PBS News

PBS ANNOUNCES "INDEPENDENT LENS" (Working Title)

New Weekly Series to Spotlight Independent Productions
-First Four Titles Announced-

PASADENA, CA - January 18, 1999 - Reinforcing its commitment to independent productions, PBS will present INDEPENDENT LENS, a ten-week series devoted to the works of independent video and filmmakers. Featuring a mix of fiction, shorts and nonfiction films, INDEPENDENT LENS will premiere this fall with works from independent producers from throughout the United States. Designed to complement PBS's long-running documentary series P.O.V., INDEPENDENT LENS will offer more opportunities for independent filmmakers to showcase their programs on member stations.

The first four titles to be selected for the series are: Diep N. Bui's "I Am Viet Hung"; Laurel Chiten's "The Jew in the Lotus"; Chris Tashima and Chris Donahue's "Visas and Virtue"; and John Whitehead's "Wannabe: Life and Death in a Small-Town Gang."

"Independent work is the heart and soul of PBS programming," said Donald Thoms, vice president, PBS program management. "INDEPENDENT LENS will provide a vibrant new showcase for some of the best independent productions on television."

Over 70% of the programs on PBS involve independent producers, and PBS independent productions have won every major film and broadcasting award, including several Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, George Foster Peabody Awards, and duPont-Columbia University Awards.

PBS is seeking submissions for INDEPENDENT LENS directly from producers, as well as program suppliers such as the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and minority consortia including the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc. (NAPT), and Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC).

"I Am Viet Hung," directed by Diep N. Bui, is a graceful portrait of Viet Hung, a once-prominent Vietnamese opera singer who, in his old age, must now witness his art's demise as well as his own fall from fame. Not only must he confront his displacement as an immigrant living in the U.S., but the dissipation of interest among the Vietnamese, young and old, for a traditional art that is slowly dying.

Haunted by the sight of hundreds of Jewish refugees outside his consulate, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania at the beginning of World War II must decide how much he is willing to risk. "Visas and Virtue," directed by Chris Tashima and produced by Chris Donahue, explores the moral and professional dilemmas that Consul General Chiune Sugihara faced during World War II in making a life or death decision: defy his own government's direct order and risk his career by issuing life-saving transit visas, or obey orders and turn his back on humanity. A compelling dramatic interpretation of a chapter in Sugihara's life, this Academy Award-winning portrait poignantly pays tribute to the rescuer of 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

"I Am Viet Hung" and "Visas and Virtue" are co-presentations of NAATA, an organization at the forefront of supporting and showcasing Asian Pacific-American media productions to the American public. NAATA's recent presentations on PBS include Academy Award-winner "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision" by Freida Lee Mock; "First Person Singular: I. M. Pei," by Stanley Zuckerman; and Sundance Award winner "My America. . . Or Honk If You Love Buddha," by Renee Tajima-Peña.

Inspired by Rodger Kamenetz's book of the same name, "The Jew in the Lotus" tells the story of eight Jewish delegates who traveled to India to meet with the Dalai Lama, who had invited them there to share the secret of the Jewish people's spiritual survival in exile. Set against this exotic backdrop, the documentary is entertaining and provocative as Kamenetz leads us to discover that lessons of spiritual survival apply to a troubled individual as much as they do to a troubled nation. An ITVS presentation produced and directed by Laurel Chiten, and co-produced by Lucia Small.

"Wannabe: Life and Death in a Small Town Gang" documents the gang-related murder/suicide that took the lives of four teenagers in the quiet community of Appleton, Wisconsin in May of 1995. This compelling one-hour documentary by filmmaker John Whitehead explores issues of race, family dysfunction, and youth violence in the context of one small, middle-American city. This film is a co-production of John Whitehead along with KTCA and Wisconsin PTV, and is presented by ITVS.

In 1998, PBS launched one of the most comprehensive sources for information about independent film and video on the Web. Funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, "The Indie Scene on PBS" not only provides a viewer's guide to independent work on PBS, but also posts extensive information for independent producers. The site houses data about securing distribution and funding within the public television system; government, corporate and financial assistance; and links to important related independent film Web sites. "The Indie Scene on PBS" can be accessed at http://www.pbs.org/independents.

PBS, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, is a private, nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. A trusted community resource, PBS uses the power of noncommercial television, the Internet and other media to enrich the lives of all Americans through quality programs and educational services that inform, inspire and delight. Available to 99 percent of American households with televisions and to an increasing number of digital multimedia households, PBS serves nearly 100 million people each week.

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