At Berkeley

Directed by Frederick Wiseman

Direct cinema pioneer Frederick Wiseman takes an in-depth look at the preeminent American university during a fall semester that saw a vigorous debate taking place over tuition hikes, budget cuts, and the future of higher education in the United States.


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  • ★★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd

    will say some words later. they will be insufficient.

  • ★★★★★ review by Jake Cole on Letterboxd

    The fleetest mega-length doc, and the most expansive portrait of modern America as it pertains to and shapes youth since HOOP DREAMS. Youth simultaneously coddled and abandoned, unable to face the courage of their convictions but also radicalized by the death of the middle class. Wiseman does not mock nor romanticize them, just as he does not pick apart nor defend the college administration for rate hikes. There are no answers, really, but also not a defeatist wallowing in misery. It's the ideal documentary, a passionate but clear-headed explication, without the didacticism of narration, of a vast social hydra in such a way that one finally gets a cogent view of a multifaceted problem. It's also just about the best editing job of the year, with seemingly every cut expanding its vision and never falling back on simplistic juxtaposition despite how often student idealism runs against faculty practicality.

  • ★★★★½ review by Lyzette on Letterboxd

    Boy, there's a lot to take in with this one. At Berkeley is documentary film veteran Frederick Wiseman's latest effort, taking a multi-dimensional look at the famous Berkeley campus in Northern California. What impressed me the most about this film is just how much access the filmmaker was able to attain in his attempts to paint a full portrait of the university's rich cultural history. From classroom lectures to administrative meetings, virtually every angle is covered here, with the hot button topics of budget cuts and college education particularly held under the spotlight. In traditional Wiseman fashion, he takes on a strictly fly-on-the-wall approach to his filmmaking, devoid of his own personal commentary, letting the camera show it how it is. Peppered within these lengthy monologues are shots of the beautiful Berkeley campus and student extracurricular activities.

    The documentary runs at about four hours long and while it certainly feel like every minute of that, there is rarely a dull moment. It's amazing how engrossing some of these lengthy discussions can be. I also didn't expect them to enlightening on the nature of the country's public education system. The pinnacle, of course, is in the final third, where we get a few lengthy scenes of student protests regarding tuition hikes and the overall degradation of their college. Since filming was done in 2009, the even larger Occupy revolts that are to come a couple years later aren't covered; with this context, however, the images become even more fruitful. The concern that these individuals place toward their education highlight a system that is on the cusp of full-out collapse. It's exciting yet scary, and Wiseman handles these issues with the utmost empathy and integrity.

    Although the density of At Berkeley is intimidating, I think it's fully worth the effort to make time for. It's compelling, beautifully-shot, and although it may drag at bits, it's an experience that is sure to stay in one's mind for quite some time.

  • ★★★★½ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd

    Weird how all the lectures and class discussions turn out to be meta-commentaries on issues surrounding university life or Wiseman's film itself.

    A record of how great college is: engaged students and teachers dedicated to learning stuff, punctuated by bucolic shots of the sun-dappled California campus, alternating with the tedious, hypocritical obliviousness of bureaucratic administration meetings and retreats.

  • ★★★★½ review by Peter Labuza on Letterboxd

    Capsule here that only begins to pick at my absolute adoration for this work, which I think centers around a) Wiseman's general approach to documentary narrative b) the stakes of the subject, which hit close to home and c) the sort of balanced and nuanced approach to many of the thornier issues of the politics. Based on (c) is what makes it fascinating to read Michael Sicinski's piece and Genevieve Yue's piece side by side, as each take away a major point of Wiseman's political narrative, and both are totally right.

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