NEW PALTZ — Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker Alan Berliner will show and discuss his film, “Nobody’s Business,” which probes the swirls, conflicts and affection that bind every family, at the State University of New York at New Paltz on Wednesday, November 4.
Berliner, who teaches film production at the New School for Social Research, has made a number of critically acclaimed documentary films. “Nobody’s Business,” his most praised film to date, won an Emmy Award as this year’s best documentary. The 60-minute film is an investigative biography of Berliner’s father, Oscar, who worked in New York City’s garment industry. And although the father is just an ordinary person, as he calls himself, the documentary takes the viewer through this man’s life and times in ways that have made viewers and critics laugh and cry.
As a bickering odd couple, the two Berliners travel through the family’s past with the son raising the level of family documentation to an innovative new level. When the film first appeared on public television in June of 1997, viewers overwhelmed the station’s call-in line, blowing out the PBS phone system.
The New York Times called “Nobody’s Business,” “…full of juicy conflict and contradiction.” The Austin Chronicle referred to Berliner as “one of America’s most innovative, exciting filmmakers.”
“The film explores issues that are central to us all, as well as to the field of psychology,” commented Alison Nash, chair of the SUNY New Paltz psychology department, one of two sponsors of the November 4 event. “Psychologists explore the importance of early childhood experiences, as many of us try to figure out our relationship with our parents. Berliner takes on both of these issues.” In part, the film is about Alan Berliner’s attempt to make sense out of his relationship with his father, who was a reluctant and cranky subject.
James Halpern, a faculty member in the psychology department, points out that the film raises issues of generational conflict, the impact of divorce on children (Berliner’s parents were divorced), the father-son relationship and multi-generational issues as the son tries to trace his family’s European roots. “The film is a simply told but moving story,” says Halpern.
“Nobody’s Business,” which has been shown at dozens of film festivals and won many prestigious awards, has been praised for its technique, as well as its content. Berliner tinkers with notions of time and space in “Nobody’s Business,” prompting leading film critic Phillip Lopate to remark about his “dazzling mastery of the relation between sound and image.”
“I know of no one working in professional films today,” Lopate said in a review of the film, “who can do so well what Berliner does: bring dramatically alive the intense agony and ambivalence and love within families.”
“The word documentary often makes people think of boring,” said Robert Miraldi, chair of the department of communication and media. “But this film is funny, intriguing and provocative. I watched it and found myself telling people about the bickering Berliners. It’s worth seeing.”
The documentary will be shown at 7 p.m. in Lecture Center, Room 102, and will be followed by a discussion. The event, which is also sponsored by the department of communication and media, is open to the public. There is no charge.