(POV logo courtesy American Documentary, Inc.)
I briefly highlighted the 2009 schedule for the PBS award-winning P.O.V. documentary series a few months ago, and since it starts this Tuesday, here's a more thorough preview of the 21st season. Remember that you can sign up for email reminders for one or all of these documentaries according to your local TV schedules, as well as read interviews and join the conversation at the P.O.V. blog throughout the season.
Week 1 (June 23) - New Muslim Cool
*Puerto Rican-American rapper Hamza Pérez pulled himself out of drug dealing and street life 12 years ago and became a Muslim. Now he's moved to Pittsburgh's tough North Side to start a new religious community, rebuild his shattered family and take his message of faith to other young people through hard-hitting hip-hop music. But when the FBI raids his mosque, Hamza must confront the realities of the post-9/11 world, and himself. New Muslim Cool takes viewers on Hamza's ride through streets, slums and jail cells — following his spiritual journey to some surprising places in an America that never stops changing.
Week 2 (June 30) - Beyond Hatred
*In September 2002, three skinheads were roaming a park in Rheims, France, looking to "do an Arab," when they settled for a gay man instead. Twenty-nine-year-old François Chenu fought back fiercely, but he was beaten unconscious and thrown into a river, where he drowned. The acclaimed French vérité film Beyond Hatred is the story of the crime's aftermath; above all, of the Chenu family's brave and heartrending struggle to seek justice while trying to make sense of such pointless violence and unbearable loss. With remarkable dignity, they fight to transcend hatred and the inevitable desire for revenge.
Week 3 (July 7) - Life. Support. Music.
*In 2004, Jason Crigler's life was taking off. He was one of New York's hottest young guitarists, his new CD was due for release and his wife, Monica, was pregnant with their first child. Then, at a gig in Manhattan, Jason suffered a near-fatal brain hemorrhage. His doctors doubted he would ever emerge from his near-vegetative state. The astonishing journey that followed, documented by friend and filmmaker Eric Daniel Metzgar (The Chances of the World Changing, POV 2007), is a stirring family saga and a portrait of creative struggle in the face of overwhelming tragedy.
Week 4 (July 14) - The Reckoning
*Over 120 countries have united to form the International Criminal Court (ICC) — the first permanent court created to prosecute perpetrators, no matter how powerful, of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The Reckoning follows dynamic ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team for three years across four continents as he issues arrest warrants for Lord's Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, puts Congolese warlords on trial, shakes up the Colombian justice system, and charges Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir with genocide in Darfur. Like a deft thriller, The Reckoning keeps you on the edge of your seat. Will the prosecutor succeed? Will the world ensure that justice prevails?
Week 5 (July 21) - The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
*Filmed over 23 years, The Betrayal is the Academy Award®-nominated directorial debut of renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras in a unique collaboration with the film's subject and co-director, Thavisouk ("Thavi") Phrasavath. After the U.S. government waged a secret war in Laos during the Vietnam War, Thavi's father and thousands of other Laotians who had fought alongside American forces were abandoned and left to face imprisonment or execution. Hoping to find safety, Thavi's family made a harrowing escape to America, where they discovered a different kind of war. Weaving ancient prophecy with personal testimony and stunning imagery, The Betrayal is a story of survival and the resilient bonds of family. Find my capsule review here.
Week 6 (July 28) - Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go
*Variety describes it as a film "mixing ferocity with tenderness, delicacy with tenacity" — exactly like the unusual school it explores. In Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, one of Britain's leading documentary filmmakers takes a verité look at Oxford's Mulberry Bush School for emotionally disturbed children. Mulberry's heroically forbearing staff greets extreme, sometimes violent behavior with only consolation and gentle restraint. Kim Longinotto's unblinking camera captures an arduous process and a nearly unhinged environment, but it also records the daily dramas of troubled kids trying to survive and the moments of hope they achieve with Mulberry's clear-eyed staff.
Week 7 (August 4) - ( Encore presentation) Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music
*In this classic 1969 documentary, the Man in Black is captured at his peak, the first of many in a looming roller-coaster career. Fresh on the heels of his Folsom Prison album, Cash reveals the dark intensity and raw talent that made him a country music star and cultural icon. Director Robert Elfstrom got closer than any other filmmaker to Cash, who is seen performing with his new bride June Carter Cash, in a rare duet with Bob Dylan, and behind the scenes with friends, family and aspiring young musicians. Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music paints an unforgettable portrait that endures beyond the singer's 2003 death.
Week 8 (August 11) - (Encore presentation) Made in L.A.
