Survivors: Confronting Deepwater Horizon Trauma through Oil on Canvas

Sara Lattis Stone seated at easel, painting.

Artist Sara Lattis Stone at work in her Southern California home studio

Artist Sara Lattis Stone, whose husband Stephen Stone escaped the Deepwater Horizon disaster alive, turned to her craft — painting — as a means of confronting the post-traumatic stress her family endured following the tragedy. In a victim impact statement submitted to the United States District Court, Sara wrote:

I titled the ongoing series Survivors because I believe that all of us, including our families, are survivors of this tragedy on some level or another. Creating these paintings was a therapeutic way for me to deal with the grief of this event. I have never been good with words so this was a way for me to speak to others about what is happening to us. I wanted to show them to you so that you could hopefully see the pain and anger and sadness that we all felt and that we continue to experience daily because of BP’s negligence.

In early spring of 2015, The Great Invisible filmmaker Margaret Brown visited Sara and Stephen to film an update on their struggle to heal five years after the disaster. [The film premieres on PBS this Monday, April 20, the 5th anniversary of the disaster.]

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Going Deeper into the Deepwater Horizon Rig

aboard the deepwater horizon interactive feature graphic

This coming Monday, April 20, marks the 5th anniversary of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the oil industry. The Great Invisible, Margaret Brown’s film premiering on Independent Lens on PBS Monday at 10pm (check local listings), makes clear how the record-setting spill’s repercussions reached far beyond the devastating environmental impact to the Gulf.

Doug Brown, the chief engineer aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded, survived the disaster, and as we see in the below clip from The Great Invisible, his life was forever changed by the ordeal. But years earlier, to alleviate the boredom of all the downtime inherent to working on a rig, Doug shot home movies to give his family a glimpse of life aboard the Deepwater Horizon. The footage is a gift, and even the more banal moments, like a cameo by a large marine bird, take on an added poignancy in light of the catastrophe looming in the future. Continue reading

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The Homestretch: Kasey Checks In (video)

Kasey, from The Homestretch

Kasey, from The Homestretch

Kasey, one of three teens portrayed in The Homestretch who are striving to make a better future for themselves, checked in just today to give us all an update on how she’s doing. After you watch the film, which premieres tonight, April 13 at 10pm on Independent Lens on PBS (check local listings), you will no doubt want to know, too. See below for this exclusive video:

We also recommend our interview with the filmmakers, a look at teen homelessness in America, and the official Independent Lens site for the film.

Special thanks to Will Thwaites, one of the film’s associate producers, for helping us coordinate with Kasey.
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Going into The Homestretch: Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare Find Hope in Chicago

Roque, from The Homestretch

Roque, from The Homestretch

Filmmakers Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s previous collaboration, Asparagus! Stalking the American Life, about Oceana County, Michigan where Kelly is from, was called “a charmer” by the Kansas City Star. For their new film, the pair went into more urban territory – Chicago, Illinois – for a look at an issue that is widespread across the United States: teenage homelessness. The Homestretch, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS Monday night, April 13 (check local listings) was declared “inspiring” by the Christian Science Monitor and offers glimpses of hope in what are undeniably troubled lives.

The filmmakers jointly answered some questions we had about making a film about homelessness, in which the main subjects led lives constantly in flux.  Continue reading

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Homeless but Not Hopeless: Homeless Youth in America

Homeless teen Anthony on a bench in cold Chicago, in The Homestretch

Youth homelessness is on the rise in the United States, and the numbers aren’t pretty. One in 30 kids (nearly 2.5 million children) of K-12 school age are now homeless in the US, according to a study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. (A distressing enough story to get a pre-teen journalist to write about it for IndyKids.) As per UNICEF, the USA has a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of $16.8 trillion, yet has the developed world’s second highest rate of child poverty.

Depressing numbers to be sure. But rather than feel completely hopeless, there are people out there making a difference, and teens who are fighting through the obstacles to build better lives for themselves. Three such stories are at the center of the new film The Homestretch, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS Monday night April 13 at 10pm (check local listings).

