Exclusive: Lois Vossen on how ‘Independent Lens’ will explore “who we are as a country”

American pubcaster PBS’s long-running documentary strand ‘Independent Lens’ has unveiled its programming lineup for this winter and the spring, with My Country No More, Hale County This Morning, This Evening and The King spotlighting its ...
November 19, 2018

American pubcaster PBS’s long-running documentary strand ‘Independent Lens’ has unveiled its programming lineup for this winter and the spring, with My Country No MoreHale County This Morning, This Evening and The King spotlighting its Spring 2019 season.

The award-winning doc strand returns on Jan. 7 with the premiere of Jeremiah Hammerling and Rita Baghdadi‘s acclaimed film My Country No More, which explores the human and agricultural cost of the oil-drilling boom in North Dakota. The film world premiered at the 2018 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

“It sounds a bit cliché but the one thing that is true is that the filmmakers really have their pulse on what is happening on the ground and oftentimes years before it bubbles up into the mainstream,” Lois Vossen, executive producer of ‘Independent Lens, tells realscreen. “It’s not surprising at all to me that we had filmmakers five years ago going out even more deeply into rural America to tell stories about communities that were feeling overlooked.”

Among the films slated to explore the issues affecting America’s heartland – what Vossen says is this season’s “overarching theme” – are RaMell Ross’ critically acclaimed Hale County This Morning, This Evening, which paints a picture of life for two young African-American men in rural Alabama; and Eugene Jarecki’s The King from exec producer Steven Soderbergh, which takes Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce on a musical road trip across America to trace the rise and fall of The King as a metaphor for the current state of Donald Trump’s USA.

“The question about who we are as a country right now is probably the overarching theme – it’s a broad question, but we’re a complex nation,” Vossen says. “It takes a lot of films and a lot of truth tellers to tell that story, and so I think that’s why we’re so excited to have such a breadth of films, because there’s not one way to look at America.”

To that point, The Providers (pictured), from first-time filmmakers Anna Moot-Levin and Laura Green, also sets out to discern the heart of middle America by following three overworked practitioners at The El Centro Family Health in New Mexico in their daily work and private lives.

Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer’s Wrestle, meanwhile, will document four high school wrestlers at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville, which has been on Alabama’s failing schools list for years, as they navigate various injustices and challenges on and off the mat.

Also, filmmakers Marilyn Ness, Ciara Lacy and Denali Tiller will address the issues of criminal justice and prison reform from differing perspectives with their projects. The respective films find a way into the topic from myriad angles – the economic toll; how incarceration impacts the entire family and not only the individual sent to prison; incarceration rates in rural America; and the decades-long discrepancy between people of color who are incarcerated versus their population percentage in various cities across the U.S.

Ness’ 106-minute Charm City, which held its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, provides a candid portrait of citizens, police, community advocates and government officials in an embattled Baltimore community as they endure three years of escalating violence.

Tiller’s Tre Maison Dasan, a 94-minute film, provides a depiction of three young boys growing up in Rhode Island, each with a parent in prison, and explores the impacts of incarceration on the families left behind, while Lacey’s Out of State captures the struggles of two native Hawaiians, formerly imprisoned in Arizona, as they discover their Indigenous traditions and their struggles to navigate freedom in their home state.

Similarly, David Sutherland’s Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore aims to tackle the immigration debate by approaching it from a new POV. The film – a co-production of ‘Frontline’, ‘Independent Lens’ and Voces – paints an intimate portrait of U.S. Marine veteran Elizabeth Perez and her efforts to reunite her family after the deportation of her undocumented husband, Marcos.

“The filmmakers realized that in a time when people are so seemingly deeply divided, it takes a really thoughtful, nuanced look at an issue in order to bring other people to that conversation,” Vossen explains.

“The films that we funded and supported, all of them work really hard to speak to people on both ends of the political spectrum,” she adds. “That is not new, but I would say that it’s heightened this year. It’s something that filmmakers are deeply aware of.”

‘Independent Lens,’ which is programmed by the Independent Television Service, airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. (unless otherwise indicated) on PBS. All films are available for free online streaming the day after broadcast. A selection of popular and award-winning films from previous seasons will also be available to stream in the weeks leading up to the new season launch.

The broadcast schedule for January-May 2019 follows below.

My Country No More
Jeremiah Hammerling and Rita Baghdadi
January 7

Rodents of Unusual Size
Christopher Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quinn Costello
January 14

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World
Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana
January 21

The King
Eugene Jarecki
January 28

Black Memorabilia
Chico Colvard
February 4

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
RaMell Ross
February 11

People’s Republic of Desire by Hao Wu
February 25

Tre Maison Dasan
Denali Tiller
April 1

The Providers
Anna Moot-Levin and Laura Green
April 8

Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
David Sutherland
An Independent Lens, Frontline and VOCES co-presentation
April 15

Charm City
Marilyn Ness
April 22

Out of State
Ciara Lacy
May 6

Harvest Season
Bernardo Ruiz
May 13

Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer
May 20

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.