This topic is part of the 2012 MUBI World Cup. If you have not already done so, please read the first post at the topic for an introduction to and rules about this year’s World Cup:
The purpose of this topic is to cast votes in the matchup listed above and also to be a forum for discussing the films in the match.
Anyone who has seen both of the films listed above may vote in this match. You must vote for whichever of the two films you personally like better. In order to vote you must post a reply to this topic containing one of the following sequences:
If you are voting for White Mountains: “Kyrgyzstan (White Mountains) 1 – United States of America (Public Housing) 0”
If you are voting for Public Housing: “Kyrgyzstan (White Mountains) 0 – United States of America (Public Housing) 1”
Your vote must contain the names of both films with a “one” after the film you are voting for and a “zero” after the other film. If your vote is not formatted in this way it will not be counted.
Along with your vote you are strongly encouraged to leave additional comments regarding your reactions to the films, your reasons for why you voted the way you did, and responses to other participants’ comments. Being able to have deep discussion about the films and different aspects of them is an important part of finding enjoyment in participating in the World Cup.
This match will end on Tuesday, March 13 at 10:00 PM GMT. No votes attempted to be cast after that time will be counted. Shortly after the match ends the votes will be tallied and a winner of the match will be declared. If the films both receive the same number of votes, the match will be considered a tie.
The percentage of votes each film receives in a match will have an effect on whether or not the corresponding country will participate in the final round of the World Cup. Thus even if the film you vote for loses in this match, your vote will still be important.
The results of the matches as well as the schedule for future matches can be found here:
If you would like to participate but are unable to find sources to watch these films, please send me a personal message so that I can invite you to the private website featuring internet links to view the films.
Kyrgyzstan (White Mountains) 0 – United States of America (Public Housing) 1
Kyrgyzstan (White Mountains) 1 – United States of America (Public Housing) 0
The strongest match up so far. I always dread watching a Wiseman film, but I’m always glad I did. He’s so predictable, but there’s no arguing with the results. Still, White Mountains is battling the Tulio for my Discovery of the Cup so far.
Kyrgyzstan (White Mountains) 1 – United States of America(Public Housing) 0
White Mountains : Interesting submission from arsaib. It was nice to watch something from Kyrgyztan. The film did not resonate so well with me but I liked some of the black and white cinematography, especially the chase sequence in snow and some of the atmospheric shots of the mountains towards the end. The film has a mismatch of moods, especially the way the film begins and ends like some action movie and in between you have an almost spiritual atmospheric sequence where the boy and girl declare their love for each other. This didn’t really emphasize the mood of the film strongly enough for me due to its short running time. Nevertheless, this was definitely better of the two.
Public Housing : I thought this was a pretty ordinary documentary. Wiseman being a white man seems to be unable to mix with the local black populace and tries his best to capture the local mood by shooting all kinds of formal meetings in the housing area. This is informative to some extent but beyond that it just doesn’t give us a feel of the life of the people living in that area. Some random shots of people in the streets or children playing around is not enough. The best he could do was the scene with the old woman who gets a visit from a plumber, the grandma’s knitting group and the black man who sleeps outside a police station because he is afraid of getting beaten. I was also very disappointed with the way Wiseman moves around with cops, shooting black people getting apprehended. Those sequences didn’t have any sympathy towards those people and it simply showed how scared Wiseman himself was to move around the area without the presence of cops. Even the way the black lawyer gets a lot of footage seems to indicate a very didactic way of saying that black folk needed educated smooth talking people with business degrees to be their leaders for them to go anywhere in life. Now, this may be true but its a very “white” perspective of things without any sympathy for the African American culture or an understanding of their problems. On the overall, this documentary just skims the surface of the problems faced by the people of public housing without telling us anything new.
