Films are celluloid dreams. For that reason alone, most films are redundant, because there is really no need of extra fiction, mystery, drama or special effects, and there is no need of philosophy and polemics. Anything you hear and see on the street, as soon as put on screen, is immediately a dream, a poem, a story, a testimony, a proof, and a thesis. From this point of view, anyone with a camera can be somewhat an artist.

But what distinguishes a true artist is his ability to engage the sustained rhythm of life in front of camera without being overwhelmed by it, or running away from it, as well as his ability to unfold what he has seen to his audience with passionate but dignified intimacy. His audience thus become a genuine part of the life on screen which otherwise might be totally unfamiliar to them.

Frederick Wiseman  is such a rare artist. Last year he brought the engrossing and meticulously observed La danse, a documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet to TIFF. This year it’s some amateur Texan boxers’ turn. Again, Boxing Gym is a gripping portrait of universal humanity that expressed itself in a particular form within the confinement of a particular time, place and institution. A description of the film can be found here. In the Q & A session, Mr. Wiseman made the following points:

  • Institutionalized violence is a topic that attracts his attention. He had made films on state-sanctioned violence before. This time the focus is on non-state but ritualized violence in the form of boxing.
  • He practiced boxing when he was younger.
  • Boxing Gym, a film about amateur boxers in a garage-like gym in Texas, was shot at the same time of La danse, a film about top French ballet dancers.
  • There are inherent similarities between boxing and dancing, not least in their common emphasis on physical control and attempts to grasp rhythm.
  • Catching rhythm was also what he was doing as a filmmaker.
  • There is no music in the film? No, there is! Lots of! All the time!
  • This film has no narrative? No, there is (it’s up to you to figure it out)!
  • How long did it take to find the right gym for the documentary? 15 seconds! “As soon as I entered it, I knew it was a perfect gym!”
  • How long did it take to make people feel comfortable in front of camera? 15 minutes! “It sounds unbelievable, but people do get used to it very quickly!”

La danse (2009):