But as David Bowie sang, “It Ain’t Easy.” None of these kids can do it all on their own, as determined as they are. Continue reading

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Little Hope Was Arson: A Letter from a Texas Jail

graffiti from Little Hope Was Arson

Spoiler Alert: If you’d rather wait to learn more about the procedural around the arson cases explored in Little Hope Was Arson, we recommend saving this piece for right after you watch the film, which premieres tonight, Monday, April 6 on Independent Lens at 10pm (check local listings).

It’s been four years since Jason Bourque and Daniel McAllister were convicted of the serial arsons that destroyed 10 East Texas churches. On the eve of the premiere of Little Hope Was Arson, which recounts the manhunt that eventually led to their arrests, we wanted to follow-up with both men to gain their perspectives on the crimes, and whether their attitudes have changed since participating in the film. One of the pair, Jason, wrote back (Daniel McAllister has not chosen to respond as of the time of this publication).

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Theo Love Finds Hope in Little Hope Was Arson

Church on fire in East Texas while firefighters battle, from film Little Hope Was Arson

Theo Love’s documentary Little Hope Was Arson, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS Monday night April 6 at 10pm (check local listings), explores a chilling series of connected arson fires set in East Texas in 2010, all involving churches, and does so with an open mind and an open heart to all involved. The case ignited the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history and had repercussions felt far and wide, from church patrons and pastors to the families of those eventually arrested for the crime, and made national news. [Read more here.]

“A fascinating story told with deep insight, Little Hope Was Arson finds that both fire and forgiveness burn in different ways,” wrote Kevin Jagernauth in The Playlist.

An award-winning short filmmaker, this is Love’s first feature documentary. He took time out to talk to us about what led him to want to explore this crime in full, and the challenges of doing so on film.

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How Arson Investigation Has Changed

fire in East Texas, from the film Little Hope Was Arson

Theo Love’s film Little Hope Was Arson explores a linked series of suspicious fires set in East Texas in 2010. In the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” ten churches burned to the ground in just over a month, igniting the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history. The film premieres on PBS this coming Monday, April 6 at 10pm (check local listings), and of it, The New York Times wrote that the film shows “Americana unvarnished and, because of that, as absorbing as it is respectful.” [Learn more about the film >>.]

Because of the nature and size of the serial arson case in East Texas, the investigation involved 15 agencies who deployed at least 100 investigators to relatively quickly hone in on the suspects. As you’ll see in the film’s depiction of the forensics of arson investigation, it is a crucial but inexact science that’s been evolving and improving in recent years.

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I Identify: What Forces Determine Your Identity?

Text logo reads I Identify with out of focus image of young woman in headscarf in the background..

In Little White Lie [airing on PBS this coming Monday, March 23 at 10pm; check local listings], filmmaker Lacey Schwartz uncovers an identity-altering family secret, and then embarks on a journey of discovery as she contends with her new sense of self. The film challenges us to reconsider the notion that identity is a stable, clearly-defined dimension.

Independent Lens takes up Little White Lie‘s challenge with the digital short, I Identify. We gather a diverse group of San Francisco Bay Area residents to take on the forces that shape identity, from family and friends, to deeply-held personal convictions, and social and historical developments far beyond any one person’s control. Watch the video:

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Little White Lie: Lacey Schwartz Uproots Her Family Tree

From Little White Lie, Lacey's family tree

As a girl, Lacey Schwartz grew up wondering why she had darker skin, which became a source of embarrassment for her and eventually led her to question everything. Little White Lie is the filmmaker’s personal journey through a lifelong legacy of family secrets that, once revealed, changed her own identity and sense of self. “The film is a searing portrait of collective denial,” wrote Ben Kenigsberg in The New York Times, “a diagnosis from which Ms. Schwartz doesn’t exempt herself.”

Little White Lie premieres tonight, March 23, at 10pm on PBS (check local listings).

Lacey took the time out to talk to us about the film, including ways it’s changed everything for her family, and how– while her story is certainly unique – she thinks it will spark similar conversations in other families.

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