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Belfast, Maine 1999
Description: BELFAST, MAINE is a movie about ordinary experience in a pretty old Fresh England port city. It is a portrait of everyday life with particular emphasis on the work and the cultural life of the community. Among the activities shown in the movie are the work of lobstermen, tug-boat operators, factory workers, store owners, town counselors, doctors, judges, policemen, teachers, social workers, nurses and ministers. Cultural activities contain choir rehearsal, dance class, melody lessons and theatre production.
Released: 01 Oct 1999 Director: Frederick Wiseman Writers: N/A Actors: N/A Genres: Documentary
Trailers and related videos:

See Belfast, Maine - Sardine Packi on youtube.

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Belfast, Maine Reviews:

The summing-up of the nice documentarian Frederick Wiseman's life's work--a four-hour record of a mid-sized Maine city that details local ringers for the cast of Wiseman's another movies: high-school teacher, cops, ER receptionists, social workers, homebound elderly folks, ministers, babies, meat-handlers, the dying. An English-class lecture late in the movie on the meaning of MOBY DICK opens up this oracular work, which combines a hard-nosed appraisal of the facts of everyday, small-town life with a Whitmanesque embrace that leaves you overwhelmed and grateful.Wiseman's movies create even the masters of American narrative films look like self-promoting, candy-flinging hucksters. The hallmark of a Wiseman stage is a whipsaw between unbearable heartbreak and Swiftian laughter. The piece de resistance here details an extremely large, slovenly-clad teacher who resembles a famous weatherman, reading from a ebook on meteorology to a roomful of profoundly retarded elderly men. The sincerity of the teacher's work, and the look of dutifulness and agonizing boredom on the face of the pupils, create you wish to laugh, cry and shout all in the same instant. Building to a soaring epiphany in a Belfast church, this film functions on so many cylinders--spiritual, political, metaphorical--it seems insane that Wiseman hasn't been embraced as a national treasure. See it where you can, even if it's late-night public TV: this is the most penetrating, insightful and boundlessly rich community mosaic since NASHVILLE.


This is a nice and disturbing movie. I have lived in Maine all my life, and worked in a number of the jobs depicted here, and I too, as some viewers below, search myself romanticizing Maine, thinking you will search the real Maine in films another than this one. That you can search the "true Maine" not in the elderly, the infirm, not in the soul-crushing factories, and not in a string of defendants, mechanically pleading guilty to the inevitable and petty charges leveled vs them in a courtroom. It is absolutely not real that the youth are not represented here--you see them in the hospitals, as infants, in the stories said by hunters, and as the bored faces in the classroom, repeating the presumably inspiring banalities of an English teacher. And all of the folks you do see were of course once much younger than you see them here. It's only four hours--what else do you have to do today that's so important?


"Poetry in motion[...]a wave out on the ocean should never transport that way." - Johny Tillotson, "Poetry in Motion." If anything came into my head when watching the extraordinary cinematic achievement of Frederick Wiseman that is Belfast, Maine, it's the above quote which, while it was referencing the beauty and majestic nature of a female, should nothing but describe the method I saw this documentary. It flows like absolute poetry, with nothing feeling out of zone or disjointed. This is a heavy achievement and struggle for Wiseman, who does not test any narration or game cards informing us of a date, time, or an issue. Despite the method he rejects the term "observational filmmaking," I can't think of a better word to describe this picture. It's poetic difference and an astonishing piece of art.Some of you may remember two years ago, when I was lucky to encounter a copy of Titicut Follies, Frederick Wiseman's first major movie that garnered more controversy than many documentaries will ever see. Because of its intense and liberating portrayal of a Bridgewater Mental Hospital in the late 1960's, it was refused a formal release by a stubborn Massachusetts legislature who clearly cared less about the treatment of their state's patients and more about the method their institutions would be viewed. Nonetheless, it saw its release in 1992 on PBS and is currently accessible on DVD on Wiseman's website, along with his another documentaries. Anyone contemplating pursuing a career in psychology or sociology could feel nothing but obligated to watch this film. To quote the film's tagline; "don't turn your back on this film if you value your mind or your life." Yet I digress from Belfast, Maine, a documentary, like Titicut Follies that demands your attention but not in the same regard. Titicut Follies wanted to inform you and present you the horrors behind closed-doors. Belfast, Maine wants to present you a wide-open community, made public to anyone who walks on the soil. It's a small, Fresh England port town that is mainly comprised of the working middle class, with much emphasis and feature payed to the extensive workload the townspeople deal with. Wiseman's obsession with the common-man is boldly shown here, focusing on folks working as lobstermen, judges, policemen, factory workers, town counsel members, social workers, volunteers, tiny business owners, the disabled, etc. Not to mention, a pristine glimpse at various dance clubs and social activities outside of the public's workload.There are lingering shots of the interior of a local high school and a skatepark, as well, but Belfast, Maine seems populated mainly by the middle-age to elderly demographic. Wiseman makes very clear to us that these folks are slaves to the institution, fully building their lives off of job persistency and devotion. Some of the most intense and mesmerizing sequences take zone in Belfast's many factories, one of them dealing with the packing and distribution of sardines, other with potatoes. These sequences go on for about fifteen mins each, and we see not just the content workers slaving away at monotony, but their dedication and continuation in a job that is emptying and largely unrewarding.One of the many morals that should be extracted from this epic is the American Dream and its slow decay into obscurity and extinction. One of the earliest scenes in a high school focus on a discussion about the classic novel Moby Dick and how the American Dream theme ties itself in with the timeless storyline of a captain hellbent on capturing a ramped whale. Other discussion soon on in the movie centers around the equally timeless novel Death of a Salesman, which explicitly features the American Dream. Even as we watch the teachers discuss the respective novels in front of a uninterested student body, there's a depressingly show feeling of hopelessness and solemn disappointment on the teachers' part. They seem to search their efforts to educate the uninterested for nothing.This is truly a movie that needs to be seen and not explained to those who have not had the pleasure of sitting through it. It's definitely not a travelogue by any means necessary, as Wiseman seems to appreciate the simplicity of the port city itself, while equally condemning what has made the city fall into that category. The observational technique the movie employs works wonders, and this is almost crucial for the film's success.Even at a massive 245 mins (ranking as the longest movie I ever sat through), Belfast, Maine's length is indifferent in the usual "too long" or "too short" opinion. Wiseman shot a tiny over 100 finished hours of footage and perhaps even that would be indifferent to the positive/negative aspect of length. Yet, once more, he has shed light on an zone of the globe that probably would've went tragically unnoticed otherwise. The reality and naturalistic filmmaking is truly an invaluable addition, and the atmosphere we take in, the characters we meet, the territories we go, and the things we see are all housed in a masterwork of cinematic proportions. The lasting result was a peculiar one, for me, however.At times, I wanted to take the next plane to Belfast to admire the casual beauty and simplicity of the town, while the next motivation I had was to take my camera and embark on an odyssey of my own throughout my hometown.



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