Wiseman at work in Idaho state legislature

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Legislators talk in the Idaho House

It's an election year, and political sideshows are expected, a Boise reporter predicted. (Image: Zipporah Films Inc.)

The Idaho Legislature is the subject of Frederick Wiseman’s next cinema verite documentary.

Starting with his controversial film Titicut Follies in 1967, Wiseman has filmed the day-to-day workings of American places and institutions — public housing developments, high schools and an old Maine seaport town, among other subjects. His last PBS broadcast, Domestic Violence, was filmed in a shelter for abused women and children, called the Spring, in Tampa, Fla.

Wiseman, who doesn’t discuss his film projects until they’re near completion, declined Current’s request for an interview. But he told Idaho statehouse reporter Betsy Russell that he chose the Idaho Legislature because he wanted to film an American institution in the West.

When Wiseman began filming in January, Russell noticed that lawmakers started pontificating to his camera, which is only natural in an election year. “That’s faded a little as they’ve gotten used to him,” says Russell, staff writer for the Idaho Spokesman Review.

“The legislators seem to enjoy it, and he’s getting really good access,” she adds. “He’s filming stuff all day, and goes to as many things up there as I do.” The Idaho legislature is overwhelmingly Republican — the GOP controls both chambers with supermajorities, she notes.

Russell predicts that, after a marathon 118-day session last year and re-election campaigns to tend to back home, lawmakers will conclude a short but colorful session by mid-March. “There are all kinds of sideshows because it’s an election year,” she says.

On Feb. 6, the House passed a bill to put a gay-marriage referendum before the voters. Advocates backed the state constitutional amendment barring same-sex weddings even though Idaho statutes already prohibit them.

“The question they were really dealing with was, ‘Should the next election be dominated by the issue of gay marriage?” Russell says. “By their votes, they seem to think so.” If the amendment clears the Senate with a two-thirds majority, it goes on the Idaho ballot in November.

Lawmakers are also debating an informed-consent anti-abortion bill, a measure that bans smoking in restaurants, and legislation establishing a statewide graduation test for high school students.

Copyright 2004 Current


Wiseman’s films give viewers an unparalled do-it-yourself opportunity to interpret human behavior, writes David Stewart in a profile of the filmmaker.

Wiseman’s High School caught so much flak in 1968 that it didn’t air in the city where it was made until 2001.

Observational documentaries: PBS version of “reality TV” distills drama from real life.


Zipporah Films Inc., Wiseman’s production company.

Idaho Legislature’s website.

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