NZ International Film Festival review: In Jackson Heights

In Jackson Heights has played at the Toronto, Venice, London and New York film festivals
In Jackson Heights has played at the Toronto, Venice, London and New York film festivals

In Jackson Heights is a love letter to a neighbourhood - the problem is that it's twice as long as it should be.

Running a whopping 190 minutes, one wishes director Frederick Wiseman would use the 'cut' tool just a little more often.

Yes, Wiseman is known for his unobtrusive, observational style of documentary making, and does an admirable job of capturing the breadth of diversity and spirit in this New York suburb. But unless you find teleconferences and community meetings riveting, your mind is bound to wander.

It's not simply their inclusion that's the problem; rather that we are subjected to conversations and speeches in their entirety with no intervention from the filmmaker.

Wiseman's approach is to make documentaries that accurately reflect his experience while filming them. That's admirable, but seems pointless if it loses the attention of your audience.

That said, for those who sat it out (and there were a fair few who didn't), we were rewarded with an illuminating tour of Jackson Heights - a neighbourhood so far from the gleaming skyscrapers and dazzling lights of Manhattan that the 'sub'way runs above ground and liberty is not just a pretty statue or an ideal now taken for granted, but still a fundamental, daily struggle.

The film dips in-and-out of various community spaces where we meet people wrestling with all kinds of issues: gentrification, corporatisation, immigration, LGBT rights, aging.

It's a little like Humans of New York - glimpses of individual stories which together form a picture of triumph and struggle, community and isolation; contradictions which make Jackson Heights such an unassailable part of that city.

No sight or sound on Roosevelt Ave is too insignificant for the camera and so we really understand what it is like to be in Jackson Heights. I just wish it could've been achieved in less time.

Two stars.

This film is playing as part of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival.

     In Jackson Heights:: Director: Frederick Wiseman:: Rating: Exempt:: Running Time: 190 minutes

Reviewed by Kim Choe / Newshub.

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