How “Oil & Water” Came Together

David Poritz (left) and Hugo Lucitante visit a Petroamanas oil field in Ecuador.

David Poritz (left) and Hugo Lucitante visit a Petroamanas oil field in Ecuador.

Ed. note: This guest post by the directors of the ITVS-funded documentary Oil & Water, which premieres Sunday, September 21st on the WORLD Channel [check local listings] as part of the Global Voices series, gives you some of the fascinating background behind this film. Oil & Water was also just featured on Boston’s NPR station WBUR as well [more here]. [Update: Oil & Water is now available to watch online via PBS until October 21, 2014.]

By Laurel Spellman Smith and Francine Strickwerda

A documentary filmmaker once said that when you choose an idea for a film, you need to date it a while, and make sure you can fall in love with it. Because you will be eating, drinking, and sleeping with it for a long time.  It made us laugh, because it’s so true. It’s also about how a human story can knock the wind out of you with its brilliance, and then how it will haunt and nag you until you have no choice but to make your film. That’s how we got to making Oil & Water, which we began filming in 2006.

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Around the World in Many Ways with Global Voices

By Misa Oyama, ITVS Staff

The narrative film Boyhood has provoked significant interest for following the growth of the same actor as he ages in real time. While the approach is unique in feature films, this method is an everyday reality for a documentary filmmaker – as is demonstrated by this season of Global Voices.

Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood has provoked a lot of interest in its intriguing premise and the background of its production: follow the growth of a character over twelve years, not with different actors, but with the same person as he ages in real time. This is the first time that a narrative film has had the patience to tackle the kind of project well-known in the documentary world. Most notably, Michael Apted’s Up series follows the same people over the course of a lifetime, beginning with a group of 7-year-old British schoolchildren in 1964 and revisiting them every seven years; the most recent installment explores their lives at the age of 56. Filming over a span of years gives audiences a true sense of the passing of time.

Like these films, three documentaries in this summer’s Global Voices series approach the subject of growth and aging, despite vastly different cultural contexts. Each one explores a significant period in a person’s life, from young adulthood to middle age to the final years. You can see a lifetime in My So-Called EnemyMy Perestroika [both available to watch online], and Here Comes Uncle Joe [airing on the WORLD Channel August 31st]. Continue reading

My So-Called Enemy, Sunday on Global Voices

This Sunday on Global Voices, filmmaker Lisa Gossels presents the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through a human lens in her documentary, My So-Called Enemy. The film begins in July 2002, when twenty-two Palestinian and Israeli teenage girls traveled to the US to participate in a ten-day women’s leadership program. My So-Called Enemy is about six of those girls and how the transformative experience of knowing their “enemies” as human beings meets with the realities of their lives at home in the Middle East over the next seven years. In this post, Gossels shares her motivation for making this film.

There’s many things that a person might look like and you’re one hundred percent positive who they are. And when you talk to them, you’re shocked that they’re completely the opposite. Like whoever looks at me, “No way you’re an Arab.” But I go like, “Oh, dude, I am an Arab!” So, don’t concentrate on the first impression. If you think you don’t like the person, approach them to know who they really are.
-Rawan (Palestinian, Muslim)

by Lisa Gossels, Director

When I introduce My So-Called Enemy at screenings, I always say that making the film was an eight-year journey of both learning and unlearning for me – and a stripping away of personal narratives that I was raised with.  My hope as a documentarian is that audiences will experience some of that same transformation when they watch the movie.

I live in downtown Manhattan and shortly after 9/11, I remember engaging in some heated political conversations with close friends about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I tried to express any nuance in those discussions, I came to understand how wars could be fought on words and how easy it is to reduce conflicts to black and white terms. At a conference two months earlier, I had the privilege of meeting Melodye Feldman (the founder of Building Bridges for Peace), and four participants from her just-completed summer program. After listening to the girls’ dramatic stories about how the program had changed them, I begged Melodye to let me film her program the next year! I was excited that Building Bridges for Peace empowers teenage girls because, as Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism.” Continue reading

Travel the World with the New Season of Global Voices!

ITVS is excited to announce the lineup for the seventh season of Global Voices, the critically acclaimed international documentary series premiering on the WORLD Channel (check local listings).

Travel the world from your living room with the latest season of Global Voices. Airing on the WORLD Channel, season seven kicks off on June 1st with 18 weeks of international documentaries made by independent filmmakers from around the world.

The seventh season of Global Voices opens with the U.S. premiere of Miss Nikki & The Tiger Girls, filmmaker Juliet Lamont’s intimate portrait of a spirited young Australian band manager as she tries to empower Myanmar’s first all-girl band to speak out in one of the world’s most repressive regimes. If you think it’s hard making it as a female pop group, try doing it with a military dictatorship breathing down your neck! Continue reading

Watch the Global Voices Season Six Premiere!

Travel from your living room with the latest season of Global Voices! Airing on the WORLD channel, season six premieres June 2 with 18 weeks of international documentaries that give you vistas into other worlds.

Peek into the spectacular, treacherous terrain of Eastern Java, Indonesia, where miners haul sulfur through toxic gases to supply material for our matches and makeup. Where Heaven Meets Hell makes its U.S. debut June 2, 10 p.m. EST.

