Fredrick Wiseman’s latest documentary, In Jackson Heights, introduces viewers to the incredible diversity of the New York City neighborhood. It’s the summer of 2014, and the streets are lively — from gay-pride marches to World Cup celebrations. Wiseman’s camera highlights various religious and ethnic enclaves, while weaving a portrait of 21st-century America: an ever-hybridizing melting pot of immigrants and cultures; the many small bricks that comprise the American dream (and what larger forces threaten it); and democracy in action, be it an engaged politician or the grassroots community groups that coalesce around specific issues. America is in a gloomy, angry mood this election season, but Wiseman’s film serves as a reminder that, sure, our system is messy, but it’s one that works more often than not.
Like most of Wiseman’s works — this is his 40th film — Jackson Heights is long, at a shade over three hours. It drags in places (some folks do go on and on), but viewers are rewarded in the last reel with one of the film’s most amusing segments. A man use mnemonics to train prospective taxi drivers (on the compass, “NESW: Never Ever Smoke Weed’), and the loose humor is just a notch above a comedy skit. But take note, while laughing: He is creating new working cogs of the great American machine.