Independent Lens Episodes

1999, TV Show

Independent Lens Season 4 episodes

Daddy & Papa Season 4, Episode 14

A documentary explores gay adoption from the point of view of Bay Area filmmaker Johnny Symons, who adopted a baby named Zachary with his partner, William Rogers. Symons and Rogers are seen meeting Zachary (at the foster home where he lived with a friendly fundamentalist Christian grandmother named Dora Dean Bradley), getting to know him and settling into their lives with “our new reality,” as Symons puts it. Symons also profiles three other gay families, exploring issues of single parenting, the effect of gay “divorce” and legal challenges to gay adoption. But overall the tone is upbeat. Says social worker Sharon Anderson: “I see gay families adopting as an untapped resource.” read more

Hansel Mieth: Vagabond Photographer Season 4, Episode 13

“Hansel Mieth: Vagabond Photographer,” a portrait of the socially committed photojournalist (1909-98) who was the second woman to work as a Life magazine staff photographer (Margaret Bourke-White was the first). Mieth, who's interviewed throughout the film, was a German immigrant who got her start taking photos of California migrant farmworkers and striking longshoremen in the early 1930s. Later, Life assignments frequently stifled her, and the magazine wouldn't print the pictures she took in the Japanese World War II internment camp Heart Mountain. Then came the McCarthy-era blacklist. However, says Mieth archivist, Georgia Brown, her photos “show me my country in a way nobody else's did.” read more

Razing Appalachia Season 4, Episode 12

“Razing Appalachia,” a disturbing chronicle of the controversy over “mountaintop-removal mining” in the southern West Virginia town of Blair. Filmmaker Sasha Waters filmed in 1998, when Arch Coal Inc. of St. Louis proposed this type of mining for its Dal-Tex facility near Blair. A go-ahead would mean that affected residents would have to leave their homes in bucolic Pigeonroost Hollow; denial would mean layoffs for some 400 miners. No one Waters interviews on either side is prepared to give an inch. Blair, she says sadly, is “a town at war with itself over coal.” read more

Guns and Mothers Season 4, Episode 11

“Guns and Mothers” follows two mothers--- activists on the two sides of the gun-control debate---as they make their cases in the year following the 2000 Million Mom March in Washington, D.C. That was where Frances Davis of Brooklyn could be found. Davis lost her three sons to gun violence. Across the Mall at a counter rally that Mother's Day was Maria Heil of rural New Freedom, Pa., a spokeswoman for the NRA-affiliated Second Amendment Sisters. The two are not seen together, but if they had been, it's unlikely that they would have found common ground. Says New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield, who's also interviewed throuhout the hour: “There appears to be no middle ground.” read more

Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai Season 4, Episode 10

“Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai” profiles Rell Sunn (1950-98), a pioneer in women's surfing who lived for 14 years with breast cancer. It didn't stop her from surfing, or doing the many other good things she did (organizing children's surfing competitions and serving as a breast-cancer advocate are two) in Makana, the rundown Oahu beach town she loved with a passion. The hour includes several interviews with Sunn (one taped just months before she died), as well as with friends and her daughter, Jan-Sunn Carreira, who says: “It's so graceful seeing mom on a wave. That's what it is, it's grace.” read more

Sisters in Resistance Season 4, Episode 9

Four French “Sisters in Resistance” recall the horrors of life under the Nazis. They also recall why and how they fought it. Their activities (including plotting to free prisoners) landed them in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where they formed a bond that would last six decades. Making their story even more remarkable, says narrator Kate Mulgrew, was that “neither Jews nor communists, they were in no danger of arrest---until they began to resist.” Adds Genevieve de Gaulle Anthonioz, one of the four (and a niece of Gen. Charles de Gaulle): “There are times when you have to say, `this is unacceptable'.” read more

Bird by Bird with Annie: A Portrait of Anne Lamott Season 4, Episode 8

“Bird by Bird with Annie: A Portrait of Anne Lamott,” filmmaker Freida Lee Mock's profile of the humorist-author of such books as “Bird by Bird” and “Crooked Little Heart.” Mock follows Lamott as she speaks to various groups, and Lamott fills in details of her life in between. Cheifly among them: her her son Sam; her Christian activism (and her devotion to liberal causes); and her battle with alcohol and drugs. Now she's sober and satisfied. “Being a writer is all I have ever wanted to be,” she says. “There really isn't anything that I want. Maybe a few more CDs.” Mock won an Academy Award for her 1995 documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.” read more