Kyrgystan (White Mountains (1964)) – (0) vs. USA (Public Housing (1997)) – (1)
There are changing moods to White Mountains but Mukash’ struggle and what his fate would be was a consistent focus for me throughout. I liked the running time and that we didn’t get too bogged down with the human narrative which might have clobbered the spiritiual ethereal feel. That scene where they were walking along the ridge in the moonlight with the ribbon of rippling water beyond was stunning, I watched this on my notebook and the b&w cinematography was sharp and coldly bluish, i checked later and it had quite a different look on my big monitor. I hadn’t seen any other of Wiseman’s documentaries but knew his reputation, I guess he is the dispassionate observer and not much more can be expected outside of that. I found the film interesting and watched it easily, I’d anticipated a chore but didn’t find it so – it put a bit of a dint in my romantic illusions about Chicago. White Mountains got my first full score of the Cup.
kyrgyzstan (white mountains) 1 – USA (public housing) 0
this is the first wiseman film i have seen so thx for that opportunity. his neutral observational style still manages to make a strong statement. the little kids and old people really got me. this is a good companion piece to steve james’ recent documentary the interrupters, also set in chicago. i need to see more of wiseman’s work, for sure. white mountains recently became one of my favorite films and it’s also the first cup film that got 5 stars from me. i was sucked in by the first scene and never lost interest. so simple and so beautiful. another tough match but i’ll have to vote against my home team here. @meg – people have romantic illusions about chicago?
score is 4-3 kyrgyzstan
I chose Frederick Wiseman’s Public Housing to represent the United States for two reasons. First because I believe it’s an important film that asks the right questions about America’s inner cities and the struggles, not only of those living in unacceptable conditions, but of those who devote their lives to try to improve these conditions, yet face institutional barriers that seemingly cannot be overcome.
The key scene for me involves a sex education class for young girls in the projects. As a well meaning educator demonstrates proper condom use, crying babies and young children fill the room, making it quite clear that the “help” has arrived too late. From policemen to exterminators to motivational speakers to the Housing bureaucracy itself; we see the band-aids, but no signs of true progress. One can imagine approaches to this material that would attempt to offer simple solutions to complex problems, but Wiseman is about the questions, not easy answers. By making us eyewitnesses, we are not let off the hook, but must ask ourselves what can be done.
My second reason for this pick is a bit of a pay-it-forward. When the first Director’s Cup began two years ago, I did not know who Frederick Wiseman was. Thanks to Sir Douglas’ management, I was introduced to a director who not only redefined the documentary for me, but has become one of my all time favorites with a series of films more powerful and moving than I would ever have expected.
While Wiseman may be familiar to many of you, I suspect that others will discover him through this Cup. Titicut Follies, High School, Juvenile Court, Near Death, The Last Letter and Boxing Gym were also amazing and would make great follow-ups to Public Housing. As those of you who may have followed my advocacy of Robert Altman know, I love directors who’s films combined make a larger statement that each individually. Wiseman body of work is deeply interconnected. Far from a neutral observer, he uses his non-obtrusive camera to make pointed critiques of various institutions. Because he’s an artist, nothing is spoon fed and we, as viewers are both witnessing great storytelling and challenged to ask the hard questions.
Missile, too. That film is haunting.
Thanks for bringing Wiseman into this Cup, Brad.
white mountain is pretty but public housing is far better work for me. a rich in-depth exploration at public housig project at chicago, and what i like the most about wiseman is not only his extremely subtle and nondidactic approach, but also he always manage to give the right amount of space to his films, unlike most of informative documentary which almost feels more like a lecture than a film, wiseman’s work always has the right balance of the material and understanding of a polemics with the nature of a film like the use of time and space, which for me is what differs film from another art-form. It allows us not only to understand the material but also to contemplate and wander much more deeper than the surface or physics of the given material. so thank you brad s for submitting the film, this is probably now my second fave wiseman’s after his epic ‘belfast, maine’, and my fave film ive seen from the cup so far alongside the circus tent.
