Human violence cuts across a lot of his movies, said filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, so domestic violence was a natural subject for him to explore.
"Domestic Violence" and "Domestic Violence 2" will premiere on U.S. television Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. on PBS.
The first evening's program, which had a limited run in 2001 and 2002 at film festivals and theaters, begins with police responding to domestic violence calls from couples. Officers listen to differing sides of disputes, advise people of their rights, and assist a bloodied woman onto a stretcher. But the production goes beyond the police-intervention phase frequently chronicled on police-reality programs
The film continues with a look at a shelter and its intake interviews, counseling sessions, group therapy, staff meetings, and various conversations--tracking abused people of all ages, races, educational and economic levels. While men as well as women are abused, most documented cases are of women. Through these various situations, the victims tell their stories of abuse.
The second film, airing Wednesday, focuses on the legal system and abuse cases. Included are such issues as bail, release pending trial, injunctions, restraining orders, support payments and court rulings. These issues unfold in exchanges between judges, lawyers, victims and offenders.
Wiseman spent eight weeks filming in Tampa in the spring of 1998.
"I didn't wish to simplify or make a cliche out of it," he said. "I tried to make a movie that accurately reflects the experience I had with the police, in the courts and in the shelter. . . . I try to present issues in a way that reflects complexities."
The first film shows victims in the Tampa shelter but not their abusers. "The perpetrators weren't in the show. There was no way I could find them," he said. "But all the women who have come into the shelter were there because they actually were attacked. They went from the emergency ward to the shelter."
The shelter, named The Spring, serves about 1,650 adults and children a year. "It's very hard to get into a shelter," Wiseman said, "so I was pleased they had sufficient confidence in me to give me permission."
He was turned down by only one or two people when he asked permission to film them, he said. An acquaintance had arranged for him to meet the heads of various agencies in Tampa that deal with domestic violence and approved his plan to film.
Wiseman was on site for the 110 hours of filming, deciding what would be shot and how, he said. He later spent months "studying the material and editing individual sequences in the final film, arranging an order that was dramatic and appropriate," he said.
Wiseman, 73, has been making films for more than 35 years, turning his camera on American institutions such as a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane (the controversial "Titicut Follies" in 1967), "High School" (1968), "Juvenile Court" (1973), "High School II" (1994) and "Public Housing" (1997).
He received Emmy awards for "Law and Order," about the Kansas City, Mo., police department; and "Hospital" (1970) about a large New York hospital with emphasis on the emergency ward and outpatient clinics.
"I became very aware of the difficulty that people have in breaking the cycle, and how often both the perpetrator and the victim are sort of welded to each other in a kind of destructive dance," he said.
From his films, he said, he hopes viewers will gain some compassion and understanding of the events that occur in domestic violence.
About Domestic Violence . . .
Some facts compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence about a subject that affects millions of Americans:
* Nearly one out of every three women experiences at least one physical assault by a partner during adulthood.
* Only about one-seventh of all domestic assaults are brought to the attention of the police.
* Child abuse occurs in 70 percent of families that experience domestic violence.
* One million people 65 or older are victims of abuse each year. In nearly nine out of 10 incidents of domestic elder abuse and neglect, the perpetrator is a family member.
* An estimated one-fifth to one-third of all teenagers who are involved in dating relationships are regularly abusing or being abused verbally, mentally, emotionally, sexually and-or physically by their partners.
* More than 503,400 women in the United States are stalked by an intimate partner each year.
* National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233; the TTY number for the deaf is 800-787-3224. The hotline provides counseling, information and referral 24 hours a day. For immediate assistance, victims should call 911.
* On the Web: www.ncadv.org