The next premiere, When Hari Got Married (June 16), follows a 30-year-old taxi driver in the Indian Himalayas, marrying a young girl he has only known through his cell phone. Follow Muslim women seeking radical change in their court system in South India (Invoking Justice, July 14), and the disappeared children of El Salvador’s 1980s civil war as they return to their native country (Niños de la Memoria, June 30).

Learn more about the corners of our globe that you never expected to see: Watch Global Voices online and “like” the Facebook page to keep up with the season!

‘Tis the Season for Global Voices

After a whirlwind fifth season, Global Voices is recognized by the New York Times as one of the best series of 2012!

In his article “Still Going Strong: Detectives, Killers and Bill Moyers”, New York Times television critic Mike Hale gave a special shout out to the ITVS series in his 2012 report:

SPECIAL NONFICTION MENTION The “Global Voices” series, carried on some PBS stations, presents international documentaries you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. Recent standouts have included “Street Ballad: A Jakarta Story,” a heartbreaking look at an Indonesian busker, and “Last Days of the Arctic,” a profile of the Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson full of magnificent images of the Arctic landscape and people.

Global Voices offers audiences an intimate look at the uncommon stories by and about everyday people. The fifth season of Global Voices brought Ethiopian runners, Russian political activists, and Indonesian street musicians into the homes of everyday Americans, bringing these rare insights and firsthand perspectives to life. From the Ukraine to Afghanistan, Global Voices is an eclectic showcase of internationally themed documentaries made by independent filmmakers around the globe.

To read Hale’s full article, please click here.

Online Symposium Examines and Asks: Why Poverty?

Women play a vital role in the economic prosperity of their families, communities, and countries. Yet in every part of the world, women work longer hours than men, are consistently paid less for their work, are at a higher risk of unemployment, and are far more likely to live in poverty. This central theme is the topic of a global online film symposium Wednesday, December 12 at 2pm ET / 19:00 UTC. To participate, visit

The online symposium will feature clips from Welcome to the WorldSolar Mamas, and other films from Why Poverty?, a global media event created to encourage people to talk about poverty around the world. Continue reading

Welcome to the World, Tonight on Why Poverty?

By Brian Hill
Director of Welcome to the World

130 million babies are born each year, and not one of them decides where they’ll be born or how they’ll live. Welcome to the World premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty? series special on Global Voices.

Apart from those in the medical profession, there can’t be many men in the world who have seen as many babies born as I did this year. It all started when I was invited to make one of the films for the Why Poverty? season, a global initiative posing important questions about poverty and inequality.

I wanted to start at the beginning, at the birth of a child, to see how poverty might impact the life of an infant, and how we might then imagine how that life would turn out. Once you decide to start right there, at the moment of birth, you are necessarily involved in questions of infant mortality — the chances a child has of survival. And infant mortality goes hand in hand with maternal mortality. You can’t talk about one without the other. Continue reading

Poor Us: An Animated History of Poverty

By Ben Lewis
Director of Poor Us

The poor may always have been with us, but attitudes towards them have changed. Beginning in the Neolithic Age, Ben Lewis’s film Poor Us, which premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty? series special on Global Voices, takes us through the changing world of poverty. You go to sleep, you dream, you become poor through the ages. And when you awake, what can you say about poverty now? There are still very poor people, to be sure, but the new poverty has more to do with inequality…

I got the idea of how I wanted to make this film from a coincidence of spelling. The first three letters of the word POVERTY are POV, which in filmmaking language is an acronym for Point-of-View. It made me realize instantly that I wanted to tell the history of poverty from the point of view of a poor person.

I wanted to make a film that, like the others I have made, was simultaneously a meticulously researched historical documentary and a wildly imaginative fictional envisioning of history. In other words, I wanted to make a film that blurred the line in new ways between documentary and fiction.

So the first thing I did was spend two months in the British Library reading scores of new micro-histories of poverty, studies of poverty in specific historical epochs and locations, which have been published in the last fifteen years. All this new research is little known. I read Sharon Farmer’s Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris, Mine Ener’s Managing Eygpt’s Poor 1800-1952, and Lillian Li’s Fighting Famine in North China, as well as John Iliffe’s classic The African Poor. Continue reading

Questioning the Power of Celebrity: The Making of Give Us the Money

By Bosse Lindquist
Director of Give Us the Money

From Live Aid to Make Poverty History, celebrities have become activists against poverty. Bob Geldof and Bono have been the most prominent voices advocating on behalf of the poor. But have their concerts and campaigns really lifted millions out of poverty? Give Us the Money premieres tonight as part of the Why Poverty? series special on Global Voices.

Summer of 1974, I hitchhiked from Sweden to Kenya in order to escape my family and upbringing. I ended up teaching in a small rural secondary school by Lake Victoria. It changed my life in many ways and I fear I learned more about life than I managed to teach my students.

Living on a local Kenyan salary in a mud hut gave me a crash course in the basics of life for a substantial part of Earth’s population. It also gave me a different perspective on development workers and foreign aid. I could see my fellow wazungus (white people) whiz by on the national road in luxurious air-conditioned cars, too often insulated from reality physically, culturally, and intellectually. To me, this seemed like at least a partial explanation to why many development projects didn’t deliver the goods in those days.

Ever since I’ve been wondering what outsiders can do to affect change in somebody else’s country. Especially when it comes to beating the totally atrocious and unacceptable extent of people living in extreme poverty. Continue reading