ITVS Celebrates Native American Heritage Month

ITVS and PBS offer viewers the opportunity to explore the rich and vibrant history and cultural contributions of Native Americans throughout the year, but this November offers a special slate of new and encore programs in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

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This November, Independent Lens is shining a spotlight on Native American culture with two new films. Premiering Monday, November 18th, Indian Relay documents an unheralded aspect of modern-day Native American life and what it takes to win one of the more exciting forms of horse racing. From the bitter cold of winter to the heat of summer, this lively documentary follows teams from three different tribes as they compete across a grueling season. Then on November 25th, Young Lakota takes viewers to South Dakota, where abortion politics bring political turmoil to the doorstep on the Pine Ridge Reservation and three young idealists, along with the tribe’s first female president, must decide how far they will go to change politics.

Throughout the month, Community Cinema and Women and Girls Lead continues to celebrate Native American Heritage Month by showcasing additional films featuring outstanding women leaders. These documentaries are available on PBS Video and additional online screenings will be offered using OVEE – the social screening platform for watching PBS content and engaging in meaningful discussions around films. Continue reading

Submit Your Film to Independent Lens!

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Independent Lens is currently seeking submissions of films in advanced rough cut or fine cut stage or completed films to broadcast during the October 2014 – June 2015 season. To learn more about eligibility, what we’re looking for, and to complete our online submission form go to www.ilsubmissions.org.

Any questions? Feel free to drop a line to ILsubmissions@itvs.org.

Hollow Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Filmmaker Lisa Robinson gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s FUTURESTATES short, Hollow, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

Watch Hollow | Premiering May 29 | FUTURESTATES on PBS. See more from FutureStates.

Hollow came out of thoughts I had about my everyday internet experience, in which data seems to stream into my brain as if through an intravenous drip. I open my laptop and suddenly email, web searches, random advertising, and social networking all roar in, filling my mental space like a noisy highway and leaving less and less space for fragile developing thoughts and fleeting memories. It’s essentially reshaping my brain’s transactions and, one could argue, ultimately changing who I am.

I obsessed over this idea, this web brain experience, and it tumbled forward, shaping into a character named Iris, a young woman who is trying to survive in a future world where this kind of data exposure is peaking. I imagined the future web as more aggressive and personal, having lost most of its anonymity and privacy. This felt like a small stretch from today, as our growing dependence on the web will almost certainly be paired with challenges to its overall security. Corporate and government surveillance will expand, as well as tracking and profiling systems. As all prosthetic devices (computers, cell phones, etc.) become vulnerable to hacking, powerful interests will find other ways to secretly move information. I was irresistibly drawn to this imaginary future with new industries, new opportunities, and unlikely “heroes.” Continue reading

Mapping Our Memories: Tributopia Launches Memorial Day

Tributopia, the project inspired by the ITVS-funded documentary The Grove, is a free iPhone app for creating virtual memorials and remembering lost loved ones by posting tributes on an interactive map. Tributopia invites engagement by connecting memories to a specific place. With the augmented reality feature, users looks through the viewfinder and can find virtual tributes overlaying the real world around them. Tributopia launches in conjunction with Memorial Day, just before Gay Pride Month.

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Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the app and his take on the changing interactive media landscape:

How did making The Grove inspire your idea for Tributopia?

The AIDS Memorial Grove founders envisioned a nature-based memorial in which individuals could till their grief and find comfort in seeing their own human experience reflected in nature. While the stigma of AIDS created invisible victims and survivors often excluded from traditional rituals of burial and remembrance, having a special place to remember and share was especially important.

While I was in the midst of production on The Grove, I vacationed in Mexico and witnessed scores of roadside memorials adorned with flowers, pictures, and photos. I was mesmerized and wanted to know what happened and whom it happened to. It was as if those shrines wanted to speak to me, to tell me their story. I began to realize how vital the connection was between memory and place, and between community and communication.  Hence, the idea for Tributopia was born: a way to use new media to tell stories of loss – to connect memories to place and join in a community of remembrance.

What was the experience like, going from being a “traditional” documentary filmmaker to working in the interactive media space? Was there a large learning curve?

There was an enormous learning curve. We tend to take for granted our mastery over our own craft. Suddenly I found myself facing a technology, terminology and business model that were alien to me. While we cling to the idea of “storytelling” as a unifying theme and comforting commonality, I really did feel like I was entering a brave new world! Continue reading

Rebel: Examining Race and the Exclusion of Women in History

Filmmaker María Agui Carter discusses the Women & Girls Lead film Rebel, race, and the exclusion of women in national history. Rebel is the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate soldier turned Union spy. She was dismissed as a hoax for a hundred and fifty years, but new evidence shows Loreta, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans, was one of an estimated 1000 secret women soldiers of the American Civil War. The documentary premieres on the PBS series Voces on May 24, 2013 (check local listings).

