Ex Libris

A master documentarian turns his camera on a city institution that many take for granted: the public library.

New York Public Library
WGBH Standalone, NPS Standalone
Premiere Date
September 4, 2018
180 minutes
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2017 Cinema Eye Honors-Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2017 Cinema Eye Honors-Outstanding Achievement in Direction
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2017 Critics Choice Documentary Award-Best Director
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2017 IFP Gotham Awards-Best Documentary
  • Director

    Frederick Wiseman

    Frederick Wiseman has made 39 documentaries and two fiction films. Among his documentaries are Titicut Follies, Welfare, Public Housing, Near Death, La Comédie Française Ou L'amour Joué, La Danse — le Ballet De L'opéra De Paris, and At Berkeley (Independent Lens, 2014). His documentaries are dramatic, narrative films that seek to portray the joy, Show more sadness, comedy and tragedy of ordinary experience. His films have played in theatres and been broadcast on television in many countries. He is also a theater director and has directed The Last Letter, based on a chapter of Vasily Grossman's novel Life and Fate, and Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at the Comédie Française. Mr. Wiseman received his BA from Williams College in 1951 and his LLB from Yale Law School in 1954. He has received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, Princeton University, and Williams College, among others. He is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has won numerous awards, including four Emmys and the Dan David Prize. He is also the recipient of the Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Society (2013); the George Polk Career Award (2006); the American Society of Cinematographers Distinguished Achievement Award (2006); and the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion (2014); among many others. Show less

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    The Film

    The legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman presents a startlingly moving portrait of an undervalued city institution: the New York Public Library. With an imposing Beaux Arts Fifth Avenue star and 92 dimmer ones in all corners of the city, the NYPL emerges over the course of Ex Libris as a universe unto itself. Surveying its varied terrain, Ex Libris reveals the public library system as a vast repository of books, yes, but also many other things — a resource center in the broadest sense of the term. Wandering its reading rooms, back offices, conference spaces, and echoing corridors, Wiseman’s camera stops to observe some teenagers learning about a colossal archive of printed images once ransacked by Andy Warhol. Elsewhere, staffers patiently converse with patrons on topics ranging from bereavement to the Gutenberg Bible to the presence of unicorns in the world. The library doubles as an advice line, a rec center, a performing arts space, a lecture hall, a center of research and education at all levels of learning — even, in the words of one patron, a stand-in for film school. Above all else, Ex Libris makes plain, it is a civic treasure whose value is difficult to quantify but impossible to overstate.