Public television channel World will kick off the second season of its independent documentary showcase “America ReFramed” with “Building Babel” on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. Directed by David Osit, “Building Babel” follows a year in the life of Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” “‘Building Babel provides a portrait of American identity 10 years on from September 11th,” explains Osit. “Who are Muslims, and who are Americans? Where does the line get drawn, and who gets to draw it?”
Hosted by Natasha Del Toro, “America ReFramed” airs Tuesdays and is made up of 60- and 90-minute films exploring transforming American culture and its broad diversity. Each new episode examines the film and its subject matter using a roundtable discussion moderated by Del Toro and featuring an array of guest commentators, including award-winning documentary filmmaker Shola Lynch. Here’s the lineup that’s been scheduled so far:
September 10th 8PM EST
Building Babel follows a year in the life of Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” a Muslim-led community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. With unlimited access to his home and office, the film paints a portrait of a Muslim-American businessman up against impossible odds. A passionate Brooklyn-born Muslim, Sharif El-Gamal, sees Park51 as a centerpiece of his own Muslim American identity. Born of a Polish-Catholic mother and Egyptian-Muslim father, El-Gamal only turned to Islam after 9/11 shook his faith to the core and sees Park51 as a way to give back to the Lower Manhattan community. Married to a Muslim convert and the father of two daughters, Sharif represents an Islam that remains foreign to most Americans, especially given the way the media and politicians have continued to use Park51 as a point of controversy. Despite a principle goal of helping to rebuild Lower Manhattan, opposition to the plan has been virulent and non-stop. Thousands of Americans have rallied against the prospect of a Muslim institution being constructed in such proximity to Ground Zero and Park51 has become an internationally discussed symbol of Islam’s relationship to the Western world. Building Babel follows Park51’s development through the daily experiences and struggles of the men and women trying to make it a reality. In revisiting the frenzy that surrounded the Park 51 project with special guest WNYC Reporter Arun Venugopal (http://www.wnyc.org/people/arun-venugopal/), this America ReFramed episode examines the role that mass media plays in the creation of polarizing issues.
September 17th 8PM EST
Legendary radio personality Bob Fass revolutionized late night FM radio by serving as a cultural hub for music, politics and audience participation for nearly 50 years. Long before today’s innovations in social media, Fass utilized the airwaves for mobilization encouraging luminaries and ordinary listeners to talk openly and take the program in surprising directions. Fass and his committed group of friends, peers, and listeners proved time and time again through massive, planned meetups and other similar events that radio was not a solitary experience but rather a platform to unite communities of like-minded, or even just open-minded, individuals without the dependence on large scale corporate backing. Radio Unnameable is a visual and aural collage that pulls from Bob Fass’s immense archive of audio from his program, film, photographs and video that has been sitting dormant until now. Revealing the underexposed world of independent radio, the film illustrates the intimate relationship Fass and, by extension, WBAI formed with their listeners that were strong enough to maintain the station’s role as one of the most successful listener-sponsored programs in the United States. Award-winning journalist Amy Goodman joins America ReFramed as special guest and extends the discussion of the value of, and threats to independent journalism and public media in this post-911 America.
The Medicine Game
September 24th 8pm EST
A film seven years in the making, The Medicine Game shares the remarkable journey of two brothers from the Onondaga Nation driven by a single goal; to beat the odds and play lacrosse for national powerhouse Syracuse University. The obstacles in their way are frequent and daunting. In their darkest hour, and with their dreams crumbling around them, the boys must look to their family and to their Native teachings for guidance and stability. It is their search for identity that transitions The Medicine Game from a playful coming of age story into an important study of modern Native American life. The film follows their story over the next six years as they struggle to rebuild their friendship, rescue a fading childhood dream and gain a more resolute understanding of their identity and culture, both as athletes and the next generation of the Onondaga people. Filmmaker and Creek/Seminole Indian Christina D. King lends her insight and opinions in this America ReFramed exploration of modern Native American experience.
The New Public
October 1st 8PM EST
The New Public follows the lives of the ambitious educators and lively students of Bed-Stuy’s new Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (BCAM) over the course of the founding year, with the filmmakers returning three years later to again document the senior year of that first graduating class. Beginning in August 2006, just days before BCAM will open its doors for the first time. Dr. James O’Brien, former D.J. and point guard turned first-time principal, and his faculty of eight, take to the streets in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn to recruit students. Their enthusiasm is infectious and enticing: strong support for the individual student, a rigorous academic curriculum and unconventional arts electives taught by local artists. While at first running smoothly, as months go by, conflicts arise, and by the end of freshman year, the school’s idealistic vision is addressing some issues, but aggravating others. Flash-forward to September 2010, the first day of senior year, the school is complete with 4 grades and 450 students, with a faculty that has grown from 8 to 50. Of the 104 students in their founding class, almost half have transferred or dropped out, leaving a senior class of 60 – and only 30 on track to graduate. BCAM has made major adjustments – most notably, more disciplinary structure and no arts electives for seniors. What happens in the four years is both compelling and frustrating, and it’s what makes The New Public a critical document of the complexities, frustrations and personal dramas that put public education at the center of national debate. What makes a kid or a school succeed are a series of complicated, interconnected dynamics, including, a re-evaluation of how we define “success.” Beth Fertig, WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education shares her expertise in discussing trends, controversial policies and challenging realities that surround public education in this informative episode of America ReFramed.
Code of the West
At a time when the world is rethinking its drug policies large and small, one state rises to the forefront. Once a pioneer in legalizing medical marijuana, the state of Montana may now become the first to repeal its medical marijuana law. Set against the sweeping vistas of the Rockies, the steamy lamplight of marijuana grow houses, and the bustling halls of the State Capitol, Code of the West follows the political process of marijuana policy reform – and the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana growers across the country. Chronicling the opinions and reactions of patients, growers (or “caregivers”), politicians, activists and community members on both sides of the issue, the story paints an image of what happens when federal and state governments clash with communities in the crossfire, and the individuals involved who ultimately pay the price.
Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Once known as the “California Riviera,” the Salton Sea is now called one of America’s worst ecological disasters: a fetid, stagnant, salty lake that coughs up dead fish and birds by the thousands in frequent die-offs that occur. However, amongst the ruins of this man-made mistake, a few remaining eccentrics (a roadside nudist, a religious folk artist, a Hungarian revolutionary and real estate speculators) struggle to keep a remodeled version of the original Salton Sea dream alive. Accidentally created by an engineering error in 1905, reworked in the ‘50s as a world-class vacation destination for the rich and famous, suddenly abandoned after a series of hurricanes, floods, and fish die-offs, and finally almost saved by Congressman Sonny Bono, the Salton Sea has a bittersweet past. The film shares these people’s stories and their difficulties in keeping their unique community alive, as the nearby cities of Los Angeles and San Diego attempt to take the agricultural water run-off that barely sustains the Salton Sea. While covering the historical, economic, political, and environmental issues that face the sea, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea offers an offbeat portrait of the peculiar and individualistic people who populate its shores. It is an epic western tale of fantastic real estate ventures and failed boomtowns, inner-city gangs fleeing to white small town America, and the subjective notion of success and failure amidst the ruins of the past. America ReFramed presents a rich and fascinatingly important conversation on water, with special guest Professor Upmanu Lall, Director of the Water Center at Columbia University’s The Earth Institute.