Frederick Wiseman immersed himself for nine weeks, shooting 120 hours of footage which has coalesced into his remarkable new documentary (his 40th), “In Jackson Heights,” an exploration of the Queens neighborhood, home to a large and new immigrant population originating primarily from East Asia, China, Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, Mexico, Central and South America.
The new arrivals, are being remade in what the Daniel Dromm, the local councilperson calls with pride, “the most diverse neighborhood in the world,” and are in turn remaking Jackson Heights (and New York City), as part of a wave of immigration transforming the country. The neighborhood’s long-time, older residents–Jewish, Italian, Irish–are descended from another century’s immigrants.
Unlike immigrants who arrived in the early 20th century, the newer transplants, with access to 21st century technology–cellphones, the internet–and transportation, aren’t irreparably severed from their native countries but like those who arrived earlier, they have to find the balance between holding on to their culture and integrating.
Wiseman explores the polyglot streets (167 languages are spoken in Jackson Heights), observing the daily life of a community of citizens, green card holders and those without documents. On Roosevelt Avenue, under the elevated, and on other streets, he visits restaurants, religious (Catholic, Jewish, Muslim) institutions, classes for aspiring citizens and taxi drivers, nails and hair salons, clothing stores, an advocacy center for immigrants, the poor and working class (Make the Road New York), a gay group that has long held weekly meetings in the community center at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, and attends gatherings of small businesspeople resisting big boxification.
“In Jackson Heights” will open Wednesday, November 4 at Film Forum, for a two-week run. Wiseman will be in person at the 7:50 pm show, with Councilman Daniel Dromm, who will also introduce the 7:50 pm shows on Friday, November 13 and Monday, November 16. This is Wiseman’s 11th film to debut at Film Forum and his ninth set in New York. The Museum of the Moving Image’s series of seven of these films runs though November 7.
I worked on a project in 2012 and 2013 investigating the financial life of the underclass in the United States, which here in New York was represented mostly by immigrants. We shot for several days in Jackson Heights.