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Pioneering Documentarian Frederick Wiseman Coming to Drexel

Frederick Wiseman

November 04, 2014

Frederick Wiseman, the man who has held a mirror to American society and institutions through a prolific career in documentary film making, will hold a series of lectures and discussions about his art during a two-day residency at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in November.

The three-time Emmy winning documentarian will be on campus Nov. 10-11 as the school’s latest Rankin Scholar in Residence. In addition to public screenings of three of his films, Wiseman will visit with students in Westphal’s Film & Video program and offer master classes during his two-day residency.


“Frederick Wiseman is a true giant of documentary film making,” said Allen Sabinson, dean of Westphal College. “His remarkable body of work represents a nearly comprehensive examination of America and its institutions with films pertaining to legal, health care, educational, military and cultural organizations. His approach of dispassionately observing subjects presented without narration or dramatic manipulation produces powerful, provocative and nuanced portraits that become larger inquiries into the human experience. We are delighted that our students, faculty and the Drexel community will be able to share this time with such an important cinema master.”


Through the course of almost 50 years of filmmaking, Wiseman pioneered a documentary form that draws the audience into the film’s setting by eschewing any sort of narration, title cards or graphics. Instead, he tells the story by arranging it thematically rather than chronologically and linking scenes in ways that force the viewers to make judgments for themselves about what they see happening.

His body of work includes 39 full-length documentaries. Among them is the 1968 film “High School,” which will screen on Monday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in the URBN Annex Screening Room (3401 Filbert Street). Filmed at a large urban high school in Philadelphia, the film documents how the school system exists not only to pass on “facts” but also transmits social values from one generation to another. “High School” presents a series of formal and informal encounters between teachers, students, parents and administrators through which the ideology and values of the school emerge. The screening will be followed by a question and answer session with Wiseman.

On Tuesday, Nov. 11, at 10 a.m., in honor of Veteran’s Day, the college will present a screening of “Basic Training,” a 1971 film by Wiseman that follows a company of draftees and enlisted men through their nine weeks of basic training. Wiseman’s 1967 film “Titicut Follies,” which portrays life behind the walls of the State Prison for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, will be screened at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Both films will be presented in the URBN Annex Screening Room. They are free and open to the public and will be followed by a question and answer session with Wiseman.

In 1971 Wiseman founded the independent documentary film distribution company, Zipporah Films, which has been the exclusive distributor of his films ever since, turning out titles like “At Berkeley” (2013), “Crazy Horse” (2011), “La Danse” (2009), “High School II” (1994), “Ballet” (1993), “Welfare” (1975) and many more.

He is the recipient of The George Polk Career Award, the Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, IDFA Living Legend Award, the American Society of Cinematographers Distinguished Achievement Award and a Peabody Award for Significant and Meritorious Achievement. He has been a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

Wiseman’s latest film, “National Gallery” looks at the interaction between patrons and the arts at the National Gallery in London. The Philadelphia Film Society will host a special sneak preview of “National Gallery” on Nov. 11 at the Roxy Theater in Philadelphia. The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis commented “…one of the greatest (films) I’ve seen all year.”

The Rankin Scholar-in-Residence award, established in 2006 to honor former Westphal Dean Marjorie Rankin, brings to campus noted individuals who excel in fields related to media arts and design. The award is funded through continuing donations by her friends and colleagues with the goal of inspiring students, stimulating faculty, invigorating the professional field and aiding in the development of the college.

For more information about Wiseman’s residency, please contact Lisa Visco at

For media inquiries about Wiseman, contact Karen Konicek, director of distribution, Zipporah Films, Inc. at 617.576.3603 or  


Media Contact

Britt Faulstick