Wiseman sets the tone and focus right out of the blocks in this observational, narration-free documentary set mostly in Manhattan’s Waverley Welfare Centre, when a young First Nations man plaintively exclaims, 'I’m a human being!'
It’s a wrenching plea for dignity that echoes throughout the scenes that follow, as a succession of weary citizens navigate a labyrinth of departments and bureaucratic processes in order to qualify for social security, food stamps and pensions.
Harried caseworkers and supervisors mostly exercise latitude where they can, with a striking exception or two. If the subject sounds bleak, the candour and directness of the protagonists is utterly disarming.
During one interview, a now destitute former teacher invokes Beckett’s Godot. A compelling exchange between a bigoted, middle-aged ex-Marine and a 22-year-old Afro-American Vietnam veteran encapsulates the deeply entrenched divisions that continue to be weaponised in American society nearly 50 years after the film was made.
‘Wiseman's film shows... a battleground with the poor fighting... a complex web of Catch-22 regulations that can defeat even the strongest... An amazing film’ – London Film Festival
Presented in partnership with the Sydney Film Festival and ACMI.
See more films in our season It Takes Time: 10 Films by Frederick Wiseman.
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