Frederick Wiseman has carved out an inextricable home on the Mount Rushmore of American documentarians, and this son of Boston has done so in no small part through an enduring connection to New York City.
From Central Park to Belmont Race Track, the American Ballet Theatre and Metropolitan Hospital Center, Big Apple locations have inspired some of the direct cinema master’s best-known works.
The 85-year-old returns with “In Jackson Heights,” a three-hour portrait of life in the Queens neighborhood that opens at Film Forum Wednesday, in which the filmmaker’s profound eye for the drama in ordinary existence focuses on one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the most diverse county on Earth.
“I had no knowledge of Jackson Heights before the film,” Wiseman says. “I spent a day there in 2007 and another day there in the early spring of 2014, and that was it. What appealed to me was, walking around, the nature of the community. It’s different religions, races, ethnicities — immigrants from so many different countries. I was interested in doing a movie about new immigrants to America, since America is a country of immigrants.”
With the observational approach that has been closely associated with Wiseman’s work for five decades, the movie presents a universe in miniature, showcasing various individuals who comprise a neighborhood serving as a microcosm of the city as a whole.
“There are all these colors on the street; yellow signs, green signs, blue signs; neon lights; people wearing the clothes of their country of origin; saris, different kinds of men’s suits,” Wiseman says of what drew him to Jackson Heights. “A combination of the diversity of these things and the visual attraction — every one of these films is a crapshoot, and I was willing to roll the dice.”