Masterclass with Frederick Wiseman

January 11, 2018
Masterclass with Frederick Wiseman
We are thrilled to announce that we are hosting one of America’s best known documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman, to give a masterclass for SVA students following the recent release of his 41st documentary Ex Libris – The New York Public Library. This masterclass is only open to current students, faculty and staff of SVA. Limited seating available for prosepctive SocDoc students - please be in touch with for more info.

Wiseman’s work has long been a part of any film school curriculum, including his first film Titicut Follies (which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017), as well as High School, Hospital, Welfare, and more recent films National Gallery; At Berkley; Crazy Horse, about the landmark Paris club promising "the best nude dancing show in the world" and In Jackson Heights, on one of America’s most diverse neighborhoods. Wiseman produces, directs, records sound for, edits, and distributes all his own films. He is known to direct his cinematographer with his microphone.

His films are icons of vérité or observational cinema – though he often takes issue with the classification, preferring instead to make ”films” (not “documentaries”). His films focus primarily on American institutions – not individuals – but nevertheless show our humanity. Quoting from Philippe Pilard on Wiseman’s distribution company website, Zipporah Films: “The institutions that Wiseman examined early in his career – a hospital, a high school, army basic training, a welfare center, a police precinct – have “problems” that the filmmaker uncovers. His approach reveals the profound acknowledged and unacknowledged conformity and inequality of American society. Wiseman’s films are also a reflection on democracy. What do his films portray, the 'American dream' or the 'air conditioned nightmare'? Both, but also a questioning of the world and of existence.”

Don't miss this opportunity to hear straight from one of our most prolific icons of cinema about his process for finding stories, making films, and staying inspired. This in-depth, clip-filled masterclass will also give lots of time for you to have your questions answered.

Frederick Wiseman will be in conversation with SVA MFA Social Documentary faculty Thom Powers, who is co-founder and artistic director of Doc NYC and a programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival.

This masterclass is presented by MFA Social Documentary Film, SVA Library, BFA Film, and MPS Directing. 

Related Screenings
Very limited seats available. RSVPs required to

Friday, Jan. 19, 1pm - HIGH SCHOOL (1969; 1h10min) Bring a lunch!
Friday, Jan. 26, 1pm - IN JACKSON HEIGHTS (2015; 3h10min) Bring a lunch!
Thursday, Feb. 1, 6pm - EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (2017; 3h25min)

 Since 1967, Frederick Wiseman has directed 40 documentaries—dramatic, narrative films that seek to portray ordinary human experience in a wide variety of contemporary social institutions. His films include TITICUT FOLLIES, HIGH SCHOOL, WELFARE, JUVENILE COURT, BOXING GYM, LA DANSE, BALLET, CENTRAL PARK, BALLET, LA COMEDIE FRANCAISE, and CRAZY HORSE. He has directed a fiction film, THE LAST LETTER (2002). His films are distributed in theatres and broadcast on television in many countries.

Wiseman also works in the theater. In Paris he directed “The Belle of Amherst,” the play by William Luce about the life of Emily Dickinson, and two plays at La Comédie Française—Samuel Beckett’s “Oh Les Beaux Jours,” and “La Dernière Lettre,” based on a chapter of Vasily Grossman’s novel, Life and Fate. He also directed “The Last
Letter” (the English version of “La Dernière Lettre”) at the Theater for a New Audience in New York. The French publisher, Gallimard, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, jointly published the book, Frederick Wiseman, which offers a comprehensive overview of his work through a series of original essays by distinguished critics and artists.

Frederick Wiseman received his BA from Williams College in 1951 and his LLB from Yale Law School in 1954. He has received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, Princeton University, and Williams College, among others. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has won numerous awards, including four Emmys. He is also the recipient of the Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Society (2013), the George Polk Career Award (2006), the American Society of Cinematographers Distinguished Achievement Award (2006) and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Film Festival (2014). In 2016, he received an Honorary Award from the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.