Independent Lens Episodes

1999, TV Show

Independent Lens Season 6 episodes

Brother to Brother Season 6, Episode 27

A young, gay black painter named Perry (Anthony Mackie) connects with his Harlem Renaissance roots (and also finds a soul mate) in “Brother to Brother,” director Rodney Evans' dramatic film. Perry's connection: gay writer-artist Bruce Nugent (Roger Robinson), who founded Fire!! magazine in 1926 with Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman, all of whom are portrayed in flashbacks. Meanwhile, Perry must fight many of the same battles they did. Young Bruce: Duane Boutte. read more

Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story Season 6, Episode 26

“Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story” chronicles the taking of land on which Dodger Stadium sits---and the uprooting of people who lived there. It's told in part with still photos taken in 1949. The next year, the city condemned the area for public housing. But money and politics being what they are, it was never built, and when the Dodgers arrived in 1958, the land was theirs for the taking. “It was like dancing on a grave,” says one former resident who attended a game. read more

Double Dare; Piki and Poko: Taking the Dare! Season 6, Episode 25

“Double Dare” profiles the two stuntwomen who doubled for Wonder Woman and Xena. Jeannie Epper, who stood in for Lynda Carter in the '70s, is a respected veteran in her 60s. New Zealander Zoe Bell got her “Xena” break while still a teenager. Now Bell's in Hollywood (and lands an audition for “Kill Bill”) and Epper is mentoring her. But that doesn't mean she's giving up on stuntwork herself. Following the film: the animated short “Piki and Poko: Taking the Dare.” read more

Red Hook Justice Season 6, Episode 24

“Red Hook Justice” tracks cases at an innovative community court in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood where punishment takes a back seat to rehabilitation. “We make an effort to help those who want to be helped,” says judge Alex Calabrese to one young defendant. Proceedings are considerably less adversarial than in most courts. Indeed, public defender Brett Taylor says that other lawyers chide him. “You're not a lawyer,” they tell him. “You're a social worker.” read more

Vietnam: The Next Generation Season 6, Episode 23

“Vietnam: The Next Generation” profiles eight young achievers who “represent the changing face of Vietnam,” says narrator David Lamb. The biggest change is the introduction of capitalism into this socialist society, and one subject, the Harvard-educated son of a former South Vietnamese official, runs a business in Hanoi. But another works on a government project to turn the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a highway. Lamb, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, is married to filmmaker Sandy Northrop. read more

Imelda Season 6, Episode 22

“Imelda,” a snarky profile of the widow of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos told mostly by Marcos herself. The personality that emerges is charming but awesomely egotistical, perhaps self-deluded. And certainly well shod. Snide clips (George Hamilton crooning, “I can't give you anything but love, Imelda,” for example) alternate with a sober review of the Marcos regime, which was toppled in 1986. And “when they went through my closets they found shoes,” Imelda says, “not skeletons.” read more

The Last Letter; Zyklon Portrait; The Walnut Tree Season 6, Episode 21

An elderly doctor (Catherine Samie) in a Ukrainian town overrun by the Nazis writes “The Last Letter” to her son in documentarian Frederick Wiseman's dramatization of an excerpt from novelist Vasily Grossman's memoir (produced in French with English subtitles). The old woman knows that the Nazis will soon kill her, and this is her last testament. Following the film: the Holocast-related shorts “Zyklon Portrait” and “The Walnut Tree,” by Canadian filmmaker Elida Schogt. read more

End of the Century: The Ramones; Joe Strummer Rocks Again Season 6, Episode 20

A profile of seminal punk band the Ramones includes concert footage, interviews with group members and clips of bands that influenced them or were influenced by them. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone died shortly after filming, while guitarist Johnny Ramone died soon after the film's release. Both are interviewed. Susan Sarandon introduces the film. Also: a preview of a movie about Joe Strummer, who is shown performing. read more

Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photographs of Milt Hinton Season 6, Episode 19

“Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photographs of Milt Hinton” is both a tribute to the bass legend and a snapshot history of jazz. Hinton (1910-2000) took pictures throughout his 60-year career, but this hour focuses on his life on the road with Cab Calloway's band in the '30s and '40s, and his New York studio sessions in the '50s and '60s. Hinton was a “consummate musician,” says poet Amiri Baraka. And when he was playing, says bassist Eddie Gomez, “You [got] kind of a history lesson of jazz.” read more

