RENOWNED DOCUMENTARIAN FREDERICK WISEMAN EXPLORES THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS AT THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY IN STATE LEGISLATURE, PREMIERING JUNE 13 ON PBS
The Rocky Mountain state of Idaho is governed ...展开by "citizen" legislators - not career politicians. These lawmakers are, for the most part, farmers and ranchers, business men and women, lawyers, doctors, sales people, loggers, and teachers elected for two-year terms. During the 2004 Idaho state legislative session, these citizen legislators became an integral part of STATE LEGISLATURE, the latest documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Frederick Wiseman.
In his ongoing project to explore contemporary American life as expressed in institutions, Wiseman turned his camera on the legislature to illustrate the way the democratic decision-making process works. In his trademark style, nothing is staged. Wiseman captures the lawmakers as they debate and discuss the concerns of the electorate, on issues that range from violence in schools, mad cow disease and video voyeurism to illegal immigration, secondhand smoke and the deregulation of telephone rates.
In Le Monde, Thomas Sotinel called STATE LEGISLATURE "(an) ode to representative democracy." Variety's review stated, "What emerges is the thoroughness with which the system treats even the most contentious of issues and eccentric of constituents." After a showing at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival, German film critic Ekkehard KnÃ¶rer wrote, "One stands to gain nothing less than mind-boggling insights into the machinery of American democracy."
STATE LEGISLATURE premieres Wednesday, June 13 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The film is presented nationwide on PBS by Thirteen/WNET New York, which has been the national presenter of Frederick Wiseman's films throughout his career. Wiseman, a three-time Emmy Award-winning director, has 34 documentary films to his credit, from the controversial Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1968) to Near Death (1989), Public Housing (1997) and Domestic Violence (2001).
"This film shows the day-to-day aspects of the legislative process, the goal of which is the creation of the laws that govern the civic life depicted in my other films," said Wiseman. "Unlike a textbook description in a political science course of how a bill becomes a law, a film of a legislature can convey in a unique way the actuality of the legislative process, that is, how decisions are made and power is exercised in a democratic society and the constraints and limitations on the application of that power."
While it may not be easy or smooth, the legislative process is the engine that drives American democracy. And in each of America's 50 state capitals, the legislature is the basic democratic institution, where elected representatives make the laws that define the rights and obligations of citizenship. From determining how to fund government agencies to setting the policies of all the services the state provides - from police to prisons to schools - the state legislature defines, regulates and gives shape to civic life.
Present for the entire 2004 session of the Idaho legislature, Wiseman had access to all aspects of the legislative work. The result is a portrait of a complex body that serves essential routine functions in the day-to-day operations of a state and, at the same time, plays a key symbolic role in the American way of life.
Throughout the course of the film, the camera roams the halls and conference rooms of the Idaho state legislature. The film observes legislators discussing bills before they are formally introduced; the committee hearings where the testimony of witnesses and lobbyists for and against the legislation is heard; the debate among legislators to determine whether the bill should go to the floor of the House or Senate for final consideration; and the final debate and vote. The film also captures informal discussions with lobbyists and citizens, as well as press conferences and events held in the state house rotunda.
Sequences illustrate the role of lobbyists, the power of committee chairmen, the use of procedural maneuvers to advance or retard legislation, and debates in committee - some revealing the mundane, even arcane, aspects of the process, and others eliciting remarkably eloquent oratory.
Among the issues discussed by the legislators during the course of the session are: violence in schools; electronic waste; utility costs; teacher salaries; a sex offenders registry; the relationship between church and state, welfare appropriations; liability of companies marketing unhealthy foods; educational policy; mental illness; crime victims' rights; contractor licensing; and public transportation policy.
"For me, the drama lies in the commonness of the issues, in the ordinariness of the people called on to resolve them, and the seriousness with which they accept the responsibility for participating in decisions that affect all aspects of our lives," said Wiseman. "STATE LEGISLATURE is, in my view, a reflection of contemporary American life and both an illustration of and metaphor for the democratic process."
Funding for STATE LEGISLATURE was provided by PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Independent Television Service, National Endowment for the Arts, and The LEF Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
STATE LEGISLATURE was directed and edited by Frederick Wiseman. Photography: John Davey. Sound: Frederick Wiseman.
STATE LEGISLATURE is a co-production for PBS of Idaho Film, Inc. and Thirteen/WNET, in association with the Independent Television Service. Executive producer for Thirteen/WNET is Stephen Segaller. Executive producer for ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer. Tamara E. Robinson is vice president and director of programming for Thirteen/WNET.
STATE LEGISLATURE is a Zipporah Films, Inc. release.