Telling the Story of Kumu Hina

filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, with Kumu Hina and student

Filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, with Kumu Hina and student Ho’onani

Kumu Hina, which won the Frameline Jury Award for Achievement in Documentary, was called “a subtle but inspiring tale” by Alice Lytton in IndieWire. “This is a film which could, if given the chance, push people both within and without the LGBT community to question not only their assumptions but also their language.”

The film is an intimate portrait of Hina, a mahu (transgender) woman and cultural legend in Hawaii who teaches Hawaiian language, history, and culture. She finds a surprising candidate to lead her school’s all-male hula troupe: Ho’onani, a sixth grader who is proud to be seen as a mixture of boy and girl. As Kumu (teacher) Hina helps Ho’onani negotiate the mixed reactions of her classmates and her family, the power of culture to instill a sense of pride and acceptance becomes clear.

We spoke with Hawaii-based filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson about how they first came across Hina, what younger generations can learn from this story, and things that surprised them while making the film. Kuma Hina premieres on PBS tonight, Monday, May 4, at 10pm (check local listings).

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Hawaiian Music: More Than Just Hula (But Also Hula)

Hina performing with some of her students, from Kumu Hina

Hina performing with some of her students, from Kumu Hina

In tandem with the upcoming PBS premiere of Kumu Hina, we created this Spotify playlist compiling some of the greatest Hawaiian music, from Hula to slack guitar, ukulele, and beyond. And yes, we also couldn’t resist tossing in a standard at the end, while finding inspiration for some of the other choices via Hawaii Magazine, Honolulu Magazine, King’s Hawaiian, and our friends, readers, and viewers from Hawaii.

Kumu Hina tells the captivating story of a native Hawaiian mahu (transgender) teacher who uses traditional culture to inspire a student to lead the school’s all-male hula troupe. The film reveals a side of paradise rarely seen on screen, and airs on Independent Lens on PBS Monday night May 4 at 10 pm (check local listings).

To accompany the playlist, here’s a collection of tracks and videos to further get you in a Hawaiian state of mind, and have your own personal kanikapila (music jam) in your home.

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After the Storm: Interactive Documentary Launches on Anniversary of Alabama Tornado Disaster

afterstorm-tuscaloosa

On April 27, 2011, a powerful storm system unleashed a deadly series of tornadoes across central Alabama that devastated several cities. The largest tornado, which was categorized an F4, ripped through the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, area with winds up to 260 miles per hour, traveling over a distance of 80 miles, with a path of destruction up to 1.5 miles wide. When it was over, the tornado had killed 64 people and injured more than 1,500.

Alabama-based documentary filmmaker and teacher Andrew Beck Grace survived the storm, and as he discovered in the days to come, numbers and adjectives — even images — only go so far in describing what it means to wake up to your world completely rearranged.

Grace has produced a unique interactive documentary about the aftermath in Tuscaloosa called After the Storm. It tells the story of what happens after the storm passes, after the media leaves town, and after the adrenaline subsides. Independent Lens is proud to co-present this interactive documentary with The Washington Post, launching today (April 27) on the 4th anniversary of the storm.

After you immerse yourself in After the Storm, read the following interview we conducted with Grace about producing this unique work, one which hit very close to home. Continue reading

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Brakeless Wins Peabody Award

George Foster Peabody Awards in rows

The Independent Lens film Brakeless, which aired this season, was just given the great honor of winning a Peabody Award, which recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals. The 74th annual Peabody Award winners were announced today online and by the Peabody program at the University of Georgia.

Japanese subway train with people crammed on

Other winners include United States of Secrets, a deeply researched FRONTLINE documentary about the alarming growth of government surveillance at home and abroad since 9/11; American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, a POV film about a remarkable Chinese-American human-rights activist;and Freedom Summer, an American Experience remembrance of a pivotal Civil Rights campaign: the life-risking voter-registration expedition to Mississippi in 1964.

Brakeless, a film by Kyoko Miyake, aired on PBS in October 2014 and looked at the tragic 2005 Amagasaki railway crash in Japan as a way to ignite a larger discussion on the value of (and obsession with) efficiency in our lives. We extend hearty congratulations to Kyoko on this prestigious honor.

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Margaret Brown Returns to the Gulf for The Great Invisible

The Great Invisible filmmaker Margaret Brown

The Great Invisible filmmaker Margaret Brown

A native of Mobile, Alabama, filmmaker Margaret Brown received the 2010 Peabody Award for her second documentary feature, The Order of Myths (Independent Lens, 2009), which was about Mobile’s Mardi Gras tradition. She returned to her native Gulf Coast to make The Great Invisible (winner of the 2014 SXSW Documentary Grand Jury Prize), which tells the human story of the aftermath of the devastating April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent spill that still haunts the area today. The film, which Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir calls “mesmerizing,” premieres tonight on PBS at 10 pm [check local listings], on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.

Brown took time to talk to us a bit about what compelled her to make this haunting film.  Continue reading

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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 Deepwater disaster. [The film premieres on PBS this Monday, April 20, the 5th anniversary of the tragic event.]

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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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