At Berkeley

Director: Frederick Wiseman
Year Released: 2013
Rating: 2.5

Wiseman takes his fly-on-the-wall filmmaking approach to the UC Berkeley, one of the most prestigious public universities in the country (and one with a history of student protests) in order to observe the students in the classrooms, the administrators (led by then-chancellor Robert Birgeneau) discussing important matters such as recruiting lower-income students and handling cutbacks and, not so subtly, blue collar workers doing construction around the campus. Having spent most of my life in the world of education (whether as a student or an instructor) I found myself voyeuristically drawn to this particular effort by the established documentarian although I'm not positive the same fascination can be shared by others - certainly it can be argued that the four hour running time is more than a little gratuitous and that some judicial trimming might have made a tighter presentation. One of my continuous issues with Wiseman is that his films are a bit intellectually shallow - he gains access, lets the cameras roll and then strings together the various observations leaving the viewer to do all the mental lifting ... and it isn't until the last hour of this work, when he covers an unfocused student 'protest,' that he more or less takes sides with Birgeneau and his staff, who believe the Kids were just Protesting For the Sake of Protesting (their 'list of demands' was rightfully regarded as a joke). But take it from me: when former Secretary of Labor (and professor) Robert Reich says faculty meetings are torturous ... he is not kidding.