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Interview: Frederick Wiseman – National Gallery

Frederick Wiseman could be called a lot of things, but amongst those would surely be the word legend. With his latest feature, National Gallery, the chronicler of institutions has again applied his observational style this time to take in the sights and sounds that fill the halls of the National Gallery in London. As usual, he witnesses the politics that go on behind the scenes, but he also observes something much more surprising in the connections yielded between the art world and the whole of human history. While restorations of canonical paintings take place in some quiet nook of the massive safehold, aural tours and participatory workshops are seen challenging visitors to establish historical context in relation to the works on display.

Though the film found its premiere as one of only a handful of documentaries in the lineup at Cannes earlier this year, I caught National Gallery while playing as part of Thom Powers’ TIFF Docs program in Toronto. I caught up with the tireless filmmaker with coffee in hand to discuss his history with the National Gallery in London, the idea of art as a medium of recording history and his lack of seeing Jem Cohen’s complimentary film Museum Hours (which was shot in the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Austria, not the Russian Hermitage, which I mistakenly recollected in our conversation – found below along with the film’s theatrical trailer). Wiseman’s film opens in limited this Wednesday (11/5/14 – Zipporah Films).

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