Belfast, Maine and Missle!!! I love that the other Wiseman’s being recommended are one’s I haven’t seen yet!
@meg – people have romantic illusions about chicago?
fck yeah, anything can happen in chicago :)
It’s true. It happened this afternoon at the Chili’s in downtown Chicago. My friend Francois and I walked into the place and were greeted by a tall, lanky man with an unshaven face sitting by himself in a booth eating chips and queso, chicken fingers cooked in the Awesome Blossom batter, and a half-rack of Baby Back Ribs. We knew immediately who he was.
I haven’t seen yet it the two films.
But the two nice accounts (arsaib, Brad S.) are really the nicest two.
score is tied 6 all!
it’s weird to me how many people are voting for Public Housing, i thought would be a clean sweep for White Mountains.
PH just didn’t engage me very much at all. idk Wiseman’s films are expertly documented but this one wasn’t one of the strongest i’ve seen, and White Mountains remains in my top films of the cup i’ve seen so far. kudos to kuxa for submitting it.
kudos to kuxa for submitting it.
While it may seem kuxa has submitted every film in the Cup, arsaib chose White Mountains.
I like both (again). I even like everyone’s reasons for their individual votes (not again). However . . .
Kyrgzstan (White Mountains) —0 United States of America (Public Housing) —1
I’m a sucker for Melis Ubukeyev’s White Mountains, since it plays to many of my knee jerk positive reactions: fascinating B & W cinematography; wilderness settings with pretty single women remaining after the young men have been killed in one massacre or other, tilling the ground for ROMANCE; a story so lean it could be a silent movie; a male protagonist about as smart as a stump; Soviet propaganda toward education and modernization—the same modernization which will bring the culture we find so exotic and interesting to be lost forever except in museums. This movie didn’t have one but two lovely, expressive women actors, certainly the young girl in braids (did they have hair extensions in Kyrgyzstan’s back woods in 1918?), as well as her blind mother, glowingly ensconced in mourning togs like a deposed queen awaiting fate. Countryside shots, either the steepes-like meadows, or the craggy mountain heights, were captured powerfully. And the assorted authority figures with whips, rifles and fur hats lended just enough suspense throughout to carry our anxiety. The ending was very good indeed. Whether the silhouette shots were designed, or were merely the product of a bad dupe’s high contrast, it worked. And it was blessedly short in length.
As for Wiseman’s Public Housing, it contains none of my knee jerk favorite attractions. Instead it is long; verbally laborious; filled with talking heads, or talking two shots; redundant in thematic overkill; impersonal, and wearing its liberal-progessive heart on its sleeve. However, if it’s purpose was to rouse the ire of viewers toward the denunciation of a nation’s systematic racism, generationally ingrained until dreams of happiness are denuded of all options excluding only illegalities, governmental resource rosters, bottom-level occupations, crack addiction, alcoholism, not withstanding the rare denizen who “gets the hell out outta there,” but feels the projects’ personal repercussions even in success. If this was the the film’s goal, even if I didn’t like watching it, then the documentary as film was very successful.
well said on public housing —my feelings exactly ^
the image of the kids playing inside those steel cage walkways will be with me for awhile
score is now 8-7 kyrgyzstan
Kyrgzstan (White Mountains) —0 United States of America (Public Housing) —1
Great match both films I had to give 5’s to. I wouldn’t mind a tie for this one. White Mountains was a film I never heard of before and a great discovery that had all cinematograpy I have wet dreams about. I give my vote to Public Housing becase it does what others have said and makes the viewer ask questions since nothing is stated. The irony in the sex ed classes has been pointed out but there are far more examples. I noticed that many people seem to be having dialouges with each other where they are not really hearing each other but comming from another perspective entirely diffrent like in the exterminator and the old lady. The scene draws out with two people with diffrent agendas but more significantly this is shown during the arrest of the fridge with the cops and the arrested men. Shots of alchool addiction prevade the movie liquor stores are everywhere. The part in the drug councler’s office is very touching but you get the feeling that help is too far gone. We are left to puzzle over this with the last speech by the basketball player who offers solutions and hope but at the same time sounds to me like a snake oil salesman preching false hope. The movie is not to be looked at as negative of exploitative but multifaceted the way life is full of contradictions and struggle. All this is done with the elements of life and no constructed narrative. Great comparison to Belfast Maine which I had seen a week earlier.
