FILM LIBRARY: O - S

The Oath
by Laura Poitras

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Filmed in Yemen and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, The Oath interweaves the stories of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, and Salim Hamdan, a prisoner at Guantánamo facing war crimes charges. Directed by Laura Poitras (Flag Wars, POV 2003; the Oscar®-nominated My Country, My Country, POV 2006), The Oath unfolds via a narrative rife with plot reversals and betrayals that ultimately leads to Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantánamo and the U.S. Supreme Court. Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary. A co-production of ITVS in association with American Documentary/POV.

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Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story
by Eric Paul Fournier

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Fred Korematsu was probably never more American than when he resisted, and then challenged in court, the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Korematsu lost his landmark Supreme Court case in 1944, but never his indignation and resolve. "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights" is the untold history of the 40-year legal fight to vindicate Korematsu — one that finally turned a civil injustice into a civil rights victory.

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Off and Running
by Nicole Opper

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Off and Running tells the story of Brooklyn teenager Avery, a track star with a bright future. She is the adopted African-American child of white Jewish lesbians. Her older brother is black and Puerto Rican and her younger brother is Korean. Though it may not look typical, Avery’s household is like most American homes — until Avery writes to her birth mother and the response throws her into crisis. She struggles over her “true” identity, the circumstances of her adoption and her estrangement from black culture. Just when it seems as if her life is unraveling, Avery decides to pick up the pieces and make sense of her identity, with inspiring results. A co-production of ITVS in association with the National Black Programming Consortium and American Documentary/POV and the Diverse Voices Project, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

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Omar & Pete
by Tod Lending

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Omar and Pete are determined to change their lives. Both have been in and out of prison for more than 30 years — never out longer than six months. This intimate and penetrating film follows these two longtime African-American friends after what they hope will be their final release. Their lives take divergent paths in their native Baltimore as one wrestles with addiction and fear while the other finds success and freedom through helping others. With extraordinary cooperation from Maryland's innovative reentry programs — many run by former drug addicts and convicts themselves — "Omar & Pete" also provides a rare glimpse into an intense and very personal web of support.

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Only the Young
by Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims

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Only the Young follows three unconventional Christian teenagers coming of age in a small Southern California town. Skateboarders Garrison and Kevin, and Garrison’s on-and-off girlfriend, Skye, wrestle with the eternal questions of youth: friendship, true love and the promise of the future. Yet their lives are also touched by the distress signals of contemporary America—foreclosed homes, abandoned businesses and adults in financial trouble. As graduation approaches, these issues become shocking realities. With sun-drenched visuals, lyrical storytelling and a soul-music soundtrack, Only the Young embodies the innocence and candor of its youthful subjects—and of adolescence itself.

 

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¡Palante Siempre Palante! The Young Lords
by Iris Morales

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They were leaders of the Young Lords Party, the militant Puerto Rican civil rights organization based in New York. Today, many are notable mainstream journalists, including Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano and Pablo Guzman. Iris Morales makes history come alive as veterans of the movement recall their fight for equality, jobs, health care, and education.

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A Panther in Africa
by Aaron Matthews

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On October 30, 1969, Pete O'Neal, a young Black Panther in Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested for transporting a gun across state lines. One year later, O'Neal fled the charge, and for over 30 years, he has lived in Tanzania as one of the last American exiles from an era when activists considered themselves at war with the U.S. government. Today, this community organizer confronts very different challenges and finds himself living between two worlds — America and Africa, his radical past and his uncertain future. An Independent Television Service (ITVS) co-presentation.

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Patti Smith: Dream of Life
by Steven Sebring

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Shot over 11 years by renowned fashion photographer Steven Sebring, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an intimate portrait of the legendary rocker, poet and artist. Following Smith's personal reflections over a decade, the film explores her many art forms and the friends and poets who inspired her — William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Robert Mapplethorpe and Michael Stipe. She emerges as a crucial, contemporary link between the Beats, punks and today's music. Shot in lush, dark tones, featuring rare performance clips and narrated by the artist herself, Patti Smith: Dream of Life is an impressionistic journal of a multi-faceted artist that underscores her unique place in American culture. Winner of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary. A production of Clean Socks and THIRTEEN. Produced by Steven Sebring, Margaret Smilow and Scott Vogel.

