As elections come to the forefront, immigration has become one of the most relevant topics for the candidates involved. The vast cultures that make up the U.S. have defined the nation. Yet, many minorities have been marginalized and stereotyped in both politics and in entertainment.
With his new documentary, legendary documentarian Fred Wiseman explored Jackson Heights in New York and observed the world of this culturally diverse community.
After all, Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse communities with 167 languages spoken throughout. Wiseman, who is now 85, was interested in exploring something new in his documentaries and was always fascinated by immigrant life.
“I have always been interested in immigrant life. When I heard of Jackson Heights, I went to visit and walked around and decided to make a movie,” he told Latin Post in an exclusive interview.
“I was interested in making a movie about [the] immigrant community and in Jackson Heights there are people from all over South America and all over Asia and East Asia. So it’s one of the most densely populated immigrant communities in the United States.”
During Wiseman’s short visit to Jackson Heights it was important to interact with as many cultures as possible in order to understand the community and really get a sense of it. However, Wiseman, who takes a short period to prepare his films, only spent two and a half days across a seven-year span to really know that he wanted to shoot the film in Jackson Heights.
During the filming process Wiseman got in touch with the community as its members welcomed him into council meetings.
“I learned a lot. There is an NGO in Jackson Heights called ‘Make the Road New York,’ and the meetings in the film take place there,” he explained. “And they were oriented towards Hispanic speaking immigrants and they did a fantastic job helping immigrants with a variety of problems from policing to job discrimination abuses, work problems, gender problems … maybe 30 percent of the films take place in the meetings with the Hispanic groups.”
By the end of the nine weeks of shooting, Wiseman had a total of 120 hours of footage to choose from. He took 11 months to edit the film and for the final product he was able to get an essence of the community as he had several languages in the film and was able to show a number of cultures.
“In the film, the languages you hear are several. You hear Bangladesh, Bengali, English and even some different dialects of Spanish,” he said.
However, the structuring process was always an interesting challenge. Wiseman’s approach to the documentary is unlike any other. Wiseman prefers to put the camera in front of his subjects and observe what goes on. He never scripts and his preparation is minimal. For this film, it was no different.
“Editing is a complex process. It has to do with what I think is going on in the sequence and then deciding where I want to use it and how I want to use it,” he revealed. “How to reduce it to a useful form as a sequence. Where to place it in relation to the other sequences.”
The reception to the final film has been outstanding.
The film, which is garnering rave reviews, premiered at the New York Film Festival and won the New York Film Critics award for Best Non-fiction film. The communities in Jackson Heights are also praising Wiseman’s work.
“There was a screening in Jackson Heights a couple of weeks before it was released in theaters in New York and reaction was very good,” Wiseman noted. “They seemed to like it and there was a lot of applause after the film. Daniel Dromm, a city council member for Jackson Heights was there and talked very enthusiastically about it.”
As the film continues to roll out in theaters Wiseman wants audiences to discover more about the topic and see a different part of our world.
“I want them to make up their minds up about what they are seeing and hearing.”
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