Independent Lens: Season 4 (2003)

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Season 4
Independent Lens

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Air date: Feb 4, 2003

Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater direct Maggie Growls, a documentary portrait of social activist Maggie Kuhn (1905-1995). At the age of 65, Kuhn founded the Grey Panthers in 1970, when she was forced to retire from her job at the Social Education and Action Office of the Presbyterian Church. The organization was made up of activists working for social and economic justice. She devoted her life to campaign for health care, housing reform, and consumer protections. Paul and Sandra Fierlinger provide short animated segments to the film. Maggie Growls debuted on PBS as part of the Independent Lens series.

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Air date: Feb 11, 2003

"Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story," a wry exploration of the industry in which record producers set amateurs' poems to music and record them (for a fee, of course). Included are interviews with producers, performers, observers and people who have submitted their poems for musical adaptation. And there's a sampling of the results (examples include "Non-Violent Tae-kwon-do Trooper" and "I Am a Ginseng Digger"). Most songs are "in one ear and out the other," says musician Ellery Eskelin (the son of a song-poem "auteur"). But, he adds, "There's the 10 or 20 percent that are from another planet."

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Air date: Feb 18, 2003

Maine meets Broadway in "On This Island," filmmaker Stephanie Slewka's saga of a homegrown musical that helped ease "the civil war of North Haven." The show: "Islands: The Musical," which was staged by retired Broadway producer John Wulp on the tiny Penobscot Bay island North Haven with a cast entirely made up of islanders. Ironically, Wulp caused the trouble in the first place when he started a theater program at the island's school that foes claimed distracted from the three "r"s. His goal with "Islands": "Restore a sense of community." Sigourney Weaver narrates.

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Air date: Feb 25, 2003

Author, filmmaker, and cowgirl Nancy Kelly returned to her hometown of North Adams, MA, to make the documentary Downside Up. While many other U.S. factories were closing down in the '80s, the Sprague Electric Company quit manufacturing capacitors in its North Adams plant. This left thousands of residents unemployed and the town started down an economic decline. In order to revitalize the city, the mayor teamed up with the director of neighboring Williams College to propose that an abandoned mill be used as the site of a contemporary art museum. In 1999, the MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) was opened. Part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, Downside Up has been screened at film festivals, schools, and community groups across the U.S.

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Air date: Mar 25, 2003

Los Trabajadores is the senior thesis project of filmmaker Heather Courtney, who received her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1999, Austin is seen as one of America's fastest growing cities. This documentary follows a year in the lives of two illegal immigrants who have greatly contributed to the booming Texas construction industry despite their own personal risks. Ramón Castillo Aparicio and Juan Ignacio Gutiérrez are day laborers, unofficial workers who fill the gaps in the official work force. They work in any capacity of physical labor, usually due to undocumented status or poor English skills. Courtney explores the controversies surrounding day labor and the difficulties of immigration. She also visits Juan's family in Mexico to see the women and girls who depend on his income. Part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, Los Trabajadores also won the International Documentary Association's David L. Wolper Student Achievement award.

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Air date: Apr 1, 2003

"Chiefs" follows Wyoming Native-American high-school basketball players as they battle on the court---and to get off the "rez." Or to stay there on their own terms. The Wind River Reservation's "Chiefs" have a history of excellence (five state titles in 18 years), and they make it to the state finals in both 2000 and 2001. But basketball's the easy part. "We all talk about leaving and going somewhere," says player Beaver C'Bearing. "But nothing ever happens." He might be wrong, but as he comes to realize, that will take hard work.

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Air date: Apr 8, 2003

Made famous by singer Billie Holiday in an unforgettable 1939 recording, the haunting anti-lynching anthem "Strange Fruit" was not, as many believe, written by an African-American. Rather, it grew out of poem penned by a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx, Abel Meeropol. Outraged by the shabby and often brutal treatment of black citizens in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, Meeropol gravitated to the burgeoning civil rights movement of the 1930s, where he also found a nurturing home for his left-of-center sentiments (the same sentiments which, years later, moved him to adopt the children of executed atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). To avoid persecution from the radical right and from the anti-Semites of the era, Meeropol published the song under the pseudonym Lewis Allen, the same name he later used for his less impassioned but equally powerful anti-bigotry ballad "The House I Live In." Naturally, this 60-minute documentary includes film clips of Billie Holiday performing the title song (in her only TV appearance, in 1958), as well as renditions by such activist-artists as Pete Seeger, Josh White, and Cassandra Wilson. Strange Fruit was first telecast as a presentation of the PBS anthology Independent Lens.

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Air date: Apr 22, 2003

"Bird by Bird with Annie: A Portrait of Anne Lamott," filmmaker Freida Lee Mock's profile of the humorist-author of such books as "Bird by Bird" and "Crooked Little Heart." Mock follows Lamott as she speaks to various groups, and Lamott fills in details of her life in between. Cheifly among them: her her son Sam; her Christian activism (and her devotion to liberal causes); and her battle with alcohol and drugs. Now she's sober and satisfied. "Being a writer is all I have ever wanted to be," she says. "There really isn't anything that I want. Maybe a few more CDs." Mock won an Academy Award for her 1995 documentary "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision."

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Air date: Apr 29, 2003

Filmmaker and journalist Maia Wechsler directs the documentary Sisters in Resistance. The story follows four women who fought the Nazis in occupied France during WWII. They were arrested and deported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp as political prisoners. In 1997, the women reunite to tell their story through candid interviews along with film clips and archival footage. Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz, Jacqueline Pery d'Alincourt, Anise Postel-Vinay, and Germaine Tillion each offer commentary about their work as social activists during the Holocaust. Part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, Sisters in Resistance has been screened at film festivals, schools, and community groups across the U.S.

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Air date: May 6, 2003

"Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai" profiles Rell Sunn (1950-98), a pioneer in women's surfing who lived for 14 years with breast cancer. It didn't stop her from surfing, or doing the many other good things she did (organizing children's surfing competitions and serving as a breast-cancer advocate are two) in Makana, the rundown Oahu beach town she loved with a passion. The hour includes several interviews with Sunn (one taped just months before she died), as well as with friends and her daughter, Jan-Sunn Carreira, who says: "It's so graceful seeing mom on a wave. That's what it is, it's grace."

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