Master filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s latest portrait of an institution, At Berkeley, focuses on the University of California, Berkeley, the oldest and highly regarded member of a ten-campus public education system and one of the finest research and teaching facilities in the world. Wiseman amassed 250 hours of footage over 12 weeks to capture a multitude of meetings, events and class discussions comprising the university’s vast landscape of ideas in action.
At the time of the film’s production, the university was in the midst of a budget crisis after years of steady declines in state financing for education. Specifically, state funding for UC Berkeley fell from 54 percent of the university’s operating budget in 1987 to 12 percent in 2012. Although not the impetus of the film, At Berkeley addresses a national crisis in higher education with Berkeley serving as a bellwether for the broader predicament of public institutions under economic pressures to protect and preserve access and excellence. These dramatic themes develop as the film depicts major aspects of university life with particular emphasis on the administrative efforts to maintain the academic excellence, public role, and the economic, racial and social diversity of the student body of America’s premiere public university.