Strange Fruit Season 4, Episode 7

“Strange Fruit” explores the controversial song about lynching (“Black body swinging in the Southern breeze”) that was made famous by Billie Holiday's 1939 recording. Included: a 1958 Holiday performance of the song (plus snippets sung by Pete Seeger, Josh White and Cassandra Wilson), and a profile of its composer, Abel Meeropol, who later adopted convicted spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg's two sons. Says one of them: “Until the last racist is dead, 'Strange Fruit' will be relevant.” read more

Chiefs Season 4, Episode 6

“Chiefs” follows Wyoming Native-American high-school basketball players as they battle on the court---and to get off the “rez.” Or to stay there on their own terms. The Wind River Reservation's “Chiefs” have a history of excellence (five state titles in 18 years), and they make it to the state finals in both 2000 and 2001. But basketball's the easy part. “We all talk about leaving and going somewhere,” says player Beaver C'Bearing. “But nothing ever happens.” He might be wrong, but as he comes to realize, that will take hard work. read more

Los Trabajadores/The Workers Season 4, Episode 5

“Los Trabajadores/The Workers” profiles two migrant workers in Austin during 1999 and 2000, as the city's day-laborers market is moved from one location to another. There's community opposition in both places, but that doesn't stop either Ramon Castillo, a 44-year-old Mexican family man, or Juan Ignacio Gutierrez, a single 24-year-old from Nicaragua. “We don't come to make problems for anyone," sighs Castillo. "We come to work and nothing more.” read more

Downside Up Season 4, Episode 4

“Downside Up,” filmmaker Nancy Kelly's look at the effects of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on North Adams, Mass., her economically beleaguered home town. Many residents, including a number of Kelly's relatives (seen throughout the hour) were skeptical when MassMoca opened in 1999. Even Kelly concedes that “this art scares me.” But MassMoca seems to have grown on the Kellys, and North Adams has been growing as well, even if it's not yet a boomtown. As one chef, a recent arrival from New York City puts it: “You raise the level of expectations and you create a scene.” read more

On This Island Season 4, Episode 3

Maine meets Broadway in “On This Island,” filmmaker Stephanie Slewka's saga of a homegrown musical that helped ease “the civil war of North Haven.” The show: “Islands: The Musical,” which was staged by retired Broadway producer John Wulp on the tiny Penobscot Bay island North Haven with a cast entirely made up of islanders. Ironically, Wulp caused the trouble in the first place when he started a theater program at the island's school that foes claimed distracted from the three “r”s. His goal with “Islands”: “Restore a sense of community.” Sigourney Weaver narrates. read more

Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story Season 4, Episode 2

“Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story,” a wry exploration of the industry in which record producers set amateurs' poems to music and record them (for a fee, of course). Included are interviews with producers, performers, observers and people who have submitted their poems for musical adaptation. And there's a sampling of the results (examples include “Non-Violent Tae-kwon-do Trooper” and “I Am a Ginseng Digger”). Most songs are “in one ear and out the other,” says musician Ellery Eskelin (the son of a song-poem “auteur”). But, he adds, “There's the 10 or 20 percent that are from another planet.” read more

Maggie Growls Season 4, Episode 1

“Maggie Growls” is a warm profile of feisty Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn (1905-95), who described herself (on her deathbed) as “an advocate of justice and peace.” Those words were perhaps her quietest. Kuhn was forced to retire from her social-service post with the Presbyterian Church in 1970, but, says Ralph Nader, “she felt she was just getting started,” and the Panthers followed. Kuhn's activism is recalled here in clips, interviews and animation. As she said of the Panthers (quoted by her biographer, Christina Long): “We are action oriented. We are radical.” Angela Bassett introduces the film. read more

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Premiered: August 09, 1999, on PBS
Rating: TV-PG
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Premise: Independent filmmakers are spotlighted in this anthology, which concentrates on documentaries, but occasionally features artist profiles and offbeat fictional films.

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