After a winter lineup of documentaries covering current issues like women’s rights and racial injustice, the spring and summer season of Independent Lens will tackle such timely topics as America’s mental health crisis, climate change, globalization, and the role news media plays in our everyday lives. It will also profile several trail-blazing figures.
Broadcast on PBS, the acclaimed “Independent Lens” highlights thought-provoking documentaries, many of which are co-funded and co-produced by Independent Television Service (ITVS). Films making their broadcast debuts from April through June include Kenneth Paul Rosenberg M.D.’s “Bedlam,” an intimate examination of the mental health crisis in America, Brett Story’s critically acclaimed “The Hottest August,” which paints a portrait of collective anxiety around the looming threat of climate change, and Bill Haney’s “Jim Allison: Breakthrough,” which chronicles the work of the Nobel Prize-winning visionary doctor who discovered a way to defeat cancer.
“Communities in large cities and small rural towns alike continue to change, as has always been the case in a nation of immigrants,” said Lois Vossen, the series’ executive producer. “As the makeup of our neighborhoods evolve, so, too, do ideals and beliefs. Our job at Independent Lens is to encourage storytelling that opens up a dialogue on relevant, even taboo topics such as climate change, mental health, homeless crisis, and how the media shapes our political beliefs. We also celebrate individual mavericks whose visionary work changed millions of lives. Their perseverance inspires us, even in difficult times.”
A staple on the film festival circuit over the last year, “Bedlam,” from psychiatrist and filmmaker Kenneth Paul Rosenberg M.D., will make its broadcast premiere on Independent Lens on April 13. The film takes a deep dive into America’s mental health crisis through intimate stories of those in and out of ERs, jails, and homeless camps in Los Angeles, all while Rosenberg searches for answers around his own late sister’s mental illness. Featuring interviews with experts and activists including Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, the film also highlights the intersection of mental health and criminal justice.
Making its broadcast television debut on April 20, Brett Story’s “The Hottest August” has been heralded as one of the top films of 2019 by Rolling Stone, Slate, and Vanity Fair, among others. The documentary raises the specter of climate change without ever mentioning it, spotlighting ordinary New Yorkers as they share their anxieties about the future and brace for what could be one of the hottest months on record.
Bill Haney’s “Jim Allison: Breakthrough” will premiere April 27. Narrated by Woody Harrelson and selected as one of the Ten Best Films of 2019 by the Washington Post, who praised it as “absorbing, gracefully constructed and deeply moving,” the film traces the remarkable life of Nobel Prize-winning Jim Allison from his small town Texas boyhood to becoming a world-renowned doctor whose bold and painstaking research into cancer treatment went on to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
Other films premiering on PBS’s Independent Lens this spring include:
Eating Up Easter (May 11) – Threatened by climate change and globalization, remote Rapa Nui (“Easter Island”) in the Pacific Ocean provides a wakeup call for the rest of the world as filmmakers Sergio Mata’u Rapu & Elena Kouneski Rapu examine the clash between growth and sustainability faced by communities worldwide.
Rewind (May 25) – Filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger revisits his suburban childhood in Philadelphia through old home movies, revealing the secret that tore apart his seemingly perfect world.
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project (June 15) – Marion Stokes secretly recorded American television 24 hours a day for 30 years, from 1975 until her death in 2012, in hopes that a comprehensive archive of the media would one day be invaluable. Now, through the life of Stokes and her tapes, filmmaker Matt Wolf gives an eye-opening glimpse into how television shaped, and continues to shape, our world.
Pipe Dreams (June 22) – Filmmaker Stacey Tenenbaum follows five young organists as they tirelessly train and compete to win the esteemed Canadian International Organ Competition.
Each season of Independent Lens, which has aired on PBS for almost two decades, is presented by ITVS, a documentary co-producer and distributor for public media. ITVS has previously backed the likes of “One Child Nation” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” Its most recent funding initiative, the Short-Form Open Call, launched in February, and is open to short non-fiction series and film under 30 minutes.