45 features. In the early days his films were political and in some cases banned. More recently his films are more descriptive and focussed on community life such as Brooklyn and Berkeley, artistic groups like the ballet and institutions like the National Gallery in London and this film about the New York Public Library. These later films are very long so if you choose to see them I recommend renting them and have the ability to pause and return. This is by no means to suggest they are boring. Wiseman has no script or apparent agenda. In this case of Ex Libris we are taken on a tour of the main branch on 5th Ave. and visits to other branches throughout the city. He filmed visitors, staff meetings, board meetings, meeting of local community groups, librarians, library workers and many scenes of life in the library. In doing so he illustrates the central role of this library and libraries in general as they provide resources and nurture for the communities they serve. We saw a great interview with Elvis Costello, meetings of teachers in black communities, got educated about the nature of racism in the US, and many other events. We also learned about the problems of loaning e-books, convincing city councils to provide funding and how do deal with the homeless who use the sites for shelter. It was a fascinating look at one of society’s most important institutions and specifically in New York City. An excellent film. Sadly Wiseman was not here for a Q and A but that is because he is in the process of making another film. I can hardly wait. I have a review of the National Gallery documentary in an earlier blog post – 2014. Enjoy.
Oh right. If you want to see another entirely different picture of the main branch of the New York Public Library check out The Day After Tomorrow, a sci-fi film about apocalyptic climate change starring Jake Gyllenhaal. LOL