Camerimage Festival to Honor Documentary Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman

Unique style, focus on flawed U.S. institutions characterize the auteur’s work

Pioneering documentarian Frederick Wiseman will receive the Camerimage Award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking at the 25th edition of Camerimage, the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography, which will be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, from Nov. 11 – 18.

The festival will screen a selection of Wiseman’s films, and the filmmaker himself will be on hand to accept the award and talk to fest participants about his unorthodox approach to documentary filmmaking.

The Camerimage honor comes to Wiseman on the 50th anniversary of his seminal 1967 debut film, “Titcut Follies,” which casts a spotlight on the patient-inmates of Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a Massachusetts correctional institution. The film won awards in Europe and sparked a career

In announcing the honor, the fest commented: “The cinema of Frederick Wiseman is not easy to digest, for it demands both the viewers’ complete attention, something which is becoming increasingly difficult in this constantly accelerating world of ours, and their intense participation… ‘Titicut Follies’ still evokes strong emotions, proving indisputably that the line between the primitive and the civilized was, is and always will be very thin.”

Wiseman’s films include: “Basic Training (1971),” which showed how young people are shaped into soldiers in preparation for the Vietnam War; “Primate (1974),” examining researchers working with simians and forcing viewers to wonder which group is stranger; “Deaf” (1986), about deaf students learning to communicate with the outside world; “Near Death (1989),” a tale of workers and terminally ill patients at a Boston hospital; “La Danse (2009),” which observes the intricate mechanisms of a ballet company; and “In Jackson Heights (2015),” a portrait of life in that multi-ethnic Queens neighborhood;

Wiseman typically shoots hundreds of hour of footage for each film, carefully observing its particular world, often in collaboration with cinematographer John Davey, who will also be a guest of Camerimage. Next, Wiseman goes into a laborious process of editing, reworking, adding, cutting, repeating, using carefully selected images and sounds to mold the footage into a self-explanatory narrative that presents his personal experience of that world.

Perhaps Wiseman’s greatest hallmark is his non-use of voiceover or talking heads suggesting how viewers should perceive what is taking place on the screen. His films tend to run long, testing viewers’ patience. “Near Death” is almost six hours long. In the past Wiseman has said that the only thing a documentary filmmaker can do is investigate and discover.

This year, Wiseman received an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Previous recipients of the Camerimage documentary prize include Jay Rosenblatt, Marcel Łoziński, Kim Longinotto, Joan Churchill, Steven Okazaki, Albert Maysles, Terry Sanders and Kazimierz Karabasz.

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