IDFA Review: City Hall

Within documentary film circles, Frederick Wiseman is something of a legend. He’s easily one of the greatest living American documentarians and continues to work in a refreshingly unique way. Since 1970, when he established his own production company (Zipporah Films), he has self-released a raft of wonderful observational films, including Ex Libris – The New York Public Library, Hospital, Public Housing and National Gallery.

As the titles imply, Wiseman is interested in institutions. Not just their history or what goes on inside their walls but what makes them tick. In his new film, the Massachusettsan stays close to home. City Hall focuses on the work of the Boston city government. Over a period of several months, his camera documents the work they undertake, from holding public consultations, garbage collection, local policing to tackling the myriad problems of running a state capital.

City Hall is a behemoth but one which simply flies by. Wiseman must be one of the best directors in the world when it comes to editing. Like a magician, he can make four hours pass by in the blink of an eye and also leave you wanting more. It’s a fascinating look inside the myriad functions of local government. The pressures and the strains, but more importantly the people they serve. City Hall is probably his most fascinating film yet.  

City Hall screens at IDFA.

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