MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1982

Frederick Wiseman

Documentary Filmmaker

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Age: 52 at time of award

Published August 1, 1982

Frederick Wiseman is a filmmaker whose numerous documentaries explore American life as it is expressed in and through its institutions.

A lawyer by training, Wiseman has made over thirty films that range in subject from the American Ballet Theatre’s rehearsals to army basic training.  With an understated yet unflinching approach, he exposes often-overlooked aspects of these institutions’ complex workings and poses questions about the ideals that drive them.  His films have also depicted prison life for the criminally insane, the juvenile court system, and life in a Benedictine monastery.  His four 1986 films about the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind—Blind, Deaf, Adjustment and Work, and Multi-Handicapped—examine the lives of disabled Americans.  Wiseman’s fictional film, Seraphita’s Diary (1982), reconstructs the life of a famous fashion model through her diary, while Near Death (1989), examines how decisions are made to discontinue medical treatment for dying people.  Other works include Central Park (1989), Aspen (1991), La Comédie Française (1996), Public Housing (1997), Belfast, Maine (1999), La Dernière Lettre (2002), and The Garden (2004).

Wiseman’s production company, Zipporah Films, Inc., is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wiseman received a B.A. (1951) from Williams College and an L.L.B. (1954) from the Yale University Law School.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Frederick Wiseman In the Media

"Jackson Heights Through the Eyes of Frederick Wiseman"

The New York Times
Frederick Wiseman , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
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"Frederick Wiseman with Sophie Hamacher"

The Brooklyn Rail
Frederick Wiseman , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
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About the Fellows Program

The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Learn More

Ben Lerner, Writer

Class of 2015