Series executive producer Lois Vossen spoke with IndieWire about the ongoing relevance of these stories, whether they’re primarily focused on illuminating a part of the past or putting current events in a greater historical context.
“One of the things that I’m a firm believer in is that we can’t understand where we are right now without looking back at the past and how we got here,” Vossen said. “History is such an important part of who we are today. I personally am fascinated by filmmakers who can take something from history and show us why it’s incredibly relevant today.”
This season’s slate begins with “Made in Boise,” a film that not only addresses a growing trend of surrogate births in the Idaho city, but sets up many of the overall season’s greater themes of family, universal rights, and learning from history.
“I think that the filmmakers did a brilliant job of taking an issue that is so complex and in some cases very misunderstood and making it much more personal and intimate. I think that particular film will raise a lot of conversations among people on the left and the right about the role of women and surrogacy, being a gestational carrier and the free choice of the women who choose to do that for another family,” Vossen said.
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Bookending the remainder of the Independent Lens 2019 offerings is “Attla,” a multi-generational story about a proud dogsledding tradition passed down through one Alaskan family tree.
“It’s a film about family and cultural renewal and one generation making sure they do their part to help the next generation. It certainly is a film that offers hope, what communities can do when they come together and the elders in that community are honored. In addition to that, it’s also just a great sports story. It’s not something that’s widely covered in the lower 48,” Vossen said.
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In the new year, this Independent Lens season will also include “Always in Season,” which addresses both the 2014 death of North Carolina teenager Lennon Lacy and the history of lynching. “Bedlam,” a personal account of the state of the American mental health care system, and “Rewind,” a first-person account from within a story of cyclical sexual child abuse, will also air in the spring.
“The quality of the work and the urgency of the stories has never been stronger,” Vossen said. “It’s very exciting to support these filmmakers whenever possible, to work with them throughout their production and to help them make even stronger documentaries and bring that work to PBS.”
The first batch of this seasons offering, including PBS airdates, is listed below:
“Made in Boise” by Beth Aala
(Monday, October 28)
Go inside the lives of four paid surrogates and the intended parents whose children they carry. As the number of surrogate births surge across the country, a surprising epicenter of the movement is Boise, Idaho, where hundreds of women are choosing to be surrogates. For gay couples, single men, and those who struggle with infertility, this booming industry is often the last resort to biological parenthood. The film follows the four women as they navigate the rigors of pregnancy and the mixed feelings of their own families, who struggle to understand their choice to risk the physical and emotional complications of carrying babies for someone else.
“Decade of Fire” by Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, Gretchen Hildebran and Julia Steele Allen
(Monday, November 4)
In the 1970s, the Bronx was on fire and close to a quarter-million people were displaced when their close-knit, multiethnic neighborhood burned. While the abandonment of landlords and dwindling support from government officials led to the devastation, Black and Puerto Rican residents were blamed. Now, Bronx-born Vivian Vázquez Irizarry explores the truth about the borough’s untold history and reveals how her community chose to resist, remain and rebuild.
“The Interpreters” by Andrés Caballero and Sofian Khan
(Monday, November 11)
More than 50,000 local interpreters helped protect U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, enabling soldiers to communicate with the local population. But those who took the job were often considered traitors. In the aftermath of war, some have been able to leave their home countries and reach safety, while others still languish in hiding and fear for their lives.
“Conscience Point” by Treva Wurmfeld
(Monday, November 18)
In Long Island’s affluent Hamptons sits the exclusive Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which in the summer of 2018 hosted one of the sport’s highest-profile events: the U.S. Open. As thousands descend, Rebecca Hill-Genia, a Shinnecock activist, wants the throngs of visitors to understand one thing: the world-renowned golf course’s celebrated slopes and sand traps were literally carved out of a sacred Shinnecock burial ground.
“Attla” by Catharine Axley
(Monday, December 16)
The gripping but little-known story of legendary Alaska Native dogsled champion George Attla, who, with one good leg and one outlandish dream, trains his young grandnephew to compete in the world’s largest sprint dogsled race.
Vossen also explained that this lineup will also come along with another year of Indie Lens Pop Up, a nationwide program that offers screenings and discussions around films in the lineup. Among this year’s participating titles are “Decade of Fire,” “Always in Season,” and “Eating Up Easter.”
“We feature one film every month in community screenings across the country prior to broadcast. The purpose is to have a panel discussion with local experts after every screening, so that local people can talk about that issue. Whether we’re talking about race or surrogacy or the impact of gentrification, the idea is that in communities all across the country, people will use these films to spark conversations about how those issues are impacting their neighborhoods and their community,” Vossen said.