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Ping Pong
by Hugh Hartford and Anson Hartford

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Call this old age, extreme edition: Eight players with 703 years between them compete in the Over 80 World Table Tennis Championships in China’s Inner Mongolia. British players Terry, 81, who has been given a week to live, and Les, 91, a weightlifter and poet, are going for the gold. Inge, 89, from Germany, has used table tennis to paddle her way out of dementia. And Texan Lisa, 85, is playing for the first time. Ping Pong is a wonderfully unusual story of hope, regret, friendship, ambition, love—and sheer human tenacity in the face of aging and mortality.

 

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Presumed Guilty
by Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith

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Imagine being picked up off the street, told you have committed a murder you know nothing about and then finding yourself sentenced to 20 years in jail. In December 2005 this happened to Toño Zúñiga in Mexico City and, like thousands of other innocent people, he was wrongfully imprisoned. The award-winning Presumed Guilty is the story of two young lawyers and their struggle to free Zúñiga. With no background in film, Roberto Hernández and Layda Negrete set about recording the injustices they were witnessing, enlisting acclaimed director Geoffrey Smith (The English Surgeon, POV 2009) to tell this dramatic story. A co-presentation with Latino Public Broadcasting.

 

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The Principal Story
by Tod Lending and David Mrazek

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The Principal Story tells two stories, painting a dramatic portrait of the challenges facing America's public schools — and of the great difference a dedicated principal can make. Tresa Dunbar is a second-year principal at Chicago's Nash Elementary, where 98% of students come from low-income families; in Springfield, Illinois, Kerry Purcell has led Harvard Park Elementary, with similar demographics, for six years. Tod Lending (Omar & Pete, POV 2005) and David Mrazek followed both women over the course of a school year, discovering each one's unique styles yet similar passions. The Principal Story takes the viewer along for an emotional ride that reveals what effective educational leadership looks like in the 21st century.

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Prison Town, USA
by Katie Galloway and Po Kutchins

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In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. "Prison Town, USA" tells the story of Susanville, one California town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unforeseen consequences. Weaving the stories of a laid-off mill worker turned guard, a struggling dairy owner and an inmate's family stranded in Susanville, the film illuminates the legacy of an industry that is transforming rural America. A co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED/Truly California.

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Promised Land
by Yoruba Richen

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Though apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, economic injustices between blacks and whites remain unresolved. As revealed in Yoruba Richen’s incisive Promised Land, the most potentially explosive issue is land. The film follows two black communities as they struggle to reclaim land from white owners, some of whom who have lived there for generations. Amid rising tensions and wavering government policies, the land issue remains South Africa’s “ticking time bomb,” with far-reaching consequences for all sides. Promised Land captures multiple perspectives of citizens struggling to create just solutions. A co-production of the National Black Programming Consortium, American Documentary/POV and the Diverse Voices Project, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

 

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Promises
by B. Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro

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What is it really like to live in Jerusalem today? Promises offers touching and surprisingly fresh insight into the Middle East conflict when filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg returns to his hometown to see what seven children — Palestinian and Israeli — think about war, peace, and just growing up. Living within 20 minutes of each other, these children are nevertheless locked in separate worlds.

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Rain in a Dry Land
by Anne Makepeace

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How do you measure the distance from an African village to an American city? What does it mean to be a refugee in today's "global village?" "Rain in a Dry Land" provides eye-opening answers as it chronicles the fortunes of two Somali Bantu families, transported by relief agencies from years of civil war and refugee life to Atlanta and Springfield, Massachusetts. As the newcomers confront racism, poverty and 21st-century culture shock, the filmmaker Anne Makepeace (POV's "Baby, It's You") captures their efforts to survive in America and create a safe haven for their war-torn families. Their poetry, humor and amazing resilience show us our own world through new eyes. A co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

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The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court
by Pamela Yates

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Over 120 countries have united to form the International Criminal Court (ICC) — the first permanent court created to prosecute perpetrators, no matter how powerful, of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The Reckoning follows dynamic ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his team for three years across four continents as he issues arrest warrants for Lord's Resistance Army leaders in Uganda, puts Congolese warlords on trial, shakes up the Colombian justice system, and charges Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir with genocide in Darfur. Like a deft thriller, The Reckoning keeps you on the edge of your seat. Will the prosecutor succeed? Will the world ensure that justice prevails? An Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

