The American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman is an investigative journalist with a camera or, even better, a superdetective with an unremitting sense of detection. In thirty years time he has made exactly thirty documentaries, in which he followed people in a specific environment over a longer period of time. In the tradition of the "direct cinema" Wiseman does not ask any questions and does not give any comments, and apparently after a few weeks people have grown so used to his presence that they hardly notice the camera anymore.
Wiseman used the same approach for PUBLIC HOUSING, a documentary of more than three hours for which he entrenched himself for a number of weeks in a dreary Chicago suburb. Wiseman follows Ida B. Wells, a massive black woman with steamed-up glasses and battered teeth who calls herself "the president of Ida B. Wells Homes". For twenty years she has been working in a scantily furnished office, devoting her life to the homeless people of this area, a black ghetto where policemen and exterminators must turn out every day. Besides showing gross degeneration, Wiseman also shows the activities of the city council, the state and the federal government, and he follows all kinds of training programmes for youngsters. The image of America evoked by Wiseman in PUBLIC HOUSING is reminiscent of a Third World country.