Real-life characters in PBS documentary series

Rich and rare: docs that unfold over decades

If you stand quite rightly in awe at Michael Apted’s 49 Up, which aired on P.O.V. [in October 2007], you’re likely to be cheered by the news that a Frontline producer is now in postproduction to start similar series of periodic interviews with nine diverse people in China.... Continue Reading

Once the feisty advocate for indies, AIVF fades to black

The Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, a 30-year-old group that coordinated activism and provided networking and training for independent filmmakers, shuttered its offices and shut down operations in late June. The Manhattan-based association told members in March that it faced a financial crisis, but an emergency fundraising appeal didn’t generate enough contributions to maintain operations. The AIVF Board is looking for another group to take over publication of The Independent, AIVF’s monthly magazine. Although the board considered a scenario of eventually resuming operations, it’s unlikely that the association will revive, said Bart Weiss, organizer of the Dallas Video Festival and board president. “I wish it could, but I don’t see how it could happen,” he said. Continue Reading

StoryCorps opened booths, sent out trailers to record extraordinary ordinary folks like the Perasas (inset). (Photos: Sound Portraits Productions.)

StoryCorps puts flesh on bones of history

Danny and Annie Perasa enjoyed the sort of dream marriage promised in diamond ads and sappy romantic comedies, only it all actually happened. All the laughs, the finished sentences, the little love letters — “glorified weather reports,” Annie called them — that Danny would leave for “my princess” each morning on the kitchen table at home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. All the funny stories. Like the one about Danny, with his monumentally bad eyesight, mistaking a herd of goats in St. Martin for a pack of “really incredible leaping dogs.” Or about the time he befriended a crew of Hells Angels on Long Island, who put him on the back of a chopper and gave him a lift to the train station. Continue Reading

It’s OK: Despite son’s disability, laughter is allowed in this film

The title character of The Teachings of Jon is a middle-aged North Carolina man with Down syndrome who has an IQ of 20, can’t speak and has a job that pulls in 27 cents a week. “But my film is not about Down syndrome at all,” says Jennifer Owensby, producer, director — and Jon’s younger sister. She says the documentary is not really about Jon, either. “My brother can’t be the main character because my brother never changes. It’s my family and the audience as they’re watching who become the main character.”

The Teachings of Jon offers an entertaining short course on family values, albeit as embodied by a somewhat unorthodox family. Continue Reading

Doc-makers get specific about copyright fair use

Friday afternoon, things changed for producers who need to use somebody else’s footage and music in their documentaries. Clearing rights may still cost a lot and take too much time, as in the past, but Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi believe producers now have a solid rationale for not paying excessive and confounding fees for copyrighted materials in certain cases. On Nov. 18 [2005], the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, the Independent Documentary Association, public TV’s Independent Television Service and the series P.O.V., and other media groups endorsed a Statement of Best Practices defining four kinds of situations when a producer, under the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, need not pay for a film clip, a shot of a painting or a snatch of music. Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media at American University in Washington, D.C., and Jaszi, an intellectual property expert at the university’s law school, convened groups of experienced filmmakers around the country to look closely at the producers’ (and their lawyers’) working definition of fair use. Continue Reading

Appalachia: 3 video profiles in full relief

Thoughts of Appalachia may stir up visions of either hillbilly backwoods or quaint Edens, but both miss the complicated truth illuminated by three documentaries coming to public TV. The docs diverge in their depictions of the mountain region Continue Reading

Wiseman at work in Idaho state legislature

The Idaho Legislature is the subject of Frederick Wiseman’s next cinema verite documentary. Starting with his controversial film Titicut Follies in 1967, Wiseman has filmed the day-to-day workings of American places and institutions — public housing developments, high schools and an old Maine seaport town, among other subjects. His last PBS broadcast, Domestic Violence, was filmed in a shelter for abused women and children, called the Spring, in Tampa, Fla. Wiseman, who doesn’t discuss his film projects until they’re near completion, declined Current’s request for an interview. But he told Idaho statehouse reporter Betsy Russell that he chose the Idaho Legislature because he wanted to film an American institution in the West. Continue Reading

One last visit with Lance Loud

Twenty-nine years after their pioneering observational doc series entranced PBS viewers, the filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond are bringing back the Loud family one last time. They are talking with WETA about offering the new hour-long episode to PBS, according to Mr. Raymond and Jim Corbley, v.p. of production management at the Washington station. If a deal is struck, the film could be ready this fall, Raymond said. The occasion was the death Dec. 21 [2001] of Lance Loud, eldest son in the Santa Barbara family, who stunned his family and became a symbol of gay liberation in 1973 by coming out on national television. Continue Reading