Watch Rebel – Preview on PBS. See more from VOCES.

Loreta Velazquez, a Confederate Soldier turned Union spy, did not change the course of the American Civil War. Why would this one woman’s story, out of the three million Americans who fought in the Civil War, matter today? She was one of hundreds of women and thousands of Latino Civil War soldiers whose stories remain outside of the national narrative of history. While the US only recently lifted the ban on women in combat, she was fighting 150 years ago.

Latinos have emerged as the nation’s largest ethnic group, while, according to a Hill and Knowlton study, 1/3 of Americans believe Hispanics are recent immigrants who have come here illegally.  Few know that over 10,000 Mexicans fought in the Civil War, entire regiments who spoke only Spanish joined in battle, and that Spanish surnamed soldiers, from South Carolina to New York, joined the ranks. Loreta’s rebellious and daring character, the tragedies of her life – and her refusal to be defeated by them – made her a riveting film subject, but it was the fact that she had been erased that propelled me to make Rebel.

As Walter Benjamin has said, history decays into images. But our society has not always deemed women and minority history worthy of documentation, I had only one, not even authenticated, photo of Loreta. But her memoir and a trove of recently discovered archival documentation about her allowed me to bring her to life, using voiceovers, recreations, animation, and contemporary storytellers.

I am interested in the tension between national narratives and community histories and in the politics of gender and race in the creation of stories about the American past. In Loreta’s lifetime, proponents of the Lost Cause rejected Velazquez for her frank criticisms of the South, and for the fact that, as a Hispanic and as a woman soldier, she disturbed their carefully crafted portrayal of the Southern soldier in the Confederacy. Continue reading

The Living Premieres on FUTURESTATES

Filmmaker Julian Breece gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind this week’s 
FUTURESTATES short, The Living, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.

The Living is a film about human isolation and, specifically, how shifts in the frequency and quality of human interaction might shape the American future. For many of my fellow Gen Y-ers, the notion that we’re traveling down a path of increased human isolation probably seems far-fetched and alarmist, or, at best, a non-issue. After all, we’re children of the Information Age, the first generation born into a world of mass media and wireless technology that allows us to stay in constant contact with both close friends and strangers who live thousands of miles away.

Although I recognize and enjoy the technological advances that continue to bring us closer in the virtual sense and satisfy an array of social longings, I’ve also wondered what culture shifts these innovations might encourage in the long run. As I developed the script for The Living, I pondered a host of moral quandaries that might arise in a society where human desire has been reduced at accelerated rates – where the population has normalized the practice of communicating with both strangers and loved ones at mainly a physical distance. Ultimately, I wanted to know how this continuing ethos might inform the way Americans value human life. Continue reading

ITVS Honored at the 72nd Annual Peabody Awards

Summer Pasture and the Why Poverty? series were among the programs honored on Monday at the George Foster Peabody Awards in New York City. Administered by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Peabody is one of the most prestigious honors in electronic media.

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The 72nd Annual Peabody Award Luncheon on Monday, May 20, 2013. Courtesy of Lois Vossen.

Summer Pasture and two of the documentaries from the Why Poverty? series, ITVS-funded Park Avenue and Solar Mamas, aired on Independent Lens in 2012, representing the only PBS programming to be recognized at this year’s ceremony. Independent Lens Senior Series Producer Lois Vossen attended the luncheon and accepted the Summer Pasture award on behalf of the filmmakers, who were unable to attend:

“It was an honor to attend the Peabody Awards to accept a Peabody on behalf of Lynn True, Nelson Walker, and Tsering Perlo for their beautiful film Summer Pasture. Independent Lens was also awarded a Peabody for Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream and Solar Mamas, which broadcast as part of the Why Poverty? series. Winning PBS’s two Peabody Awards this year is further indication of the extraordinary and extraordinarily important work independent filmmakers do. Their unyielding passion and commitment to journalism makes them a vital part of public television. We need their voices now more than ever. It also didn’t hurt that Judd Apatow told me today how much he loves Independent Lens and that it is one of his favorite series!” Continue reading

Military Women’s Long, Ongoing March to Equality

Military women have marched toward increased rights throughout United States history. From the American Revolution, when they operated primarily as nurses, to the Iraq War, when they served covertly on the frontlines in Team Lioness, women have finally been acknowledged for the service they provide to the United States. As of January 2013, they are legally recognized as ground combat fighters.


