June 23, 2008

2008 P.O.V. Doc Series Kicks Off

Like I said two weeks ago, I don't have HBO, so I'll unfortunately miss the channel's summer documentary series.

So what? For the 20th year in a row, PBS is presenting its award-winning P.O.V. documentary series, starting tomorrow and continuing through the middle of October. Obviously I wont see all of them, but I've got my eye on the following films (click on the links to watch the trailers):

Week 1 (Tuesday, 6/24): Traces of the Trade

"Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is a unique and disturbing journey of discovery into the history and "living consequences" of one of the United States' most shameful episodes — slavery. In this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, one might think the tragedy of African slavery in the Americas has been exhaustively told. Katrina Browne thought the same, until she discovered that her slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island were not an aberration. Rather, they were just the most prominent actors in the North's vast complicity in slavery, buried in myths of Northern innocence."

Week 2: Election Day

"Forget the pie charts, color-coded maps and hyperventilating pundits. What's the street-level experience of voters in today's America? In a triumph of documentary storytelling, "Election Day" combines 11 stories — shot simultaneously on November 2, 2004, from dawn until long past midnight — into one. Factory workers, ex-felons, harried moms, Native American activists and diligent poll watchers, from South Dakota to Florida, take the process of democracy into their own hands. The result is an entertaining, inspiring and sometimes unsettling story of citizens determined to vote on one fateful day."

Week 3: The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández

"In 1997, U.S. Marines patrolling the Texas-Mexico border as part of the War on Drugs shot and killed Esequiel Hernández Jr. Mistaken for a drug runner, the 18-year-old was, in fact, a U.S. citizen tending his family's goats with a .22 rifle. He became the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings. "The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández," narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, explores Hernández's tragic death and its torturous aftermath. His parents and friends, the Marines on patrol and investigators discuss the dangers of militarizing the border and the death of one young man."

Week 13: Calavera Highway

"When brothers Armando and Carlos Peña set off to carry their mother’s ashes to south Texas, their road trip turns into a quest for answers about a strangely veiled past. As they reunite with five other brothers, the two men try to piece together their family’s shattered history. Why was their mother cast out by her family? What happened to their father, who disappeared during the notorious 1954 U.S. deportation program Operation Wetback? "Calavera Highway" is a sweeping story of seven Mexican-American men grappling with the meaning of masculinity, fatherhood and a legacy of rootless beginnings."

Week 14: Critical Condition (recommended if you found Sicko dishonest)

"What happens if you fall sick and are one of 47 million people in America without health insurance? "Critical Condition" by Roger Weisberg ("Waging a Living," P.O.V. 2006) puts a human face on the nation's growing health care crisis by capturing the harrowing struggles of four critically ill Americans who discover that being uninsured can cost them their jobs, health, home, savings, and even their lives. Filmed in verité style, "Critical Condition" offers a moving and invaluable exposé at a time when the nation is debating how to extend health insurance to all Americans."

Week 15: Up The Yangtze (also opening in theaters nationwide this summer)

"Nearing completion, China's massive Three Gorges Dam is altering the landscape and the lives of people living along the fabled Yangtze River. Countless ancient villages and historic locales will be submerged, and 2 million people will lose their homes and livelihoods. The Yu family desperately seeks a reprieve by sending their 16-year-old daughter to work in the cruise ship industry that has sprung up to give tourists a last glimpse of the legendary river valley. With cinematic sweep, "Up the Yangtze" explores lives transformed by the biggest hydroelectric dam in history, a hotly contested symbol of the Chinese economic miracle." (Read my full review here).

Week 16: Soldiers of Conscience

"When is it right to kill? In the midst of war, is it right to refuse? Eight U.S. soldiers, some who have killed and some who said no, reveal their inner moral dilemmas in "Soldiers of Conscience." Made with official permission of the U.S. Army, the film transcends politics to explore the tension between spiritual values and military orders. Soldiers follows the stories of both conscientious objectors and those who criticize them. Through this clash of views, the film discovers a surprising common ground: All soldiers are "soldiers of conscience," torn between the demands of duty and the call of conscience."

Winter Special: Inheritance

"Imagine watching Schindler's List and knowing the sadistic Nazi camp commandant played by Ralph Fiennes was your father. "Inheritance" is the story of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of mass murderer Amon Goeth. Hertwig has spent her life in the shadow of her father's sins, trying to come to terms with her "inheritance." She seeks out Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, who was enslaved by Goeth and who is one of the few living eyewitnesses to his unspeakable brutality. The women's raw, emotional meeting unearths terrible truths and lingering questions about how the actions of our parents can continue to ripple through generations."

So they're not all about cupcakes, balloons and roses, but they're real and raw and, hopefully, revealing. I'll try to post reviews of the ones I see. PBS is one of the best reasons to have a TV. I have to shamefully admit I rarely watch it, but I still know it's enriching a lot more lives than most channels. Support public broadcasting!


  1. So the POV doc airing tonight looks really fascinating, "Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball." I'm going to set an alarm so I actually remember to watch this one.

  2. Thanks for breaking the comment seal on this one, Evan!

    I got that POV email today about Kokoyaku. Although it wasn't one of the ones I highlighted here, I think it could be pretty interesting for any fans of baseball. I saw Japan win the inaugural World Baseball Classic over Cuba a few years ago - two countries that are definitely on the way up. Except South Korea just won the gold medal, so there goes that.

    By the way, POV gives you a really nice email reminder for a specific showing of a specific doc if you want. I think if you go to "local TV listings" and choose the showing. Something like that.

    Otherwise, yeah, it's the old slap of the forehead the next morning when you realize you missed it. I've gotten a headache from that before.

  3. Thanks for the heads up, Daniel. I'll be setting the DVR for these.

  4. Thanks for popping over, Joel - and for reminding me that the ones I've been looking forward are airing soon. I especially still want to see the last two, and Yangtze is definitely worth another look if its Oscar chances are on the rise.


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