A Lion's Trail Season 6, Episode 18

“The Lion's Trail” charts the history of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which was adapted from a song written in the 1930s by a South African named Solomon Linda, who never received any royalties (he died in 1962), and whose daughters are seen living precariously in Soweto. No copyright laws were broken, but the South Africans, says journalist Rian Malan, “couldn't play the [legal] games the Americans were playing.” The hour includes performances by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Pete Seeger. read more

Let the Church Say Amen Season 6, Episode 17

“Let the Church Say Amen” follows members of World Mission for Christ in Washington, D.C.'s tough Shaw neighborhood for a year. It's a quietly powerful film (except when Pastor Bobby Perkins preaches---then it's not quiet at all). For all, their faith is their rock, and for Darlene Duncan, a mother of eight on welfare, “God stepped in,” and she's accepted into a nursing-assistant program. read more

Sunset Story Season 6, Episode 16

“Sunset Story” profiles two residents of L.A.'s Sunset Hall, a “retirement home for free-thinking elders.” Irja Lloyd, 81, remains an activist, and Lucille Alpert, 95, is an inveterate news junkie, and the two are fast friends. The hour wryly juxtaposes trips to demonstrations with trips to the doctor, and the two also talk about sex. But in the end it's a story of sunsets. “I've lived a long life,” Alpert says matter-of-factly after receiving a cancer diagnosis, “and it's time to go.” read more

Sisters of '77 Season 6, Episode 15

“Sisters of '77” recalls the National Women's Conference held in Houston in November 1977, a forum that brought 20,000 women together to raise their consciousness and discuss a range of issues. But this was no feminist group hug: Delegates ranged from lesbian activists to abortion opponents, and white women got an earful from minorities. Still, a sense of purpose united everyone. As presiding officer Bella Abzug put it, “We have to make changes.” read more

Thunder in Guyana/Unites States of Poetry Season 6, Episode 14

“Thunder in Guyana” profiles Janet Rosenberg Jagan, the Chicago native who served as president of the small South American nation from 1997 to 1999. Jagan, who succeeded her husband, Guyanese progressive icon Cheddi Jagan upon his death, followed him to his homeland in 1943, and their story----told by her mother's cousin, filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman---is one of idealism and struggle. “Maybe it's boastful,” Jagan says sweetly, “but I would define myself as a freedom fighter.” read more

On a Roll: Family, Disability and the American Dream Season 6, Episode 13

“On a Roll: Family, Disability and the American Dream” profiles Greg Smith, a relentless campaigner for the rights of the disabled. It's a lively hour: Smith, who has muscular dystrophy, calls himself “a wheelchair dude with attitude,” and while he talks matter of factly about his sex life and failed marriage, he rails against obstacles that those who aren't disabled might never consider. read more

February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four Season 6, Episode 12

“February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four” recalls the 1960 sit-in by four North Carolina A&T freshmen at a Woolworth's lunch counter. It turned out to be the civil-rights movement's “catalyst,” says narrator Lesley Blair. Their story is told in re-creations and news clips, and in the comments of the four themselves (one, David Richamond, who died in 1990, is seen in old clips). Says Franklin McCain: “Manhood and dignity. That's what we were trying to get.” read more

Power Trip Season 6, Episode 11

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, electricity has been an iffy thing in Georgia, and “Power Trip” explains why as it follows the quixotic efforts of a U.S. company to keep the lights on. This story of frustration and outrage caused by the tangled wires is almost funny, except that there's nothing funny about getting stuck in an elevator. Or getting killed rigging wires illegally. The basic problem: Georgians aren't used to capitalism. Now they must pay for electricity. read more

A Touch of Greatness Season 6, Episode 10

“A Touch of Greatness” profiles innovative educator Albert Cullum (1920-2003), largely through films of Cullum and his students made during the “10 golden years” (1956-66) he taught elementary school in Rye, N.Y. Robert Downey Sr. made the films, which show students performing Shakespeare, Shaw and Sophocles, along with classroom footage. Also: recollections from Cullum and students at a 1999 reunion. Says one, Steve Lawson: “How many 10-year-olds were dying to go to school everyday?” read more

A Hard Straight Season 6, Episode 9

“A Hard Straight” follows three California parolees as they try to put their lives back together. That's no mean feat. “It's easy to get in and hard to get out,” sighs Aaron “Shep” Shepard, who's continually running afoul of his parole officers in San Francisco's Tenderloin. For Regina Allen, the problem is substance abuse. And ex-gang member Richard “Smiley” Martinez has a girlfriend and young son, and can make a decent living as a tattoo artist. But gang ties are hard to break. read more