I thought this was a pretty ordinary documentary. Wiseman being a white man seems to be unable to mix with the local black populace and tries his best to capture the local mood by shooting all kinds of formal meetings in the housing area. This is informative to some extent but beyond that it just doesn’t give us a feel of the life of the people living in that area. Some random shots of people in the streets or children playing around is not enough. The best he could do was the scene with the old woman who gets a visit from a plumber, the grandma’s knitting group and the black man who sleeps outside a police station because he is afraid of getting beaten. I was also very disappointed with the way Wiseman moves around with cops, shooting black people getting apprehended. Those sequences didn’t have any sympathy towards those people and it simply showed how scared Wiseman himself was to move around the area without the presence of cops. Even the way the black lawyer gets a lot of footage seems to indicate a very didactic way of saying that black folk needed educated smooth talking people with business degrees to be their leaders for them to go anywhere in life. Now, this may be true but its a very “white” perspective of things without any sympathy for the African American culture or an understanding of their problems. On the overall, this documentary just skims the surface of the problems faced by the people of public housing without telling us anything new.
Some good points that I hadn’t thought of, and maybe to my own indictment. But I don’t think they are entirely appropriate criticisms, especially regarding the fact that he almost exclusively records formal meetings. Wiseman’s focus has almost always been on formal meetings. Look at all of the other films mentioned. Formal meetings are what he is and always has been interested in. So it wasn’t his goal to show you anything but that. If you didn’t want to see formal meetings, that’s fine but just realize you were looking to see a different film than he was intending to make. It might be a “white” perspective since Wiseman is white, and it wouldn’t be right for him to pretend he’s something he isn’t. But I don’t see how you are saying there is a specific lack of sympathy for the African American culture. Why would he even decide to show it to us if he wasn’t sympathetic? You say it doesn’t tell us anything new, and maybe you have lived and experienced a lot in these type of communities, but I personally found there to a lot new. And I’ve seen a lot of documentaries and live in Chicago as well. If you have some better documentaries on the subject though I would sincerely like to know about them.
Some points of interest in relation to Rohit’s comments in this interview
Well you know I felt a number of things watching PH. For one thing, it felt voyeuristic to be immersing in hours of observing disenfranchised, hopeless seeming individuals such as Deborah, the addict being assessed for jail or rehab, the man sleeping on the steps of the police station in fear, these people being micro-interrogated to give an accounting of themselves – what are you doing, where are you heading, are you on the lease, do you want to get better, do you want to stop taking drugs, you’ve still got a bit of youth and life left in you and seeing their various defences against that – shifty evasiveness, a not even remotely credible attempt at earnestness, vacant sounding reassurances to their “carers” that they would do the best thing for themselves which you knew with sinking heart was unlikely. It felt uncomfortable to be watching these poignant echoes from the past.
I never sat fully in trust with PH as an “it is as it was” depiction because while Wiseman might truthfully say he never stages anything, people “stage” themselves don’t they when there’s a bloody great camera on them. The cops in this are endlessly patient, caring, the tradesmen carefully attending and polite*, there is very little of the tough edge of life on display, I think I saw one woman give her toddler a backhander and heard a few “motherfuckers” in the background only once. Wiseman is the first to admit his work is manipulative, in the way that all humans put their own bias into their creative endeavours. He only uses around three percent of what he shoots so god only knows what is left out, so while he strives to give an overall feel of a time and place it is still subjectively what he thinks is important to record, and will without doubt be devoid of that which to him is distasteful gratuitous less relevant or whatever it is that dictated his personal choice of what to include. To me anyway, overall it felt like a “soft shoe shuffle” with an avoidance of anything too icky. I’m not needing it to be otherwise, it’s just my observation.