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Refrigerator Mothers
by David E. Simpson, J.J. Hanley & Gordon Quinn

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A mid-century medical nightmare is revealed in "Refrigerator Mothers." Autism is one of today's fastest growing disorders, affecting 1 in 500 people. It is now known to be a neurological condition, but from the 1950s through the 1970s the medical establishment mistakenly believed it had found the root cause of the disorder: poor mothering. Doctors presumed that the often obsessive behaviors of autistic children — rigid rituals, speech difficulty, self-isolation — stemmed from their mothers' emotional frigidity. The film explores the traumatic legacy of blame, guilt and self-doubt suffered by a generation of women who were branded "refrigerator mothers." An Independent Television Service (ITVS) Co-presentation.

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Regret To Inform
by Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole

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In this Academy Award nominated film, filmmaker Barbara Sonneborn is compelled to make a brave pilgrimage to the remote Vietnamese countryside where her husband died. She explores the meaning of war and loss on a human level and weaves interviews with Vietnamese and American widows into a vivid testament to the chilling legacy of war. These stories are stirring reminders that the battle scars are life-long, but that shared sorrow can inspire healing and reconciliation.

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Reportero
by Bernardo Ruiz

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Reportero follows a veteran reporter and his colleagues at Zeta, a Tijuana-based independent newsweekly, as they stubbornly ply their trade in one of the deadliest places in the world for members of the media. In Mexico, more than 40 journalists have been slain or have vanished since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to power and launched a government offensive against the country’s powerful drug cartels and organized crime. As the drug war intensifies and the risks to journalists become greater, will the free press be silenced? A co-production of Quiet Pictures and ITVS in association with LPB, with funding provided by CPB. (90 minutes)

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Revolution '67
by Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno

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"Revolution '67" is an illuminating account of events too often relegated to footnotes in U.S. history — the black urban rebellions of the 1960s. Focusing on the six-day Newark, New Jersey outbreak in mid-July, "Revolution '67" reveals how the disturbance began as spontaneous revolts against poverty and police brutality and ended as fateful milestones in America's struggles over race and economic justice. Voices from across the spectrum — activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James and other officials, National Guardsmen and Newark citizens — recall lessons as hard-earned then as they have been easy to neglect since. A co-production with the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with WSKG.

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Salt
by Michael Angus and Murray Fredericks

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In his search for “somewhere I could point my camera into pure space,” award-winning photographer Murray Fredericks began making annual solo camping trips to remote Lake Eyre and its salt flats in South Australia. These trips have yielded remarkable photos of a boundless, desolate yet beautiful environment where sky, water and land merge. Made in collaboration with documentary filmmaker Michael Angus, Salt is the film extension of Fredericks’ work at Lake Eyre, interweaving his photos and video diary with time-lapse sequences to create the liberating and disorienting experience of being thrown into an infinite dimension of mind and spirit.

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The Self-Made Man
by Susan Stern

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Is it ever rational to choose death? On Independence Day at Stern Ranch in central California, 77-year-old solar-energy pioneer Bob Stern finds out he is seriously ill, and possibly dying. Meanwhile, an elderly in-law is slowly declining on artificial life support in a hospital. Bob decides to cheat that fate and take his own life. His family tries to stop him. But first, Bob sets up a video camera. Daughter Susan Stern ("Barbie Nation", POV) tells the story of her father’s quirky, inspiring life and the difficult end-of-life choices faced by an aging population. Part King Lear, part Western, "The Self-Made Man" is a true-life family drama about a controversial issue — Should we control how we die? A co-presentation with the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

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Señorita Extraviada
by Lourdes Portillo

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Someone is killing the young women of Juárez, Mexico. Since 1993, over 270 young women have been raped and murdered in a chillingly consistent and brazen manner. Authorities ignore pleas for justice from the victims' families and the crimes go unpunished. Most disturbingly, evidence of government complicity remains uninvestigated as the killings continue to this day. Crafting a film that is both a poetic meditation and a mystery, "Señorita Extraviada" is a haunting investigation into an unspeakable crime wave amid the disorders and corruption of one of the biggest border towns in the world. An Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) Co-Presentation.

