Last week, armed with a librarian buddy, my dubious three hour and twenty minute attention span, and a generous stash of chocolate, I went to see the beautiful documentary ‘Ex Libris: The New York Public Library’ at the New Zealand International Film Festival.
This documentary by celebrated film maker Frederick Wiseman, is admittedly a lengthy look at its subject, but each piece is truly hypnotic, offering a unique and insightful look into this most beloved of landmarks (and yes, I do say this with a conscious bias). ‘Ex Libris’ perfectly captures the day to day life of the library – from a talk with Richard Dawkins to a border patrol representative; an inquiry about unicorns to finding information on a long lost ancestor; robotic sessions to braille lessons; babytimes to recruitment drives, the vibrancy and passion within these walls is very real.
There are over ninety-two library branches in New York, and although only a handful of them are covered in this film, Wiseman manages to reflect the sheer diversity in both the patrons and services across the city. The ‘politics’ of libraries is highlighted in many ways, from conversations about digital inclusion, to inaccurate representations of African American history in a set of children’s books, to the tension between the homeless community in New York and the rest of the library users. There is no narrative in this film, and there is no need for one. Whether we are sitting in on a meeting discussing the best use of private funding, watching a book group discuss Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or observing a student research with the library’s microfiche, the theme of the library as a place of equality for everyone, to learn, think, and create is gently yet powerfully observed.
As a librarian and a library lover generally, I found the parallels between our libraries in Christchurch, and those in New York fascinating – in particular the seemingly universal questions and programmes popular with its customers, and the importance of the library as a safe and enriching haven in every community. I hugely recommend this film, not only for library lovers but for anyone who enjoys a perceptive and beautifully produced documentary. I would of course also recommend the chocolate and a very, very good buddy with an extremely good attention span (cue: dramatic Oscar-acceptance-style speech thanking my own buddy for getting me to this point of now being home).
If you have missed out on getting tickets to this event, never fear, there are many other great picks for the NZIFF. If you are super unlucky and all your picks have sold out, there is again a silver lining as the library has a fantastic range of classic New Zealand films – both movies (think ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’) and documentaries (think ‘Pecking Order’).
Even better our non-fiction DVDs are now free to borrow. Whatever way you decide to take part in the NZIFF – whether its going to the cinema, borrowing a New Zealand DVD, or reading a related book (see Donna’s fantastic blog of this year’s related titles) there really is something for everyone.