In Jackson Heights

Directed by Frederick Wiseman

Legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (At Berkeley, National Gallery) explores the culture, politics and daily life of the Queens, NYC district of Jackson Heights, which lays claim to being the most diverse neighbourhood in the world.


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  • ★★★½ review by Eliecer Gaspar on Letterboxd

    I make a cameo at approximately 1 hour and 52 minutes.

  • ★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd


    A.V. Club review. Eye-opening even for me, though I lived in New York for 17 years. None of my neighborhoods (East Village, Bushwick, Park Slope) were this vibrantly multicultural, and Wiseman chronicles the diversity without editorializing, avoiding the heavier editing touch that somewhat marred At Berkeley. He still has a tendency to get heavily invested in people/scenes I don't find all that interesting—here, I confess to growing antsy during a couple of very lengthy personal anecdotes told at what I gather is some sort of community center for undocumented immigrants, in the same way that I might tune out watching raw footage of, say, an AA meeting. (Don't mean to equate immigrants with addicts; it's the narrating-my-struggle aspect, which always feels to me like someone reading a book report synopsis written in the first person.) And I still question whether most of his recent films really need to be quite so long...though, at the same time, I'd be (unknowingly) sorry had he cut the beleaguered young woman at Councilman Dromm's office who spends several minutes deflecting an irate caller ("That would actually be a violation of federal law, ma'am," she says wearily at one point), or the group of people preparing for their citizenship exam who get whitesplained (sorry) their reasons for wanting to be Americans. And I'd happily watch an entire feature about the dude who instructs prospective cabbies. If only actual New York cabbies were that entertaining.

  • ★★★★½ review by Justine Smith on Letterboxd

    "Like most of Wiseman’s work, the central character is not an individual, but the crowd. I can’t help wondering if Wiseman — removed from the propaganda of Soviet Russia — has truly achieved the cinema that Eisenstein wrote about. With his rigorous editing process and democratizing, observing eye, Wiseman allows the community itself to become the central character. A shot featuring a crowd of Colombians watching TV in a storefront (their images reflecting onto the game) highlight the film’s optimism as the image feels resoundingly celebratory. In Jackson Heights portrays the struggles of small business owners in the face of gentrification and corporate strangleholds, so the image — rather than taking on cynical notes — becomes about coming together. It reflects the intimacy of the co-relationship between the disappearing middle-class business owners and the communities they serve. The imposing threat of gentrification is painted as wrought with corruption and a far cry from the idealized portrait of capitalism as an agent for good and liberation. In 5-10 years, it seems impossible that the community will survive on its current path, as it will be swallowed whole by the insatiable appetite of corporate giants."

    Read my full review at Vague Visages:

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

    Today I learned: Jackson Heights is in Queens, not Brooklyn as I wrote multiple times last week.

    "That's a gross misunderstanding of federal law."

    Most of our buildings are built on graves, but we don't remember.

    "One is left wondering what the reality of this country is."

  • ★★★★ review by laird on Letterboxd

    Communities within communities within communities. Supporting each other, some more privileged than others, all connected by the simple fact that capitalism will swallow us all, no matter where you came from or where you want to go.

    Best connected dots: "When they ask you why do you want to become a citizen what will you say?"

    "Freedom of religion, freedom of choice,..."

    "No, that's the bill or rights. Say 'to vote.' I mean, say whatever you want, but I'm telling you it's best to just say 'to vote.'"


    "My city council member never comes around here and my state representative is being investigated for fraud."

    MVP: The cranky 98-year-old woman. "I'd be fine if my brains would go if only I could have my foot back."

    Runner up: The Yellow Cab teacher (Nose-Eat-Shoes-Wash, Never-Ever-Smoke-Weed, directions!)

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