At Berkeley is a timely film for Irish audiences, as education in Ireland faces severe cuts in public funding and the resetting of assumptions about what and who education is for. Inherited institutional models are being tested and re-formed but, worryingly, the process appears underpinned by an ideological momentum which is mostly unspoken.
The director, eighty-four-year-old Frederick Wiseman, has focused, over almost fifty years of film-making, on documentary features which reveal the often unspoken ideologies that underpin a range of institutions. The University of California at Berkeley is one of the United States’ most respected public institutions, founded on the principle that ‘you don’t have to be a member of an elite to have an education’. The central concern of At Berkeley is the implications for society if education becomes a quantitative rather than a qualitative exercise, its value privatised as part of a neo-liberal economic agenda. It makes the point that the stakes are very high for the US but just as high for Ireland. Wiseman, typically, has delivered a film which is a demanding but also a salutary experience.