‘P.O.V.’: windows with perspective

PBS' series garners top nonfiction kudos

For the past 15 years, “P.O.V.,” TV’s first and longest-running showcase for nonfiction films, has brought indie efforts by the likes of Michael Moore, Arthur Dong and Alan Berliner to the small screen. This summer, the PBS series shows no signs of running out of steam, offering edgy docus to viewers and providing first-time filmmakers such as Lourdes Portillo (“Senorita Extraviada”) with a chance to get their projects made and seen.

Funded by PBS and various arts foundations, the series has a $3 million annual operating budget, and it pays a standard acquisition rate of $525 per minute; additional financial support for project completion is also available. Those funds range from as low as $1 million to as high as $20 million.

The “Diverse Voices Project,” which recently reached its submissions deadline last month, will fund four films about minority cultures this spring, while Kodak-sponsored program “In the Works” grants indie directors unprecedented access to film.

“The more media becomes commercialized the more our work stands out, the more people come to us,” notes Cara Mertes, “P.O.V.’s” executive director. To date, “P.O.V.” averages 1.7 million viewers per broadcast, equal to PBS’ average rating.

“P.O.V.” films have garnered every top nonfiction kudos, from Academy Awards, Emmys and DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Journalism Awards, to George Foster Peabody prizes. Many have been Sundance Film Festival winners, notably last season’s opener, Tom Shepard’s “Scout’s Honor.”

This season, first-time filmmakers such as Monteith McCollum (“Hybrid”– the Independent Feature Project’s Spirit Award doc winner) and Marlo Poras (“Mai’s America”) have a notably larger presence on “P.O.V.” Mertes attributes the inclusion of numerous newcomers to the showcase’s open acquisition process and the series’ commitment to airing defined, unique work, which has sometimes been years in the making.

Airing later this season: Hannah Weyer’s “Escuela,” part two of a migrant farm worker family’s experience in the U.S. and Portillo’s “Senorita Extraviada,” which examines the unsolved slayings of more than 270 women on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“P.O.V.’s” schedule will also expand this year with three upcoming specials. On Sept. 9, “Afghanistan Year 1380,” from Fabrizio Lazzaretti, Alberto Vendemmiati and Giuseppe Pettito, will air as part of a week of commemorative programming on PBS. Scheduled for January is Whitney Dow’s and Marco Williams’ “Two Towns of Jasper.” The feature-length doc integrates footage shot by both filmmakers, one black and one white, while examining a notorious racially motivated murder in Jasper, Texas.

As with all “P.O.V.” programs, the specials will be augmented by info-rich educational Web sites (www.pbs.org/pov) and community engagement efforts. The broadcast of “Two Towns of Jasper” will coincide with a town hall meeting in the burg.

According to Ellen Schneider, exec director of Active Voice, a nonprofit aud development firm, the series’ pointed perspective promotes two-way dialogue. “‘P.O.V.’s’ considered, thoughtful essays encourage people to respond and even act differently. It’s no accident the series was called ‘Point of View.’ ‘P.O.V.’s’ founders wanted to focus on perspective and experiences not found in the mainstream’s media.”

Lauren Horwitch contributed to this report.

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