Wiseman first began directing films in 1967, with his Titicut Follies. Wiseman has since directed more than 40 different films of a similarly unique nature
Wiseman’s signature style is one void of personal interference; he is infamous for excluding any interviews or narration in his projects. Wiseman’s approach to anthropological filmmaking is somewhat paradoxical; while the situations he films are un-staged and exclude his personal opinion at all points, the editing Wiseman performs upon the uncut footage is highly manipulative. Wiseman uses editing as a method to convey a sense of drama; based on interviews, Wiseman sees even documentary filmmaking as a form of fiction. He claims his films are not objective (and that filmmaking is an inherently biased experience) but they do convey the sense of his own experience whilst filming.
Another one of Wiseman’s signature traits is his lack of “research” on the area he intends film. Often Wiseman will spend about 5 weeks filming within an institution, and then spends the remainder of his time editing the footage to make a film. Wiseman sees his time filming as the only necessary source of research, this ideology is in line with Wiseman’s sense of what his films should convey: his own immersive personal experience.
Wiseman’s films often deal with institutions, often socially-based institutions: hospitals, schools, courts, housing, neighborhoods, military training, etc. Due to the subject matter, Wiseman’s films often display systematic issues. However, his films also have the power to show the compassionate nature of individuals within a system and he denies any attempt on his behalf of entering a situation with the intention of showing problems.
Wiseman has been in the industry for a very long time, so technological change is a part of his filming experience. He made the transition over from black and white film into color, and now he shoots digitally. His latest film, In Jackson Heights, is a testament to this technological shift.
Due to the problematic way certain institutions can be viewed through Wiseman’s film, his work was initially controversial. That being said, it appears that Wiseman gets full permission to film at the places he does, so any backlash typically comes after production. All in all, his no-opinions-attached style of filmmaking is, and remains, quite unique and impactful.