This year’s honoree of the ASC’s Award of Distinction is Frederick Wiseman. American Cinematographer‘s appreciation of his career is worth a read, and there are some great photos of Wiseman editing on his Steenbeck 6-plate. Wiseman’s a great filmmaker — probably one of the five or six greatest living American filmmakers. If you’ve not seen High School or Titicut Follies, add it to your to-see list.
Of course, if you haven’t seen any Wiseman films it’s not like I can blame you. Unless you’re friends with bootleggers, your best bet for seeing one is to go to a university library, which is about the only kind of institution that could remotely afford one of his movies: $400 per title. (That’s $400 per VHS tape, folks.)
This is the way Wiseman wants it, apparently. Here’s a quote from his company’s website:
I am a student/filmmaker/individual without the resources to rent or purchase a film. How can I see a particular Wiseman film?
We have the Wiseman films on deposit at several public libraries and archives throughout the United States. One of the largest collections is at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York City and Los Angeles. Patrons may not remove the films from the premises but there are video booths available to view films and television programs free of charge. If New York and Los Angeles are not convenient please call us and we will let you know if there is a library in your area with any of the films.
Wiseman is, of course, entitled to do whatever he wants with his work, but it seems at least a little hypocritical that the people he’s trained his camera on (the poor, those living in remote areas, etc.) are those that have the least access to his movies. I guess I expect more from a filmmaker who’s otherwise so sharp at seeing the relationships between people and institutions.