City government touches almost every aspect of our lives. Most of us are unaware of or take for granted services such as police, fire, sanitation, veterans affairs, elder support, parks, licensing of various professional activities, record keeping of birth, marriage and death as well as hundreds of other activities that support the residents and visitors of Boston. City Hall shows the efforts by the city government to provide these essential services.
“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 history and diversity of America. The Boston city government is designed and strives to offer these services in a manner consistent with the Constitution and democratic norms.”
Notebook: Speaking of community, your films really have a ground-level focus on day-to-day policies and civic engagement, and the effects that closed-door or boardroom decisions have on peoples’ everyday lives and on the streets. In our last interview, you said that you don’t strive to make your films political but that sometimes subject matters are inherently political. Using the example of Ex Libris (2017), you noted that because Trump doesn’t read, he kind of hovers in the margins of a film about a library. What strikes me about your films is that they’re the most apolitical political films, so how do you separate the politics from day-to-day governance?
Frederick Wiseman: Well, in a sense Trump made this film political. Yes, it is a political film to some extent because it shows an elected mayor performing services that he was elected to perform. But the contrast between Mayor Walsh’s attitude towards helping people and Trump’s attitude is extreme! Trump doesn’t care about anyone else; he wants to minimize help to the poor and the elderly, destroy public housing, social programs, public school funding and Obamacare (among other services), he doesn’t care about any of that, and Mayor Walsh does. The contrast is there because Trump poses it; he is cruel and indifferent whereas Mayor Walsh cares. And he is certainly a hidden presence in the film. If I had made this exact movie when Obama was president, some might say; “well, Walsh and Obama are two good politicians trying to help people.” But Trump’s idiocies underline Walsh’s competencies.
Notebook in conversation with Frederick Wiseman1
- 1Demi Kampakis, “Showing Their Efforts: Frederick Wiseman Discusses "City Hall",” Notebook, 28 October 2020.