Virtual Cinema | Immersive Documentary “City Hall” Reveals Human Stories in an American Metropolis November 4, 2020
The MFAH continues one of its film programming traditions: premiering the latest documentary by veteran filmmaker Frederick Wiseman.
City Hall shows the efforts of Boston city government, led by Mayor Martin Walsh, to address racial justice, affordable housing, climate issues, gender equality, and support for seniors, immigrants, and veterans.
Wiseman works in the observational style: no interviews, narration, or added music on the soundtrack. An absorbing watch despite its length (4+ hours), City Hall unfolds in a succession of scenes that reveal human stories—the challenges and triumphs experienced by people in a modern American metropolis. Yet the situations resonate no matter where you live.
Early in the film (shot in 2018), Mayor Walsh speaks of his conversations with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner about preparedness planning and Turner’s other takeaways from the devastating Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Variety observed that City Hall is more political and character-driven than most of Wiseman’s films, “allowing a clear protagonist—a hero, even—to emerge. Ruddy-faced and affable, with a Beantown accent as thick as chowder, Walsh’s constructive, conversational brand of statesmanship permeates the film.”
A Mosaic of Contemporary Society
Boston native Wiseman (born 1930) has released 43 documentaries that collectively form a mosaic of contemporary society: Central Park; Ex Libris: The New York Public Library; In Jackson Heights; National Gallery; Titicut Follies; and Welfare to name a few. In 2016, he received an honorary Oscar from the Academy Awards’ Board of Governors.
“I made City Hall to illustrate why government is necessary for people to successfully live together. City Hall shows a city government offering a wide variety of important and necessary services to a major American city whose population exemplifies the diversity of America.” —Frederick Wiseman
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lynn S. Wyatt; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.