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July 28, 2014 | by  | in Arts Film |
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At Berkeley [Review]

I highly recommend avoiding this film at the end of a long day. The four-hour-long documentary which contemplates the current economic struggles facing the University of California, Berkeley, is only truly appreciated if mentally prepared. With a chronic ability to head-drop in awkward situations, my falling asleep in the first attempt to watch it doesn’t say much. It took me two tries to get through Pulp Fiction (the poster of a lounging cigarette-laden Uma Thurman on the back of my bedroom door is expert false advertising – still haven’t seen the final scene). So taking a second shot the next day, with a clear caffeinated head, helped to realise that this is a very atypical yet valuable documentary for which the critical acclaim seems rightly deserved.

Berkeley is infamous for its high calibre of teaching and consistent ranking as one of the world’s most prestigious universities. It prides itself on excellence and diversity. The bankrupt state of California, however, threatens the public institution’s ability to continue providing education on par with private universities minus the pricey exclusivity and pretentious ego-boosting. At Berkeley captures an academic insight into this world of academia. It includes no narrative or interviews. It lingers and hovers in various classrooms, on the student parties and protests and in the board meetings. It isn’t the story of people who go to Berkeley but how they push the institution along, uphold its core righteous values and (naïvely) embody the true, forgotten American Dream. The intensity of the classes makes Socratic method seem simply lethargic (and the associated stress positively embarrassing).

The length, in truth, was unnecessary. There were many long-winded scenes which dropped from being captivating to difficult. Instead of bite-sized insights and lessons, the forced learning meant a frequent sink into boredom when realising you had accurately got the point three minutes earlier. It’s hefty. That’s a strong warning. If, however, you righteously consider yourself a university student with an academic consciousness superior to most, coupled with a proactive desire for a healthy education, then trust that this will educate you sufficiently.

At Berkeley is playing at the NZIFF in Wellington on 26 July, 1.15 pm (Paramount Bergman), 30 July, 2 pm (Paramount), 3 August, 1.30 pm (Paramount Bergman), and 7 August, 1.45 pm (Paramount Bergman).

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