Exclusive: ‘Lens’ to premiere “Park Avenue,” “Love Free,” “Never Sorry”

PBS strand 'Independent Lens' will kick off its 2012-13 season with controversial Sundance hit Love Free or Die (pictured), senior series producer Lois Vossen tells realscreen, before premiering The Invisible War, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and new Alex Gibney doc Park Avenue.
August 14, 2012

PBS strand ‘Independent Lens’ will kick off its 11th season – the first in its new 10 p.m. Monday night timeslot – on October 29, with the U.S. TV premiere of Macky Alston’s Sundance hit Love Free or Die (pictured).

The film, which picked up the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for an Agent of Change at Sundance earlier this year, will be joined by a host of other Sundance-winning docs, including Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War, Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In, and Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

The strand will also play host to a new money-themed film from Alex Gibney: Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream, realscreen can reveal. The doc looks in part at 740 Park Avenue in Manhattan, an address boasting the highest number of billionaires in the U.S., by contrasting the lives of its wealthy residents with people living in the South Bronx, a few blocks away.

The latter doc is one of two films that features in the ambitious global ‘Why Poverty?’ project, with the other being Jehane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief’s Solar Mamas, which realscreen first revealed details of in May last year (when it was called Solar Grandmothers).

Other titles getting U.S. TV premieres on the strand will include SXSW picks Beauty is Embarrassing and Wonder Women: the Untold Story of the American Superheroines; Sundance and Hot Docs hit Detropia; and Brad Lichtenstein’s Wisconsin-set doc As Goes Janesville.

Talking to realscreen about the line-up, ‘Independent Lens’ senior series producer Lois Vossen (pictured below) said the uniting theme for the season was “big issues in America.”

“More than anything I would say that’s what ties this to an election year – this idea of what’s happening in contemporary America,” she explained.

Lois Vossen. Photo: Rahoul Ghose/PBS

“All of the films are meant to really be conversations where people talk about the big issues: the war on drugs, rape in the U.S. military, the U.S. economy, the demise of the middle class, gay marriage. All topics that have people sort of polarized – and our goal is to try and bridge that divide.”

On the decision to open the season with Love Free or Die, which looks at New Hampshire’s openly gay bishop Gene Robinson, Vossen said: “We wanted something that we felt was really relevant to what’s happening in larger conversations around the country. We hadn’t done anything on it before and it gave us a great opportunity to present that issue in a way that we felt really resonated.”

She added that the team wanted “the tone of the first show to represent the season, which was pretty serious work about pretty big subjects,” and also pointed out that “we don’t like to ghettoize films into Gay Pride month, we try to bring those topics forward, and it was an opportunity to do that as well.”

Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s new doc, meanwhile, “really looks at the top 1% of the 1%, and this idea of ‘where is power and money,’ and how is money now influencing politics in America,” according to Vossen.

“It’s very much about trying to follow the money in terms of elections, policy making and laws that are passed. It’s very timely, obviously, in terms of how our government system has changed over time in terms of lobbying.”

Prior to kicking off the season on October 29, ‘Lens’ will present a two-night primetime special event on October 1 and 2: Maro Chermayeff’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the miniseries follows six female actors – America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde – as they travel to Africa and Asia to meet inspiring individuals who are confronting oppression and empowering women and girls.

Beyond the fall season, ‘Lens’ will in April air Marco Williams’ The Undocumented, a film looking at the issue of immigration on the Arizona-Mexico perimeter, which focuses on “people crossing over the border and people who die in the desert.”

Other titles set to air in 2013 include Robert Levi’s America on Stage, which follows a number of theater companies working across America; and Nicole Newnham and Maren Grainger-Monsen’s India-set doc The Revolutionary Optimists.

Vossen added that her team was “very excited” to have secured a Monday night slot for ‘Lens,’ after the issue of scheduling caused controversy earlier this year. “As you know, we’ve been working with PBS to find the right night, and we all feel as though this is it,” she said. “We have a really strong lead-in with shows that are on prior to us.”

She added that Mondays were a great night for documentaries, “starting off the week with multivitamins for the brain.”

Check out the trailer for Love Free or Die below:


The full ‘Independent Lens’ 2012 fall line-up, with descriptions from PBS, follows below:

Special Presentation: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

October 1-2, 2012 at 9 p.m.

A landmark series based on the book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide follows six actress-advocates including America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde as they travel to Africa and Asia and meet inspiring, courageous individuals who are confronting oppression and developing real, meaningful solutions through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls.

Half the Sky aims to amplify the central message of the book — that women are not the problem, but the solution — and to bolster the broad and growing movement for change.

Love Free or Die

Directed by Macky Alston

Monday, October 29, 2012 at 10 p.m. (check local listings)

Love Free or Die┬áis about a man whose two defining passions the world cannot reconcile: his love for God and for his partner Mark. The film is about church and state, love and marriage, faith and identity — and one man’s struggle to dispel the notion that God’s love has limits. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay elected bishop in the high church traditions of Christendom.

His 2003 elevation in the New Hampshire diocese ignited a worldwide firestorm in the Anglican Communion that has threatened schism. In the face of it all, Robinson confronts those who use religion as a means of oppression, and claims a place in the church and society for everyone.

As Goes Janesville

Directed by Brad Lichtenstein

Monday, November 5, 2012 at 10 p.m. (check local listings)

As Goes Janesville catapults viewers to the front lines of America’s debate over the future of its middle class — a debate that has become a pitched battle over unions in the normally tranquil state of Wisconsin. First, General Motors shuts down Janesville’s century-old plant, causing mass layoffs and exiling residents who must leave in search of work. Then newly elected governor Scott Walker ignites a firestorm by introducing a bill to end collective bargaining, unleashing a fury of protest and sparking a recall election.

Spend three years in the lives of laid-off workers trying to reinvent themselves; business leaders aligned with the Governor to promote a pro-business agenda they believe will woo new companies to town; and a state senator caught in the middle, trying to bring peace to his warring state and protect workers’ rights. As goes Janesville, so goes America, a polarized nation losing its grasp on the American Dream.

Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream

Directed by Alex Gibney

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10 p.m. (check local listings)

If income inequality were a sport, the residents of 740 Park Avenue in Manhattan would all be medalists. This address boasts the highest number of billionaires in the United States, many of whom actively lobby and finance political campaigns to lower taxes on the wealthy. Less than four miles away, Park Avenue runs through New York’s 16th Congressional District in the South Bronx, which has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Minutes away from one another as the crow flies, these New Yorkers face dramatically different economic realities.

Solar Mamas

Directed by Jehane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief, and produced by Mette Heide

Monday, December 17, 2012 at 10 p.m. (check local listings)

Welcome to India’s Barefoot College, founded by Bunker Roy to provide rural women living in poverty with an education that empowers them to make their communities self-reliant and sustainable. Rafea, a 30-year-old Jordanian mother of four, is traveling outside of her village for the first time to attend Barefoot’s solar engineering program. Once there, she will join women from Guatemala, Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Colombia in learning concrete skills to change their communities.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.