Frederick Wiseman is the Latest Film Legend to Try Crowdfunding

By  · Published on June 19th, 2015

Zipporah Films

Frederick Wiseman has gone to Kickstarter with his latest documentary, In Jackson Heights, and that’s kind of a big deal. Not only is it the equivalent of Steven Spielberg crowdfunding – at least as far as relevance and influence, not financial success – but it also means the site has something of utmost trustworthiness to go up against all the docs depending solely on fandom and nostalgia to appeal to potential donors. Hopefully Wiseman doesn’t fail at his $75k campaign, because that would be a big blow to the nonfiction cinema community. He’d have to make his next feature on Comic-Con or Disneyland or Industrial Light & Magic or something like that, with an easy built-in audience – not that I wouldn’t love to see his take on any one of those institutions.

Although not a New Yorker, Wiseman is up there with Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen and Spike Lee (who has also crowdfunded) in terms of giving us some of the best New York films ever made. I included two of them (Central Park and Welfare) on my list of the best documentaries about the Big Apple at Nonfics, and only two because I didn’t want him to hog the whole thing (he’s previously made six more in the city). Now he’s returned to NYC for In Jackson Heights, which looks to have a greater scope than he usually goes for. Wiseman is primarily known for making docs on institutions, many of them limited to a single building setting, and the focus here is a whole neighborhood of Queens – similar to his town-wide docs Aspen and Belfast, Maine, I guess.

Wiseman’s reputation is a benefit when it comes to distribution. In Jackson Heights is already set for film festivals (expect it to play Toronto and New York this fall) and the obligatory airing on PBS, and Zipporah Films will once again handle the DVD release. But as he states in his campaign video, people are wrong to think that funding comes easy to him, even with his prestige and more than 50 years of experience. It’s an actual fact that Wiseman has never made a bad film, so contributing to this at a level that gets you access to see it is just an even trade. And below, after the campaign video, you can see how great In Jackson Heights will be via a rough cut trailer (the look of the film will be better with the crowd-funded post-production, of course). The deadline is July 20th. And the film is expected to release later this year.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.