*Follow the remarkable story of three Latina immigrants working in Los Angeles sweatshops as they embark on a three-year odyssey to win basic labor protections from a trendy clothing retailer. In intimate verité style, Made in L.A. reveals the impact of the struggle on each woman's life as they are gradually transformed by the experience. Compelling, humorous, deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity and the courage it takes to find your voice.
Week 9 (August 18) - P.O.V. Shorts Selection
Week 10 (August 25) - This Way Up
*This is a story about a wall — the separations it's meant to enforce, and the unintended ones it gives birth to. The security wall being constructed by Israel on the West Bank has divided Palestinian families and communities. It has also isolated the Catholic-run Our Lady of Sorrows nursing home outside of Jerusalem, leaving its feisty residents to face old age in the throes of one of the world's most bitter conflicts. With beautiful imagery, moments of laughter and use of a quietly eccentric older guide, This Way Up examines the social, economic and religious barriers that arise from physical ones.
Week 10 (September 1) - Ella Es el Matador
*For Spaniards — and for the world — nothing has expressed their country's traditionally rigid gender roles more powerfully than the image of the male matador. So sacred was the bullfighter's masculinity to Spanish identity that a 1908 law barred women from the sport. Ella Es el Matador reveals the surprising history of the women who made such a law necessary and offers fascinating profiles of two female matadors currently in the arena: the acclaimed Mari Paz Vega and neophyte Eva Florencia. These women are gender pioneers by necessity. But what emerges as their truest motivation is their sheer passion — for bullfighting and the pursuit of a dream.
Week 11 (September 8) - The English Surgeon
*What is it like to have power over life and death, and yet to struggle with your own humanity? This is the story of acclaimed British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, who has traveled to Ukraine for 15 years to treat patients who have been left to die; of his friend and medical colleague in Kyiv who carries on the fight despite official hostility and archaic surgical conditions; and of a young patient who hopes that Henry can save his life. Tense, heartbreaking and humorous, The English Surgeon is a remarkable depiction of one doctor's commitment to relieving suffering and of the emotional turmoil he undergoes in bringing hope to a desperate people.
Week 12 (September 15) - The Principal Story
*The Principal Story tells two stories, painting a dramatic portrait of the challenges facing America's public schools — and of the great difference a dedicated principal can make. Tresa Dunbar is a second-year principal at Chicago's Nash Elementary, where 98% of students come from low-income families; in Springfield, Illinois, Kerry Purcell has led Harvard Park Elementary, with similar demographics, for six years. Tod Lending (Omar & Pete, POV 2005) and David Mrazek followed both women over the course of a school year, discovering each one's unique styles yet similar passions. The Principal Story takes the viewer along for an emotional ride that reveals what effective educational leadership looks like in the 21st century.
Week 13 (September 22) - Bronx Princess
*Rocky Otoo is the Bronx-bred teenage daughter of Ghanaian parents, and she's no pushover. She is a sassy high-achiever bound for college. With freedom in sight, Rocky rebels against her mother's rules. When their relationship reaches a breaking point, Rocky flees to her father, a chief in Ghana. What follows is captured in Bronx Princess, a tumultuous coming-of-age story set in a homeland both familiar and strange. Her precocious — and very American — ideas of a successful, independent life conflict with her father's traditional African values. Reconciling her dual legacies becomes an unexpected chapter in this unforgettable young woman's education.
Fall Special (November 11) - The Way We Get By
*On call 24 hours a day for the past five years, a group of senior citizens has made history by greeting nearly 800,000 American troops at a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine. The Way We Get By is an intimate look at three of these greeters as they confront the universal losses that come with aging and rediscover their reason for living. Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet find the strength to overcome their personal battles and transform their lives through service. This inspirational and surprising story shatters the stereotypes of today's senior citizens as the greeters redefine the meaning of community.
Winter Special (December 30) - Patti Smith: Dream of Life
*Shot over 11 years by renowned fashion photographer Steven Sebring, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an intimate portrait of the legendary rocker, poet and artist. Following Smith's personal reflections over a decade, the film explores her many art forms and the friends and poets who inspired her — William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Michael Stipe. She emerges as a crucial, contemporary link between the Beats, punks and today's music. Shot in lush, dark tones, featuring rare performance clips and narrated by the artist herself, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an impressionistic journal of a multi-faceted artist that underscores her unique place in American culture.
So there are the selections for Season #21. They might not beat "The Real Housewives" or "Jon & Kate Plus 8" in the Nielsen ratings, but I can almost guarantee they'll make you feel better about humanity.