This year, PBS scored a high profile opener for its “Independent Lens” series — its 13th season will premiere with a showing of 2011 documentary “Bully,” which tells the story of a year in the lives of bullied American schoolchildren. The film was directed by award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch.
The television premiere of “Bully” could bring hope for those who protested the MPAA giving the film an R rating, and demanded it be changed to PG-13 — the concern being that an R-rating would keep the documentary from young people, those who would most benefit from seeing it.
While “Bully” eventually received a PG-13 cut, it was never released wide — perhaps a public television premiere will be the long-awaited boost in the doc’s visibility.
Starting with “Bully,” PBS will air an independent documentary every Monday through November 17. Below is a trailer for the upcoming season, and a schedule of the features — synopses courtesy of “Independent Lens.”
Monday, October 13
“Bully,” by Lee Hirsch, opens a window into the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem transcending geographic, racial, ethnic, and economic borders. The film documents the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés, and captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities, and in society as a whole.
Monday, October 20
“Twin Sisters,” by Mona Friis Bertheussen, is the amazing true story of twin Chinese infants found in a cardboard box and taken to an orphanage in 2003. Thousands of miles away, two hopeful families — one in Norway and one in Sacramento — get word that their search for a child is over. Each couple arrives in China to claim their baby, but by a twist of fate, they also meet each other — and wonder if their new daughters might be connected. The girls grow up knowing they have a twin sister living on the other side of the world, and although language is a barrier, the bond between them grows deeper. A powerful and moving story of love and the game of fate.
Monday, October 27
“Brakeless,” by Kyoko Miyake, examines how cultural attitudes in Japan may have contributed to a devastating railway accident. On April 25, 2005, a commuter train smashed into an apartment building in Osaka and killed 107 people. Official reports later concluded that the cause of the accident was the driver, who was frantically speeding because he was 80 seconds behind schedule. A cautionary tale for a society that equates speed with progress, the film asks what happens when punctuality, protocol, and efficiency are taken to extreme.
Monday, November 3
“Powerless,” by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, illuminates the tangled complexity of the electricity situation in Kanpur, India, a once-booming industrial center that has been turned into an urban nightmare by a shortage of reliable power. A nimble young electrician provides Robin Hood-style services to the poor, but the first female chief of the utility company is on a mission to dismantle the illegal connections for good.
Monday, November 17
“Happiness,” by Thomas Balmès, captures the moment when ancient life bows to the seduction of technology, illuminating how complicated and bittersweet the arrival of progress can be. Pyanki, a nine-year-old monk, has never left his remote Bhutanese village perched high in the Himalayas. But now the world will come to him: his village will at long last be connected to electricity, and the first television will flicker on before his eyes.