In Jackson Heights
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Legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (At Berkeley, National Gallery) explores the culture, politics and daily life of the Queens, NYC district of Jackson Heights, which lays claim to being the most diverse neighbourhood in the world.
Jackson Heights, located in the New York City borough of Queens, lays claim to being the world's most diverse neighbourhood. Locals say that 167 languages are spoken here. In contrast to urban blocks that are often more divided by ethnicity, Jackson Heights residents commingle in the same apartment buildings and shopping districts. In the Old Testament's Tower of Babel story, diversity was a recipe for disaster. In Jackson Heights, it somehow works.
Frederick Wiseman is best known for documenting institutions — most recently with last year's TIFF Docs selection National Gallery — but over his six-decade career he has also explored communities in documentaries such as Canal Zone (1977), Aspen (1991), Belfast, Maine (1999), and Titicut Follies (1967), which screens at this year's Festival in a newly restored 35mm print. He now brings his observational approach to In Jackson Heights, filmed over the summer of 2014, to create a keen understanding of how this special place ticks.
Working with cameraman John Davey, Wiseman takes us into community centres, classes, restaurants, dance halls, and street activities. One recurring character is openly gay New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm, whose district stands out as an enclave where gay, lesbian, and transgendered immigrants feel more at home than other places in Queens. Their gatherings are juxtaposed with more conservative activities and settings in the community, including a madrasa school and a halal butcher shop.
Underlying all of In Jackson Heights is a sense of the precariousness of immigrant and working-class life. Independent shopkeepers live under fear of being evicted to make way for incoming chain stores. Manual labourers organize to secure overtime pay. A Mexican woman tells a harrowing story of family members betrayed by human smugglers while trying to cross into the southwestern US.
Compared to all the hipster dramas flowing out of nearby Brooklyn, the stakes feel higher in Jackson Heights. - Toronto International Film Festival