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Frederick Wiseman

WISEMAN, FREDERICK (1930– ), U.S. producer, director, and writer. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Wiseman graduated from Williams College in 1951 and from Yale Law School in 1953. After serving as a graduate fellow for one year at Harvard, he was drafted into the army, serving from 1954 to 1956. After working briefly as an assistant to the Massachusetts' attorney general, Wiseman went to Paris, where he studied experimental filmmaking from 1956 to 1958. After he returned to the United States, he taught at Boston University's Institute of Law and Medicine from 1958 to 1961 and served as a research associate at Brandeis University from 1962 to 1966. In 1964, he bought the rights to Warren Miller's 1963 novel The Cool World and produced a film version directed by Shirley Clarke. He directed his first film in 1966, Titicut Follies, a stark documentary about the conditions at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater. While his films feature no commentary and no music, Wiseman acknowledges that his fly-on-the-wall films are edited in a way that conveys his point of view. After Titicut Follies, Wiseman made High School (1968), an examination of the experiences of middle-class students in a Philadelphia high school. In 1968, he contributed to the screenplay for The Thomas Crown Affair, but was never credited for his work. Wiseman followed up his documentary films with Law and Order (1969) and Hospital (1970), an emergency room expose that earned Wiseman a best documentary Emmy. In 1970, he established Zipporah Films, a distribution company named for his wife. From 1971 to 1981, Wiseman had contracts with PBS to shoot one film per year with no limits on time or subject, to be shown first on New York's WNET. His studies included Basic Training (1971); Juvenile Court (1973); Welfare (1975); Meat (1976); and Sinai Field Mission (1978), which featured American soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Desert; and Manouevre (1979). In 1980, Wiseman made the fictional film, Seraphita's Diary. He continued his documentary filmmaking with such films as Racetrack (1985), Deaf (1986), Blind (1987), Zoo (1993), and High School II (1994), a return to topics introduced in 1968. His La Comédie-Française ou L'amour Joué (1996) was another departure for Wiseman, focusing positive attention on an institution. Wiseman continued to direct documentaries and dramas, most notably the Holocaust drama The Last Letter (2002), but also branched out into theater direction. In 2004, Wiseman wrote and directed The Last Letter, an off-Broadway show based on Vasily Grossman's 1960 novel Life and Fate.


"Wiseman, Frederick," in: Contemporary Authors Online (2004); "Wiseman, Frederick," in: Encyclopedia of World Biography (19982); "Wiseman, Frederick," in: International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors (20004).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.