Short, Not Sweet Season 6, Episode 8

“Short, Not Sweet,” a collection of five sardonic short films. Included: Two Young men woo young women in exactly the same way in “The Fine Line Between Cute and Creepy”; “La Puppe” follows a reckless pooch (actually a toy dog) using only still photos; a second-grade class suffers a run of bad luck in “The School”; the animated “A Monster's Calling” explores personal anxieties; and “Why the Anderson Children Didn't Come to Dinner” follows a macabre family through three meals. read more

Fine; Doki-Doki Season 6, Episode 7

Two dramatic shorts: A married, suburban factory worker comes to terms with his life in “Fine”; and a Tokyo commuter makes connections with her fellow straphangers in “Doki-Doki.” Both were made by student filmmakers: “Fine” earned Michael Downing a 2003 Student Film Academy Award from the American Film Institute, while “Doki-Doki,” Chris Eska's masters-thesis film, won a UCLA Spotlight Award. read more

Girl Wrestler Season 6, Episode 6

“Girl Wrestler” follows a young Texan as she wrestles in tournaments (against boys, mostly) and ruminates on her life, her sport and the gender issues raised by her participation in it. Tara Neal can outwrestle most girls. Trouble is, there aren't many for her to wrestle, so she must compete against boys. She can do this until she's 14, and as this profile begins, she's 12. Tara's annoyed by sexism, but she's troubled mostly because the clock is winding down, and she just loves to wrestle. read more

The Day My God Died Season 6, Episode 5

“The Day My God Died,” a wrenching examination of child sex slavery, focuses on Bombay's red-light district, where the prostitutes' average age is 14, says narrator Tim Robbins. The hour features five young women who ecaped from “the cages” with harrowing stories to tell. One says she was abducted at age 7, and was immediately raped and beaten. Another says she was told “ `Just do it,' or I would be beaten to death.” The good news is that they lived to tell these stories, and they've become activists. But there's plenty to do beyond operating what Robbins calls “an underground railroad out of slavery”: Some 80 percent of the abductees are HIV-positive. read more

Los Angeles Now Season 6, Episode 4

“Los Angeles Now” focuses on the growth of L.A.'s ethnic diversity (Hispanics are becoming the majority of its population), how it's affecting the city's culture and where it might lead. Filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez's edgy and atmospheric piece of urban pulse-taking includes comments from a number of local writers, activists, and business and religious leaders. And it includes this assessment from one of the members of the Korean-American rap group Uptown 3000: “You blend into everything.” read more

Afghanistan Unveiled Season 6, Episode 3

“Afghanistan Unveiled” follows young female Afghan videojournalists as they travel around their shattered land, seeking out other women to tell of life and death under the Taliban. Not surprisingly, much of what they hear is grim. “They came like the plague,” a gaunt woman who lives in a cave in Bamyan says of the Taliban, who killed her husband and sons. Another woman describes how Taliban fighters mutilated her son's dead body. And another has a forced-marriage horror story. But their is an upside. The father of one filmmaker, a mullah, refused at first to give his daughter permission to participate, then relented. He wants, he says, “to [open] the way to freedom and democracy in Afghanistan.” read more

Polka Time Season 6, Episode 2

A one and a two, it's “Polka Time” at the mammoth ballroom in Gibbon, Minn., where some lively aficionados describe their love of this “happy music.” Most of them are getting on in years. (One young musician notes, “The women are all 80.” Well, not quite.) And the ballroom's future is in doubt, co-owner Steve Seeboth concedes. But 74-year-old Wally Pikal, whose specialty is playing two trumpets at once, insists he “ain't quittin'.” And dancer John Wirtz, a retired Coast Guard officer, says, “I just love the exhilaration.” read more

The Political Dr. Seuss Season 6, Episode 1

Susan Sarandon takes over as host as the series opens its sixth season with “The Political Dr. Seuss,” an affectionate profile of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-91) that focuses on the political and social messages in his children's books (Yertle the Turtle, for instance, was a stand-in for Hitler). But, says producer-narrator Ron LaMothe, “it was done with such finesse that few realized he was being political at all.” Not always. Such books as “The Lorax” (about the environment) and “The Butter Battle Book” (on an arms race) are strident, and Geisel drew unsubtle political cartoons for the left-leaning New York City newspaper P.M. during World War II. Subtle or not, though, Geisel “believed in goodness and he believed in honesty,” says biographer Judith Morgan. “And he believed in mischief.” 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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