Our Tribute to Robert West


In addition to co-founding his own extraordinary organization, Working Films, Robert West worked for ITVS in the late 1990s as one of our field organizers in what was then our Community Connections Project (later rebranded and significantly enhanced as Community Cinema). During the years that Robert was a part of the ITVS enterprise, he brought a level of commitment and sophistication to the art of community engagement – or as he later dubbed it “reel engagement.” Those of us who had the great pleasure of working with Robert during those years saw first hand his deep commitment to supporting social issue documentaries and connecting people and organizations in a way that resulted in creating real change. He was an unstoppable force then, and he remains one today.

Robert has been a visionary and a leader in the intersections of media and public engagement. Last fall, he was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and terminal brain cancer. We at ITVS and Independent Lens, along with countless colleagues who have been beneficiaries of his work, were devastated by the news. Not surprisingly, in the months since then, Robert has earned our even deeper admiration for the dignity, humor, and grit he has shown. Someone wise once wrote, “A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a dream is drudgery. But dreams and tasks together are the hope of the world.” Robert epitomizes “the hope of the world” through his courage, his action, and his contributions – back in the day at ITVS, at Working Films, and with all the films and filmmakers he has helped. Continue reading

L.C. and Daisy Bates: The True Meaning of Unconditional Love

By Sharon La Cruise
Director, Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock

As a black woman who was a feminist before the term was invented, Daisy Bates refused to accept her assigned place in society. Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock tells the story of her life and public support of nine black students to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, which culminated in a constitutional crisis—pitting a president against a governor and a community against itself. Filmmaker Sharon La Cruise shares a personal side to Daisy not covered in the documentary, which is currently streaming on PBS Video.


Daisy and L.C. at State Press

With another Valentine’s Day behind us, I’ve found myself thinking about Daisy and L.C. Bates and their unusual love story. The complexity of their relationship always fascinated me, ever since my first visit to Arkansas in 2004.  I was there in search of a saint named Daisy Bates, whom I wanted to feature in my first documentary.

I had become enamored with Daisy and was on a mission to meet the people who knew her best. Much to my surprise, I found out there was no “Saint Daisy” and that, according to residents of Little Rock, her husband, L.C. Bates, was the true saint for putting up with her and the many unpardonable sins committed during the course of their marriage.

The couple had met when Daisy was fifteen and L.C. was twenty-seven years old. In photographs, L.C. never looked particularly young—he always gave the sense of being perpetually old. Daisy, however, was stunning and oozed sex like the 1950s movie stars Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. In private, Daisy admitted to close friends that she didn’t always love L.C. As I pieced together their life stories, I realized Daisy had suffered a horrible childhood trauma while growing up in Arkansas.  When they met, Daisy was an angry teenager trying to come to terms with the rape and murder of her mother and her father’s abandonment.

L.C. drove into the town selling life insurance and instantly became Daisy’s ticket out. But L.C. was married, which meant Daisy was stuck being his mistress for the next ten years. During that time Daisy made sure L.C. felt both her love and her wrath. When they fought it was not unusual for Daisy to throw plates at L.C.’s head. Continue reading

Letters to Barbara: ‘When I Rise’ Streaming on PBS Video

By Mat Hames
Director, When I Rise

When I Rise tells the story of a gifted black music student at the University of Texas who is thrust into a civil-rights storm that changes her life forever. Filmmaker Mat Hames shares a critical step in making the documentary, which is currently streaming on PBS Video.

Watch When I Rise – Center Point: A Musical Legacy on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

Very early on in the process of making When I Rise, I spent several weeks pouring through old University documents. At the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Austin, I came across a box of files related to Barbara Smith Conrad from the University President’s office. Inside was an old, thick file folder from 1956, simply labeled “Opera Incident.” Many of the letters inside were handwritten, a few were typed, and all of them contained an outpouring of emotion over Barbara’s removal from a UT opera by President Wilson at the urging of segregationists in the Texas Legislature.

Some letters were predictably supportive of Barbara’s ousting, with racist diatribes included; some included pamphlets distributed by White Citizen’s Councils filled with absurd “racial science” attempting to justify keeping segregation in place. “Integration is just another front for Communism,” one man scrawled.

