Former Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau and Frederick Wiseman answer questions during a screening of "At Berkeley."
Former Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau and Frederick Wiseman answer questions during a screening of “At Berkeley.”

Frederick Wiseman visited Berkeley on December 3 to present his newest film “At Berkeley,” during two free screenings.

“At Berkeley” is Wiseman’s 38th film. His repertoire focuses largely on public institutions.

During the 4-hour-and-4-minute film, Wiseman, who both directed and edited, chronicled the Fall semester of 2010 on Berkeley’s campus from a variety of angles, splitting the time between classroom lectures and administrative meetings that largely focused on coping with State cuts to the university budget.

The film culminates with student demonstrations on campus and features a protest and occupation at Doe Memorial Library, showing both the administrators’ approach to the situation as well as the protestors’ point of view.

Wiseman, who is 83, flew from his home in Paris to promote his film. The first screening on campus took place at International House, where he gave an introduction.

The second screening was held at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA), where Wiseman answered questions from the audience alongside former Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who is prominently featured in the film.

“At Berkeley” does not identify any of the characters with job titles or names and in effect creates an even playing field for all students and faculty to voice their opinions.

“I think [the film] reflects what a wonderful place Berkeley is but also what a complex place it is,” said Birgeneau.

Initially Wiseman simply wanted to make a film about life at Berkeley and had no narrative in mind before or during the filming. It was only after 10 months of editing the 250 hours of footage he shot along with his director of photography, John Davey, that a story line began to emerge.

“Some people can work on the structure of a film in the abstract. I can’t. I have to see what the consequences are to linking sequences together and what meaning emerges by the choice and order of the sequences,” he said.

For Susan Hoffman, director of Berkeley’s Osher Life Long Learning Institute, the film was an accurate depiction of the many facets of life at Berkeley.

“To see the reciprocity between the faculty and the students, to see the magic that happens in a classroom with so much love and attention, it was beautiful,” said Hoffman, who attended the PFA screening of the film.

—Sean Havey