This is the age of "reality TV," but don't confuse "Survivor" or "Are You Hot?" with the documentaries of veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman. In his 70s, when some would be content in retirement, Wiseman continues to make groundbreaking films, such as the recent "Domestic Violence" and "Domestic Violence 2," premiering on public television next week.
Wiseman's hallmark is to show viewers what he saw and let them draw their own conclusions. There's no narration or captions. Instead, it's life as it is rarely shown on television. "The idea is to cover as many aspects of American life as I can," Wiseman says. "I use an institution as a way of providing a boundary."
His first film, "Titicut Follies," exposed the deplorable conditions of a mental hospital in Bridgewater, Mass. Other titles among his 37 films include, "High School," "Zoo," and "Model."
In his latest documentaries, he focuses on the issue of domestic violence as it is handled in Tampa, Fla. In "Domestic Violence," the focus is on The Spring, a shelter for battered women and children. Since there is no narration, viewers have no barrier between themselves and people telling their stories. Wiseman doesn't offer quick cuts and juicy bits. Instead, we get the whole story in its context.
"Domestic Violence 2" - shot at the same time - in a sense picks up the story (with different people) by showing us how the problem of domestic violence is handled in the court system, from arraignments to hearings over matters including restraining orders and child visitation.
Together, the two films run some six hours, which Wiseman edited down from 110 hours of footage.
When dealing with the police on the street or in the Tampa courts, Wiseman had full cooperation. "There's no question you're completely covered by the First Amendment," he says about filming governmental authority in action. However, for scenes in private homes and at the shelter, permission was required from people who appear in the film.