Along with those letters supporting her removal, there were also equal letters of support for Barbara, and I began realizing that most of these letters were praising Barbara’s handling of the situation and written to Barbara herself.  President Wilson was copied also. One letter to Barbara began, “This is just a note to extend to you my deep personal thanks for the grand manner in which you have conducted yourself during the last several days which, I am sure, have been more than trying.” Continue reading

Brad Lichtenstein on How BizVizz Can Help You Shop Smarter

Brad Lichetenstein with video camera

Filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein, the man behind the new app BizVizz

BizVizz is a brand-new free iPhone app that makes corporate behavior transparent and available to all. Just snap a picture of a brand’s logo or bar code, and presto: A simple, graphic screen tells you the financial truth about 300 of America’s largest corporations. 

Independent Lens sat down with BizVizz co-founder Brad Lichtenstein, the filmmaker behind the award-winning PBS Independent Lens documentary, As Goes Janesville, to find out more about the app.

Congratulations on BizVizz going live! OK, so let’s set the scene for the app’s practical use. I’m shopping. I see my favorite cereal, and scan the logo on my smartphone using BizVizz. Up pops all kinds of information about the company: profits, donations, taxes paid, government subsidies, etc. What am I supposed to do with this information?

A lot of people these days are very conscious of how the products they use and consume are made. Fair trade, green, how a company treats its workforce — these are values people care about. We think BizVizz is another way for people to shop their values, especially when we are into our fifth year of economic recovery and asked to sacrifice.

image of iphone app BizVizz on two iphones

We think people will care when they learn that one company pays their fair share of taxes vs. another that pays none at all. BizVizz is such an easy way for people to find out this information, plus it’s fun to take pictures of logos — though maybe not so fun to learn that all of the brands on the typical grocery shelf lead to just a couple of companies.

Could an app that easily reveals this kind of information be seen by some as anti-business?
BizVizz shows that this exerting influence is not a Republican or Democratic thing. It’s a power thing. Ordinary citizens don’t have the political muscle to write tax laws. We think of BizVizz as a tool to give people like you and me some power to point out how the system is unfair, and influence on the law-making process is something that money buys in America, which ultimately corrupts our democracy. Continue reading

ITVS Names Claire Aguilar as Executive Content Advisor

ITVS is happy to announce that Vice President of Programming Claire Aguilar has been named Executive Content Advisor.

In this new consulting role, Claire will provide high-level, portfolio analysis and content feedback under the direction of Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content and head of ITVS’ Content Strategy Team. With a focus on recommending content for ITVS International and selected public television series, Claire will also continue to co-curate programming for Independent Lens.

Previously, Claire served as head of ITVS’s programming department. She joined the organization in 2000 from public television station KCET/Los Angeles, where she programmed the station’s schedule and managed programming acquisitions. Earlier in her career, Claire worked as a film programmer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, one of the leading exhibition venues for international documentary and classic Hollywood films. She has served as a programming consultant and panelist for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Rockefeller Foundation, the NEA, the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, and many other media and funding organizations. She has also led and participated in film juries for IDFA, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Silverdocs and Visions du Réel. Claire holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies and a Master of Arts in Film and Television Studies from UCLA. She serves on the board of Women Make Movies, STEPS International, and the EURODOC Steering Committee.

For more information, please click here.

Ford Foundation Event Celebrates Premieres of Half the Sky and Women and Girls Lead Global

Foundation, NGO, and media outlet leaders applaud investment in efforts to achieve gender equality.

NBC News correspondent Ann Curry with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Half the Sky author Nicholas D. Kristof, and Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas. Photo credit: Ford Foundation, Hallie Easley.

Amid the hubbub of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, some 250 distinguished guests crowded the towering atrium of the Ford Foundation on Monday evening, September 24th.  The occasion: to celebrate the impending Independent Lens broadcast of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and mark the official launch of Women and Girls Lead Global, a new three-year, 30-film partnership to put media to work for change in nine countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Ann Curry with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. Photo credit: Ford Foundation, Hallie Easley.

Moving into the subterranean auditorium, the assembled were welcomed by Ford Foundation Vice President Darren Walker and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison, both of whom spoke passionately about the combined power of storytelling, philanthropy, and change agents to save lives and create a more just and equitable world.  NBC News correspondent Ann Curry took the stage—wearing a dress boldly embossed with the word “LOVE”—to moderate a packed program of rapid-fire panels and film clips, starting with a conversation between U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas, and Nicholas D. Kristof, co-author with Sheryl WuDunn of the best-selling book Half the Sky. Continue reading

Women and Girls Lead Global Partnership Launched

ITVS will lead implementation of project to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), today announced the launch of Women and Girls Lead Global, a public-private partnership between USAID, Ford Foundation, and ITVS, working in collaboration with CARE.

