One vast experience of more than half a

One may say that Frederick Wiseman is more than an expert
when it comes to documenting American institutions and “Ex Libris” – The New
York Public Library, is no exception. Wiseman does not follow the three-act
structure nor does he have any central character or characters in the film yet,
like a super skilled storyteller, he is able to keep the audience engaged in
the story he wants to tell. The general perception about libraries, that they
are a place where books are stored and information could be found, is slowly
dismantled in the film. Wiseman tells the world that The New York Public
Library is an organism, which serves the society in so many different ways,
something that is usually overlooked by a majority. The timing of the film
release is very important too, considering that in early 2017, the president of
the United States, Donald Trump released a budget proposal which would cut
federal funds for the Institute of Museum and Library
Services (IMLS), a federal agency that provides the main source of
federal support for the country’s libraries and museums. “Libraries are not
about books,” someone says in the film, “libraries are about people.”


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A brilliant example of observational cinema or cinéma
vérité, “Ex Libris” – The New York Public Library is a political film and is
capable of changing people’s opinion on the issue of cutting the budget for
libraries. With the vast experience of more than half a century, Frederick
Wiseman has been able to craft a film, which will be watched by people on both
sides of the debate, very few films can do this. Whenever a political film is
made; one side, for obvious reasons, shuns it but it is not the case with “Ex
Libris” – it shows the functioning of the institution and the challenges faced
by it and the lives of those who run it and the impact it has on those who
benefit from it which in turn makes it a very important component in the
functioning and development of the society.



The beginning of the film introduces the New York Public
Library as a public-private partnership and this notion continues throughout
the film. The film takes us through free talks by great thinkers and these
long, uncut scenes somehow engulf us in the subject being discussed. At one
point we are at the a job fair and then we find ourselves in a recording studio
where a NYPL employee is recording a book so that those who are blind can also
have access to the book. The film moves between three different districts with
New York without ever losing the view of how the library functions in order to
give people the resources they need.


Wiseman cuts to different library branches building a
‘tree like’ structure wherein the main trunk is connected with a lot of
different stems, which are important for the existence of this tree.


The film has some beautiful scenes of performances by
artists inside the library and some very dramatic scenes like the
administrative staff discussing the ‘not-so-clear’ policy on homeless guests,
dealing with the digital technology and managing the budget.



Frederick Wiseman has made this film in support of
Libraries around the United States and against the library budget cuts proposed
by Trump’s administration and the best part is that it is never directly
mentioned anywhere in the film. The audience is compelled to think about the
importance of this institution while watching the film.