The Great Wiseman Travesty Finally Ends: At 84, Documentarian Breaks On Through to VOD Side

Few would argue if you called Frederick Wiseman one of the world’s greatest living documentarians. And few would also be the approximate number of people who have seen his films. Mercifully, though, the Wiseman drought is about to end thanks to a shiny new VOD deal with Netflix.

Five or six of Wiseman’s 40-plus films will be coming soon to Netflix, including Law and Order (1969), Hospital (1970) and At Berkeley (2013), the 84-year-old documentary director told MovieMaker in a one-on-one interview at the Zurich International Film Festival, for an upcoming article about his work in the Fall issue.

Stay tuned for more specifics on timing and the full slate of available films.

When asked at a ZFF Master Class why his films weren’t already on VOD and if he had problems with the distribution method, he said: “I’m not against VOD; they just haven’t been interested in showing my films. That’s changing now that Netflix has just bought some of them.”

In fact, getting his films to VOD hasn’t been for a lack of effort on Wiseman’s part.

The VOD void even led to an online petition drive to Netflix in 2012, following a New York Times article that said Wiseman had failed to make headway with Netflix despite numerous attempts. (The one VOD exception is Crazy Horse, a documentary available on iTunes. Perhaps the subject matter – a look at the famous nude dance show in Paris – led to this exception?)

A still from Crazy Horse (2011)

A still from Crazy Horse (2011)

Catching a Wiseman documentary has been notoriously tough, with options limited to tuning in during a PBS showing or by ordering a DVD through his company Zipporah Films (www.zipporah.com). And reaching large audiences theatrically has been difficult, thanks in part to the long runtimes of his films (often surpassing the three-hour mark), which limits turnover for theater owners. The VOD model is a welcome opportunity for Wiseman to get his films before more eyeballs.

Wiseman was at the Zurich International Film Festival with his newest work, National Gallery, about the London art museum. For more on Wiseman’s approach to his landmark documentaries, see Peter Weed’s article in the upcoming issue of MovieMaker. MM

Photograph of Wiseman courtesy of the Zurich International Film Festival.

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