The partnership is a three-year, nine-country, 30-film media project to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, creating a 10-episode documentary film series each year about women and girls rising above dire circumstances to seek better lives for themselves, their families, and communities.

Each year, television networks in nine countries will broadcast a 10-episode documentary film series to viewers. Local film, radio, and new media producers will create “call-to-action” content such as public service announcements, radio programming, and mobile content to localize the series and engage viewers. CARE and local NGOs will work with Women and Girls Lead Global to build media engagement campaigns to amplify and increase the impact of existing civil society efforts already underway in education, health, violence, economic empowerment, and leadership. Continue reading

Mondays Just Got Real: Now Independent Lens Kicks Off Your Week

by Lois Vossen
Senior Series Producer

Following this morning’s announcement that the 11th season of Independent Lens will be hosted by acclaimed actor and filmmaker Stanley Tucci, senior series producer Lois Vossen offers audiences a sneak peak into the upcoming season.

The 11th season of Independent Lens comprises 22 extraordinary documentaries—including new work by Academy and Emmy Award-winning filmmakers, five 2012 Sundance Film Festival award winners, and festival favorites from SXSW and Tribeca. Individually and together they challenge, enlighten, and entertain. From a personal, penetrating look into the failure of America’s war on drugs (The House I Live In), to a harrowing investigation into the perilous journey of illegal immigrants (The Undocumented), to a funny, thoroughly winning romp with working artist Wayne White (Beauty is Embarrassing), this abundance of thought-provoking films take us into the heart of 21st century America.

We’ve moved to Mondays, following Antiques Roadshow and Market Warriors, to help create a PBS “must-see” evening of entertainment filled with undiscovered stories behind the heirloom, the place, the person. Every story has a Monday, and Independent Lens leads the conversation by kicking off each week with a provocative new film you and your network will be talking about the rest of the week. Continue reading

Anna Deavere Smith on the PBS Arts Summer Festival

Actor Anna Deaveare Smith discusses her role as host of the PBS Arts Summer Festival with BTB. The interview was conducted last January at the TCA Press Tour in Los Angeles, where the actor was performing her one-woman-show Let Me Down Easy.

The PBS Arts Summer Festival expands the scope and diversity of the arts on television, with a multi-part weekly series and new original online content that takes viewers across the country and around the world. The Summer Festival kicks off tonight with the ITVS funded documentary Mariachi High, which captures a year in the life of top-ranked members of Zapata High School’s championship mariachi ensemble on the Rio Grande in South Texas.

To learn more about the PBS Arts Summer Festival and see the full broadcast schedule, please click here.

Town of Runners: An Update From the Filmmaker

by Jerry Rothwell
Director of Town of Runners

Town of Runners is a documentary about Ethiopian runners who hope to change their lives by becoming professional athletes. The film is set in Bekoji, Ethiopia, a small remote town in the Southern Highlands known for producing some of the world’s greatest runners, largely due to the dedication of Coach Sentayehu Eshetu. The ITVS-funded documentary by Jerry Rothwell premieres Sunday, June 17 on Global Voices on the WORLD Channel. 

Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell in Bekoji

We finished shooting Town of Runners during Spring 2011 and in November of that year, I took a rough cut of the film back to Ethiopia to view it with Coach Sentayehu, Hawii, Alemi, Biruk, and their families. For Alemi’s mother, it was the first time she’d seen her daughter run, and the film gave Hawii’s family a sense of the struggles she’d had over the past few years in the running clubs.

Since the film ended, Hawii’s second club, Assela, had managed to find its way out of its financial difficulties. Hawii rejoined it, regained her fitness, and has been competing and doing well in races across the Oromia region.

Alemi, meanwhile, decided she wanted to leave her club in Holeta and return home to Bekoji once her two-year contract was up.  She came home to live with her parents and began training once again with Coach Sentayehu. It was a chance for her to pick up her education after a two-year break.

Bethlehem (Betty) and Freya, the two girls who went with Hawii to the club in Woliso, finally ran away and returned to Bekoji.  By the time they left, they said 50 of the club’s 52 athletes had done the same due to the lack of facilities and training. Meanwhile, Bekoji had managed to establish its own club, with the help of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Betty won a place there. Freya has given up athletics and has returned to school in Bekoji. Continue reading