I don’t recall ever having been in Jackson Heights, a short distance from Manhattan. But I sure feel that I have been there now after watching director Frederick Wiseman’s thoroughly absorbing expedition made in his inimitable fly-on-the-wall style. The film runs three hours and ten minutes, which doesn’t seem all that long, given the diversity that Wiseman captures in exploring the various strains of the population and activities.
The Jackson Heights that Wiseman shows us would seem to be a microcosm of the American experience, brought up to date by what is happening there in this era. The mix of ethnic and religious groups--African-American, Asian, Latino, Jewish, Muslim—is fascinating.
Likewise, there are politically inspired aspects. The gay and lesbian communities are represented, as we see from coverage of meetings and a gay pride parade. We see inter-racial efforts. We hear from an assortment of articulate individuals expressing their opinions on a range of topics.
We meet the elderly. We see the pressures against neighborhood businesses. As happens in many locations, rents rise and small businesses are driven out. One especially impressive section is a meeting trying to mobilize opposition to the trend.
One comes away with an impression of an energy-laden area, with its customs, foods and everyday life, including its working-class emphasis. Wiseman has a great eye for zeroing in on what makes good cinema and good contemporary study. Just when you think you have seen it all, he comes up with something else fresh with which to engage us.
A great documentary filmmaker, Wiseman has done it again with this very special and valuable work that adds richly to understanding America’s character. A Zipporah Films release. Posted November 4, 2015.