— by Jeff Schultz

86-year-old cinema verite master Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary is 3 hours and 10 minutes long — and yet I was amazed when the final credits appeared; I had thought it was only a little more than half over! Not for a moment is this “gorgeous mosaic” draggy or boring. Rather, it is a colorful, diverse, inclusive, funny, warmly human, democratic stew — a melting pot of the 167 languages, multiple cultures and lifestyles that co-exist for the greater part harmoniously in this stable (but changing) Queens, New York neighborhood. Utopia it’s not. Wiseman focuses on two ongoing problems roiling the serenity: homophobia and gentrification. In the latter case, the documentary seemed to be leading up to a public hearing at which small business owners — supported by community activists — would confront the developers and special interests tied to a Business Improvement District (BID) forcing mom-and-pop shops out in favor of Gap- and Home Depot-style mallification. The meeting is never shown, which actually left me wanting more. But the high points are many, including a class for would-be cab drivers taught by a teacher whose humorous advice on how to remember North, East, South and West only begins with “Never Ever Smoke Weed”; a 98-year-old senior citizen calmly discussing her loneliness; a harrowing monologue about illegals somehow managing to cross the Mexican border; an impromptu sidewalk prayer for a dying father; and staffers at a city councilman’s office patiently listening on the phone to complaining constituents. We only hear from adults, and we do not — a big omission, I think — hear from cops on the street. But that’s just a quibble. Wiseman remains at the top of his game, and we are all the luckier for it.

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