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Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
by Zach Niles and Banker White

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If the refugee is today's tragic icon of a war-ravaged world, then Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, a reggae-inflected band born in the camps of West Africa, represents a real-life story of survival and hope. The six-member Refugee All Stars came together in Guinea after civil war forced them from their native Sierra Leone. Traumatized by physical injuries and the brutal loss of family and community, they fight back with the only means they have — music. The result, as shown in "Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars," is a tableau of tragedy transformed by the band's inspiring determination to sing and be heard. A Diverse Voices Project co-production.

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Sin País (Without Country)
by Theo Rigby

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Winner of a 2011 Student Academy Award, Sin País (Without Country) explores one family’s complex and emotional journey involving deportation. (19 minutes)

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The Sixth Section
by Alex Rivera

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"The Sixth Section" opens a surprising window on immigration in the twenty-first century. Following a group of Mexican immigrants from the tiny desert town of Boqueron who now work in upstate New York, the film documents their struggle to support themselves — and their hometown 2000 miles to the south. To do this, the men form a 'union' that raises money in the form of weekly donations of $10 or $20 from each of its members in New York. In the past few years the group has brought electricity, an ambulance and, most dramatically, a 2,000-seat baseball stadium to Boqueron. "The Sixth Section" is an intimate portrait of how the "American Dream" is being redefined by today's immigrants. A Diverse Voices Project Selection.

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The Smith Family
by Tasha Oldham

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The Smiths of Salt Lake City may have America's most common surname, but their story is anything but ordinary. With two boys, a dog, a nice house and a strong commitment to the Mormon Church, Steve and Kim Smith believed they had achieved the American dream. But after nine years of marriage, shattering revelations of betrayal came — enough to test the strongest bonds of faith and love. When Steve confessed to infidelities with men, and they both find they are HIV+, Kim makes an unlikely choice. "The Smith Family" is a searing account of one family's struggle to preserve family and faith, while redefining forgiveness in the face of daunting tragedy.

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Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam
by Charley Trujillo and Sonya Rhee

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Based on the 1991 American Book Award winner of the same name, Viet Nam War veteran Charley Trujillo and producer Sonya Rhee's "Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam" is the first documentary to recount the harrowing experience of a generation of Mexican-American boys who fought in Viet Nam. Raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, their first journey away from their rural hometown was to the war-torn rice paddies of Viet Nam. Profoundly changed by the experience, the soldados returned with a new conception of themselves and their country — and of the particular challenges facing them as Chicanos. A Diverse Voices Project Selection.

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Soldiers of Conscience
by Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg

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When is it right to kill? In the midst of war, is it right to refuse? Eight U.S. soldiers today, some who killed and some who said no, reveal their inner moral dilemmas in Soldiers of Conscience. Made with official permission of the U.S. Army, the film transcends politics to explore the tension between spiritual values and military orders. Soldiers follows the stories of both conscientious objectors and those who criticize them. Through this clash of views, the film discovers a surprising common ground: all soldiers are "soldiers of conscience," torn between the demands of duty and the call of conscience.

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A Song for Daniel
by Jason DaSilva

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"A Song for Daniel" compares a routine day of two nine-year-old boys — one living in Baghdad and the other, born and raised in New York City — and offers a profound examination of culture and place through the eyes of two Iraqi youth living on opposite sides of the world.

This is a 9 minute short film.

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Special Flight
by Fernand Melgar

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Special Flight is a dramatic account of the plight of undocumented foreigners at the Frambois detention center in Geneva, Switzerland, and of the wardens who struggle to reconcile humane values with the harsh realities of a strict deportation system. The 25 Frambois inmates featured are among the thousands of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants imprisoned without charge or trial and facing deportation to their native countries, where they fear repression or even death. The film, made in Switzerland, is a heart-wrenching exposé of the contradictions between the country’s compassionate social policies and the intractability of its immigration laws.

 

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Speedo: A Demolition Derby Love Story
by Jesse Moss

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This award-winning documentary looks at the promising racing career and troubled family life of Ed "Speedo" Jager, one of the nation's top demolition-derby drivers. Trapped in a failing marriage, Speedo channels life's frustrations onto the track, hoping to parlay his talents into a "real" racing career. The film captures Speedo's collisions and confrontations during one tumultuous year as he struggles to achieve his dreams on the track and succeed as a husband, a father and a man. When he falls for Liz, a racetrack official from New Jersey, his life takes a surprising turn.

