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Ex Libris: Die Public Library von New York (Ex Libris: The New York Public Library)
U.S.A. 2017

Opening 25 Oct 2018

Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
Writing credits:

New York’s public library is a treasure chest waiting to be opened like a Pandora’s Box but filled with amazing gems to help people connect and be more creative. Someone said in this film that a library is about people,e not a building which stores books, which is so well expressed in this documentary. We see the various library branches in the different neighborhoods and see all the activity that is going on from free lectures, community gatherings, free reading lessons, musical concerts, to the largest free picture file in the world which is accessible to everyone.

The documentary is lengthy but does highlight on segments that make you laugh as well as focusing on helping people find a job. It makes you just want to go to New York to check out their library and see what gem will you find in that incredible and valuable institution called the public library. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Second Opinion

Renowned octogenarian filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has been making documentaries for decades, films that examine life in the United States and the country’s various institutions. Ex Libris is his comprehensive look at the public library system that benefits millions of people each year in New York City, the largest such system in the US. The film kicks off with a lunchtime Q&A at the library’s main branch with Richard Dawkins, a well-known scientist and atheist, defending his view that “science is the poetry of reality.” Next, we’re taken to an event where the library’s president extols the benefits of private-public partnerships at the NYPL and explains the history of the library to a room of patrons. This is as close as the documentary gets to “introducing” the subject matter, and it’s clear that Wiseman’s goal is to let the library’s vast offerings, branches, and dedicated librarians and staff show off how wide-spread and beneficial the NYPL is.

There are themes that reveal themselves throughout the film, woven through the various author readings and lectures – such as the role immigration and slavery played in America – but the main focus of the documentary is showing off how much the system offers New Yorkers, as well as how hard the people who make it run are working to provide the right resources and access to education with their limited budget.

Ex Libris is three-and-a-half hours long, and literally consists of hours of footage of authors talking about their work and endless meetings in which the library’s head honchos discuss the library’s relevance for society’s changing needs. There are definitely dull moments, but I found this to be an inspiring and uplifting film, one that made both the NYPL and its 92 (!) branches shine while casting a spotlight on how much there is on offer in New York itself (as reflected by the caliber of authors speaking, musicians playing, actors acting, etc., at library programs). The camera loves the main branch of the library, the iconic Beaux-Arts building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, and Wiseman return there again and again, soaking in the majesty of that building. But the more interesting footage is of the other branches, the neighborhood branches that show off how ordinary New Yorkers use the system. This is a quiet movie that does a mighty job of sharing how to make life richer one library visit at a time. (Diana Schnelle)

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