I was also very taken by the seeming total lack of performance anxiety or self consciousness – the sex educator (as an aside, that female condom contraption was one of the most ineffectual, unattractive and downright dangerous looking things I’ve ever seen :):) – ) the CHA representatives, the assessor doing that long interview (which actually went for three house all of which Wiseman filmed) and Ron Carter (less surprise there as that guy seemed to be a show pony/performance grandmaster) and those addressing the public rallies, round table meetings etc – everyone in it in fact did not appear the slightest bit phased by the fact they were being filmed. Wiseman stated in an interview there is always a lot of stuff he has to sideline because of people’s propensity to look at the camera, the boom is seen here and there, this was not I’m thinking an unobtrusive exercise even if only a couple of people besides Wiseman were involved or on site at any given time, they are still right in there in these people’s faces. So I thought how they just got on with business as usual as well and as naturally as they did was quite remarkable.
@Brian I thought it was very telling that Wiseman wrapped up his documentary with a return to Ron Carter’s absurd utterances in a different setting…again already with the Robert Taylor electricity bill !! and how a lucrative business idea would be the establishing of a power conservation committee who would police the switching off of the lights, demonstrate what could be saved on the millions of dollars wasted, on the proviso they would get a cut of said savings. Or the elevator maintenance business, “y’all ride em, I know y’all can fix em”- yes snake oil salesman is a good description. It felt like a very strong statement Wiseman was making on the hopelessness of the whole landscape.
*I was fascinated by the old woman and the cabbage, and how interesting that her place appeared so spotless, this is unusual in a very frail elderly person with seeming dementia – the white goods were unadorned with lists magnets etc and …white – the benches clear, washed dishes stacked on the sink. Who I wondered, kept her place like that. I was very interested in those details, the interiors, things people had on their walls, the sewing circle was another source of fascination for me and the kindy. An image that will stay with me was that obese boy sitting quietly playing with something alone, possibly undiagnosed somewhere on the autism/aspergers spectrum, I just felt consumed with sadness wondering what his fate has been.
Well we know that Ida B Wells and all these buildings are now bulldozed but the problems are ongoing
First of all, this was my first Wiseman so I had no idea about his reputation or his style of film making. I commented solely on the basis of what I saw. What you seem to be saying is that this is a typical Wiseman documentary and I shouldn’t expect anything else. For me, that translates as Wiseman is an ordinary documentary film maker with a boring predictable style that tells us nothing new. Let me elaborate on this.
The problems that Wiseman shows us from this documentary are: illiteracy, drugs, lack of admistrative know how, bad facilities. no family planning etc. Now, these conclusions are fairly typical of any slum area or free housing for slum dwellers around the world. I don’t need to watch a 3 hr documentary to learn these things! On the other hand, if Wiseman had given me a feel of the dynamics of life in Public Housing then I would have experienced something new. I am not saying that you don’t tell us the problems, but try doing it along with giving us a feel of their lives there. I do not accept the excuse that Wiseman being a white person could not gain the confidence of the people in Public Housing. If not him, he could use a black assistant director to interview people or enter their houses and spend time with them. There are ways to do it. Just because he decided to film on this subject does not mean he had sympathy for these people. When you film black people getting apprehended by the police and focus the camera on their ashamed faces, you are definitely not a sympathizer. I rather sense a feeling of disgust.
" For me, that translates as Wiseman is an ordinary documentary film maker with a boring predictable style that tells us nothing new. Let me elaborate on this."
Ok, but if you put Wiseman into the proper historical perspective, he can’t be ordinary. He’s one of the key innovators in documentary form. If you can’t recognize his importance, it’s because what he’s done has been made “ordinary” by countless others.