Still, women and men alike struggle with the reality of rape in the military. Twenty percent of women and one percent of men have been sexually assaulted during a term of service. After The Invisible War shined a light on the issue, the power to prosecute sexual assault moved up the chain of command. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has also credited the documentary with shaping her approach to the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, announced May 16, which enables victims of sexual assault in the military to file their case with a JAG prosecutor instead of their commanding officers.

In honor of Memorial Day, watch Rebel (airing May 24 on PBS’s Voces) to learn more about one neglected female figure who shaped the United States military, Loreta Velazquez, Confederate soldier and Union spy. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of female soldiers’ long path to the present:

  • During the American Revolution, in 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates told Gen. George Washington that, “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Washington beseeched Congress, which approved one nurse for every ten patients. Women also served as water bearers, cooks, laundresses, and saboteurs.
  • During the Civil War, women soldiers on both sides disguised themselves as men in order to serve. In 1866, Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor. She is the only female to have been awarded this highest honor.
  • In World War I, 21,480 Army nurses serve in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses serve stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers. More than 400 military nurses die in the line of duty. The majority died from the “Spanish Flu.”
  • The Army establishes the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. They were the first women besides nurses to “serve within the ranks of the United States Army.” More than 150,000 women served as WACs during the war. In 1942, Nancy Harkness Love organized 25 women pilots into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). The WAFS flew planes from the factory to military bases.
  • WACs in the Vietnam War supported the troops mainly in administrative military occupational specialties (MOSs). One WAC detachment was assigned to Headquarters, first at Ton Son Nhut Airbase, then at Long Binh. “While engineers readied new barracks at Long Binh, the women lived in a building typical of the tropics, with openings between outer wallboards and no windows,” according to Army.mil. “Red dust covered their rooms during the dry season, and rain soaked them during the wet season.”
  • By the end of 2004, 19 servicewomen were killed during the Iraq War. Team Lioness, featured in the documentary Lioness, was organized to search and soothe Muslim women in accordance with cultural customs. “These women in Ramadi would become the first to engage in offensive ground combat operations in this country’s history,” said Lory Manning, Director of Women in the Military Project, in an interview for Lioness. Continue reading

Newly Funded: ITVS is Pleased to Announce Funding for Deej

ITVS recently approved funding for Deeja documentary by Robert Rooy (Director/Producer) and David James Savarese (Producer).

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Deej is the story of DJ Savarese (“Deej”), a gifted, young writer and an advocate for nonspeaking autistics. Once a “profoundly disabled” foster kid seemingly on the fast track to nowhere, DJ is now a first year college student with a burning desire to stand up for those whose neurological differences cause others to summarily dismiss them as incompetent, often “housing them in classrooms of easy lessons.” As writer and co-producer of Deej, he seeks to quell deep-seated fears and heal old wounds while giving others like him a voice:

“This movie reassesses hope. Yes, yes, hope is not easy or free. Yes, hope is hard…. Not a sweet, dear, hopeful collection, our film asks hope to survive challenges and to hear our dear selves freed.”— DJ Savarese

Join ITVS in congratulating the filmmakers!

Wonder Women! Inspires WONDER CITY Game

By Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and Kelcey Edwards
Filmmakers, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

WONDER CITY has been developed as companion game to the PBS documentary feature, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (tonight at 10 PM on Independent Lens). While the film encourages young audiences to explore pop cultural history as a means of thinking critically, the WONDER CITY game aims to change how we visualize power and gender.

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We were first encouraged to create a game at the BAVC Producers’ New Media Institute. Our research found that half of girls ages 8 to 12 play games online. The most popular “girl games” center on themes like cooking, shopping, makeup, and dating, and the default protagonist of most other games is a white male. This lack of representation discourages girls and women from participating in the gaming community – as either consumers or creators.

While making the film, we became aware of how few women occupy leadership positions – fewer than 15 percent! – in politics, business, government and the media. Despite the gains of the women’s movement, we still live in a world where girls are rarely protagonists, let alone shown as strong, smart, or bold. Girls are constantly bombarded by messages and media representations that put them into narrow, stereotyped boxes and limit their choices. Too few girls have risen to be leaders in business, politics, government, or media.

Our hope is that WONDER CITY will undermine these problematic stereotypes and gender limitations by immersing players in a world that represents a more realistic diversity in race, gender, and body image. By empowering tweens to adopt their own superhero identity, they become agents of their own values. Continue reading