PBS’ Latest P.O.V. Series Expands, Reflects Global Concerns
by Claiborne Smith
P.O.V., PBS’ documentary series, is the longest-running showcase for documentaries on television in the United States, but the lineup for its 16th season, which opened June 17 and continues through September 2, indicates that it is also the nation’s most ambitious doc series. P.O.V. has made a name for itself by seeking out documentaries that treat global issues with intimate, human detail, but the geographic and emotional reach of this season’s lineup goes a step beyond what P.O.V. producers featured in previous seasons.
Annie Goldson and Peter Wells’ “Georgie Girl,” for example, profiles Georgina Beyer, a one-time prostitute elected to New Zealand’s Parliament in 1999 by a largely white, rural constituency; Beyer is the world’s first transsexual elected to a national office. Jocelyn Glatzer’s “The Flute Player,” which airs July 22, is about Arn Chorn-Pond, a young boy when the Khmer Rouge overtook Cambodia and killed most of his family and 90% of the country’s musicians but kept Chorn-Pond (who is now a U.S. citizen) alive to play propaganda songs for his captors. In the course of the film, Chorn-Pond returns to Cambodia to seek out fellow “master musicians” and confront his native country’s brutal past.
When Cara Mertes became executive director of P.O.V. in 2000, she made it a point to program one international documentary per season, but, as she told indieWIRE, because “the demographic composition of the U.S. is changing dramatically,” more than half of the current season’s programs focus on either border or immigration issues. “We always respond to what filmmakers are talking about,” Mertes said, and many of them seem to be talking about “what it means to come to America in the last 5, 10 years. It’s not that we’re programming global issues per se but that that’s what’s arising from the filmmaking community.”
But P.O.V hasn’t strayed from its American roots. On August 19 it will air Bill Lichtenstein and June People’s “West 47th Street,” about four people struggling to recover from serious mental illness at Fountain House, a rehabilitation center in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras’ “Flag Wars,” about entrenched gentrification issues in Columbus, Ohio, opened the season.
Filmed over four years, “Flag Wars” is one of five documentaries airing this season that P.O.V. producers selected for its new Diverse Voices Project. From a total of over 180 submissions, P.O.V. provided production and completion support for “Flag Wars”; “American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai’i,” which documents the efforts of Native Hawaiians now living on the mainland to revive their indigenous culture; “90 Miles,” Juan Carlos Zaldivar’s personal memoir of arriving in the U.S. from Cuba as a teenage communist during the 1980 Mariel boatlift; “Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam,” based on the 1991 American Book Award winner of the same name; and Alex Rivera’s “The Sixth Section,” which follows a group of Mexican immigrants living in upstate New York who form a “union” to vastly improve life in their tiny desert hometown with infusions of cash.
[ To view the complete lineup for P.O.V.’s 16th season, visit: http://www.pbs.org/pov/ ]