In Jackson Heights (2015) | Venice Film Festival 2015

September 4th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Frederick Wiseman

190min  US Documentary

Dir.: Frederick Wiseman; Documentary; USA 2015, 190 min.

Even at the age of 85, Wiseman still has the zest to look for a grand picture, which can be put together from the little fragments he collects and his trademark – a certain editing style, is still unique.

Jackson Heights is a community in Queens, New York City, a melting pot of emigrants where 167 different languages are spoken. But times are hard and many of the small shop owners are facing eviction, because the big chainstores want to move into the area on the back of increasing gentrification. Leases are not renewed, particularly on Roosevelt Avenue, the main street of Jackson Heights. Help comes from the many religious organisations who live peacefully side by side. The Jewish Centre is given a helping hand too but the LGBT movement, still harrassed by the police. The cops seem to be very overzealous in general, breaking up a joyous celebration of Columbians, who celebrate a victory of their team at the Brazil World Cup. The local councillor tries his best to counteract the increasing poverty and homelessness, but often his standard answer is “this out of my control, the decisions are made by the New York City senate”. There is some wonderful humour when, for example, the owner of a repair shop for ‘Catholic relicts’ takes a holiday for the four weeks of the World Cup, his sales staff telling the irate costumers to come back in six weeks.

Primary colours dominate the documentary which shows a waving mass of mostly peaceful citizens, who fight at the lower end of social scale just to survive everyday. They communicate on all levels and their meetings are well attended and full of passion. DOP John Davey has successfully caught this community where solidarity is not only discussed, but often practised, much more than in othert social hemispheres. Even though, as always with Wiseman, the sheer length is often a detraction – particularly for the indie cinemas that need to be able to screen two films an evening to survive. In Jackson Heights shows that the USA is a country of immigrants, legal, semi-legal or illegal – but very much alive and fighting. AS


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