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Standing Silent Nation
by Suree Towfighnia and Courtney Hermann

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What does a family have to endure to create a future for itself? In April 2000, Alex White Plume and his Lakota family planted industrial hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota after other crops had failed. They put their hopes for a sustainable economy in hemp's hardiness and a booming worldwide demand for its many products, from clothing to food. Although growing hemp, a relative of marijuana, was banned in the U.S., Alex believed that tribal sovereignty, along with hemp's non-psychoactive properties, would protect him. But when federal agents raided the White Plumes' fields, the Lakota Nation was swept into a Byzantine struggle over tribal sovereignty, economic rights and common sense. A co-presentation of Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT).

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State of Denial
by Elaine Epstein

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"State of Denial" reveals the human experience behind one of the world's greatest tragedies — the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. With five million people infected and nearly two thousand new infections occurring daily, South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world. The film takes viewers into the lives of six people struggling to survive with HIV in the face of social stigma, a severe lack of access to lifesaving treatments, and their president Thabo Mbeki's controversial denial of the connection between HIV and AIDS. A film of quiet outrage, "State of Denial" weaves the personal with the political in an uplifting portrait of ordinary people struggling to survive.

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Steam of Life
by Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen

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From a land of long, dark winters comes Steam of Life, a moody, comic and moving study of Finnish men as framed by the national obsession with the sauna. There, they come together to sweat out not only the grime of contemporary life, but also their grief, hopes, joys and memories. Beautifully and hauntingly shot, the acclaimed film provides a surprising glimpse into the lives of Finnish men and a remarkable depiction of the troubled and often reticent hearts of contemporary Western men. (60 minutes)

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StoryCorps Shorts
by The Rauch Brothers

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The renowned oral-history project StoryCorps brings intimate conversations among friends and families to life in touching, often hilarious animated shorts that are sure to strike a chord in all of us. Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Street Fight
by Marshall Curry

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The 2006 Academy Award nominated "Street Fight" covers the turbulent campaign of Cory Booker, a 32-year old Rhodes Scholar/Yale Law graduate running for mayor of Newark, N.J. against Sharpe James, the four-term incumbent twice his age. An urban David and Goliath story, the film chronicles the young man's struggle against the city's entrenched political machine, which routinely uses strong-arm tactics to hold onto power. The battle sheds light on important questions about democracy, power, poverty and race. When the mayor accuses the Ivy League-educated challenger of not being "really black," the campaign forces voters to examine how we define race in America. A co-presentation with the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

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Sun Kissed
by Maya Stark and Adi Lavy

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When a Navajo couple discovers their children have a disorder that makes exposure to sunlight fatal, they also learn their reservation is a hotbed for this rare genetic disease. Why? Sun Kissed follows Dorey and Yolanda Nez as they confront cultural taboos, tribal history and their own unconventional choices to learn the shocking truth: The consequences of the Navajos’ Long Walk—their forced relocation by the U.S. military in 1864—are far from over. A co-production of ITVS. A co-presentation with LPB. (60 minutes)

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The Sweetest Sound
by Alan Berliner

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What's in a name? Names are the opening words to our life stories. With intimacy, humor and his own inimitable style, Alan Berliner dives headfirst into the American name pool in search of the treasures and traps hidden in names — especially his own. The Sweetest Sound starts out as a search for identity, transforms into a meditation on mortality, leaving a keen sense of the power and mystery embedded in every name.

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Sweetgrass
by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor

A film still from 'Sweetgrass'
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Sweetgrass presents a riveting and poetic portrait of the American West just as one of its traditional ways of life dies out. Shot amidst the grandeur of Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the film follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into the breathtaking and often dangerous mountains for summer pasture. Magnificently photographed and unsparingly candid, Sweetgrass discovers a world of harsh beauty and arduous labor, where humans still work in rugged intimacy with nature. (90 minutes)

Work with this film:
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Discussion Guide | Further Reading List | Lesson Plan

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Left: WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima (POV 1989)