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film review

In Jackson Heights documents the diverse neighbourhood in New York.

There's a funny scene in the latest Frederick Wiseman documentary In Jackson Heights where an instructor of new immigrants hoping to get cab licences gives his students scatological mnemonics for the four cardinal directions. There is also a touching moment when a speaker at a meeting of illegal Mexican immigrants observes that, just as his brethren got wet crossing the Rio Grande, so did the ancestors of well-established Americans get wet crossing the Atlantic. But then, there is a meeting exposing the politics behind business-improvement districts where one speaker goes on so long that others give him the signal to shut up. Wiseman's camera has stuck with the bore the whole time.

The great American observational documentarian, who never interviews let alone narrates, asks viewers to sit through three hours of such material, some of it brilliant, some tedious, to understand the challenges of gentrification facing this multicultural neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens. The gay, Hispanic and Jewish communities are particularly well documented; others, in a place that supposedly speaks 167 languages, remain opaque.