Ex Libris—The New York Public Library
USA / 2016 / English / Color / DCP / 205 min
Director, Editing, Sound: Frederick Wiseman
Photography: John Davey
Source: Zipporah Films www.zipporah.com
After shooting in a multiracial neighborhood in Queens, New York for his previous film, In Jackson Heights, master director Frederick Wiseman chose the “world” of the New York Public Library as his next theme. He nimbly brings us through libraries in various New York neighborhoods, and we learn about a variety of projects they are tackling at the advent of the digital age. By showing management meetings, and how the various local areas work things out in their own unique styles through panels or speeches, this film reveals the reality surrounding public libraries and the diversity of ethnic groups who visit them—ultimately bringing the present state of the US into relief.
[Director’s Statement] Public libraries in America have changed since I was young. I remember going to the library to get books. Libraries now offer so much more. During the shooting of the film I was surprised to discover the vast variety of services, opportunities, and experiences libraries provide to anyone who walks through the door. Libraries of today have become community centers with after school programs for kids and adult education courses in languages, citizenship, business, and computer programming. Regardless of the current American political scene, the library remains an ideal of inclusion, democracy, and freedom of expression.
Frederick Wiseman (born 1930) is a film and theatre director of 43 films, primarily focusing on American institutions. These are Titicut Follies (1967); High School (1968); Law and Order (1969); Hospital (1969); Basic Training (1971); Essene (1972); Juvenile Court (1973); Primate (1974); Welfare (1975); Meat (1976); Canal Zone (1977); Sinai Field Mission (1978); Manoeuvre (1979); Model (1980, YIDFF ’91 Special Invitation); Seraphita’s Diary (1982); The Store (1983); Racetrack (1985); Blind (1986); Deaf (1986); Adjustment and Work (1986); Multi-handicapped (1986); Missile (1987); Central Park (1989); Near Death (1989); Aspen (1991); Zoo (1993, YIDFF ’93 Mayor’s Prize); High School II (1994); Ballet (1995); La Comédie-Française ou l’amour joué (1996, YIDFF ’97 Special Prize); Public Housing (1997); Belfast, Maine (1999, YIDFF ’99 Mayor’s Prize); Domestic Violence (2001, YIDFF 2001 Special Invitation); Domestic Violence 2 (2002, YIDFF 2003 Special Invitation); La Dernière Lettre (2002); The Garden (2004); State Legislature (2006); La Danse—Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris (2009); Boxing Gym (2010); Crazy Horse (2011); At Berkeley (2013); National Gallery (2014); In Jackson Heights (2015); and Ex Libris—The New York Public Library (2017).
In 2016 he was awarded an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Directors. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has won numerous awards, including four Emmys. In recent years, he directed Beckett’s Happy Days and Vassily Grossman’s The Last Letter at the Comédie Française in Paris, and The Last Letter at Theatre for a New Audience in New York. A ballet inspired by his first film, Titicut Follies, premiered at the New York University Skirball Theater in 2017.