“Public Hearing in Progress” James N. Kienitz Wilkins



Public Hearing in Progress is the exclusive web broadcast of original videotapes documenting the entire on-set production of Public Hearing, a feature film reenactment of a transcript from a real small town public hearing.

The feature film, Public Hearing (110 min), is an experimental documentary directed and produced by James N. Kienitz Wilkins, using as its screenplay a publicly-available transcript downloaded from the website of the town of Allegany, New York. Filmed entirely in close-up on black-and-white 16mm film, an ensemble cast of actors and non-actors read between the lines in an ironic debate over the replacement of an existing Wal-Mart with a super Wal-Mart.

Public Hearing in Progress is a parallel project to the film, presenting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into its production, and suggesting a perpetual remaking of an otherwise completed work, one based on public material yet privatized through the filmmaking process. During the film’s 2009 re-production of a 2006 public hearing, an aging security camera was installed on set, serving as a functional prop documenting the film’s low-budget proceedings in a silent, murky, decayed, black-and-white image—a sort of bastard cousin to the feature’s cinematic 16mm film image, and notably, the only wide-angle or establishing view afforded by the production. The security feed was recorded on VHS operating in eight hour EP (extended play) mode, mirroring the length of the shooting days imposed by the downtown Manhattan office location, and preserving the discontinuous fourteen shooting days in a practically sculptural mass with one tape per day.

The tapes have remained largely unwatched since their original recording, existing now as one-of-a-kind objects due to the extreme hassle of preservation (over 100 hours accounting for schedule variations and equipment malfunctions), and the generational loss of analog formats (a duplicate would be an inferior copy). As a result, the streaming broadcast is at once a pre-recorded, fourteen episode documentary of a word-based documentary without its words, and a “live” event of certain tapes being played in a certain location at a certain time. The image itself is a security feed (considered at the time a pathetic backup should the 16mm film come out ruined), and the illusion of a security feed: that familiar and always potentially real real-time image which saturates our age.


The feature film, Public Hearing, premiered in competition at the 2012 Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX), and has since screened in festivals and venues worldwide, including MoMA PS1 (EXPO 1:NEW YORK), IndieLisboa, Camden International, Punto de Vista, Festival do Rio, and Lima Independiente (Winner: Activism Award) and beyond.

“… A play about itself … shows how much people are willing to endure to pretend that a democratic process exists in opposition to corporate manifest destiny.”

– Brooklyn Rail

“… a case study in neither-fish-nor-fowl filmmaking.”


“Public Hearing is a thought provoking x-ray of community democracy as ritualist incantation.”

– Politeken.dk

“… one of the most remarkable not-quite-documentaries of recent years.”

– Toronto Star

Watch the full film for free (Feb 1 – Mar 21): public.automaticmoving.com

Airing Saturdays and Sundays (Feb 1 – Mar 21, 2015) 12-8pm* CST

*The February 1st program will run from 12-3pm CST

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