Maro Chermayeff on the Making of A Path Appears

Schoolchildren in Haiti, standing in line, waiting for school to begin.

From the creative team behind the acclaimed series Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, A Path Appears follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and a group of dedicated actor/advocates to Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, and throughout the United States. They uncover the harshest forms of gender inequality, the devastating impact of poverty and the ripple effects that follow: including sex trafficking, teen-pregnancy, gender-based violence, child slavery and the effective solutions being forged to combat them.

In the following excerpt from the A Path Appears Discussion Guides created for Community Cinema and Independent Lens, we asked the film’s director Maro Chermayeff to share her experiences working on her three-part follow up to Half the Sky. A Path Appears premiered on PBS’s Independent Lens January 26 and continues with parts 2 and 3 Monday, February 2 and Monday, February 9 [check local listings].

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Targeting Sex Buyers, Not Sex Sellers: Arresting Demand for Prostitution

Two Los Angeles police officers arrest a john

LAPD officers arrest a john

By Lisa Ko

The following article is presented in conjunction with the broadcast television premiere of A Path Appears on PBS’s Independent Lens (airs Monday, January 26, February 2 & 9; check local listings for the date and time in your area).

With the exception of some counties in Nevada, prostitution is illegal throughout the United States. But for every john or pimp arrested, multiple girls and women — some of whom were forced into the trade while still underage — are often arrested as well. Police harassment and incarceration can subject these women to further injustice, violence, and abuse.

In Massachusetts, police were found to arrest women for prostitution-related offenses far more frequently than they arrest men. The laws themselves are discriminatory: a woman can be arrested for prostitution by standing on a street corner with intention to sell, but johns can only be arrested if they’re caught discussing payments in exchange for sex.

Elsewhere, law enforcement agencies are pursuing a different approach.

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Moral Dilemmas in 10 War Films

Adam Winfield and family react to sentencing, August 2011. Photo by Dan Krauss.

From The Kill Team: Adam Winfield and family react to sentencing, August 2011. Photo by Dan Krauss

By Craig Phillips

The central dilemma in Dan Krauss‘s documentary The Kill Team (premiering on PBS tonight) is grappled with by an American soldier in Afghanistan who found members of his platoon were committing immoral war crimes, and wanted to blow the whistle on them, even if it endangered his life. Writing on RogerEbert.com, Godfrey Cheshire notes that the film “offers a deep, troubling probe into a military culture that both incubates horrifically criminal acts against innocents and throws innumerable obstacles in the paths of soldiers who would thwart or report those outrages.”

Such wrenching battles over morality have been at the heart of war films since the silent and classic eras (All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); La Grande Illusion (1937), possibly the greatest film ever made about the futility of war) up through current cinema (Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper included, though critics are arguing about the amount of moral complexity and context in the film).

Here’s a look at some other films, both fictional and documentary, that have characters who made a moral choice in the middle of war.

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Dan Krauss Investigates The Kill Team

Dan Krauss shooting behind the camera of The Kill Team, with Adam Winfield in the foreground

Dan Krauss shooting behind the camera of The Kill Team, with Adam Winfield in the foreground

Filmmaker Dan Krauss, who was nominated for an Academy Award and two Emmys for his first feature, The Death of Kevin Carter, was on the Oscar shortlist for his latest documentary The Kill Team, which also received a Director’s Guild of America (DGA) Award nomination. The film, which is about a soldier who got caught in a moral conundrum during the war in Afghanistan when fellow soldiers were committing war crimes, was called a “terrifying example of how easily basic human decency and morality can melt away in the fog of war” by Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir and an “inconsolably moving documentary” by NPR and New York magazine’s David Edelstein, “an essential film no matter what your political convictions.” The Kill Team has its television premiere this Monday, January 19th, at 10pm on Independent Lens on PBS [check local listings]. 

Krauss is now developing both a fiction film and a new documentary — though he can’t discuss either publicly yet, he tells us — and checked in to talk a bit about this memorable film.

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Darius Clark Monroe’s Evolution from Criminal to Filmmaker

Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe

Filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe

Darius Clark Monroe’s own evolution from loving son, to incarcerated criminal, and then back to student and filmmaker, is quite a journey. In his documentary Evolution of a Criminal, he points the camera at himself to revisit the people affected by the bank robbery he committed as a teenager, a decision borne out of economic desperation. The film, executive-produced by Spike Lee, premieres on Independent Lens tonight at 10pm [check local listings]. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Frank Scheck wrote: “Documentary filmmakers often turn to their own lives for inspiration, but few have as compelling a story to mine as Darius Clark Monroe… While the film could have been an exercise in self-justification, it instead offers no excuses, only explanations.”

The busy filmmaker, who has also made numerous shorts (including this one), answered a few questions about the film, on the eve of the premiere.


Why did you want to make Evolution of a Criminal, to revisit this part of your life on film?

The idea to make this documentary came to me during my third year in the grad film program at NYU. I was actually at a bank, making a deposit, when I thought someone was going to come inside and rob it. I stood in line filled with anxiety because I thought this day would be the day of reckoning. I believe in karma and I just knew that I was going to one day experience being on the other side of a shotgun.

Fortunately, the robbery was a figment of my imagination, but the feeling, the anxiety never went away. I thought about the customers in the bank the day I participated in a robbery a decade prior. I wondered about their experience and was ashamed that so many years had gone by without an apology.

I spoke with Daniel Patterson, my best friend/former classmate, and our cinematographer, and informed him of what I wanted to do. I also spoke with my parents and explained that I wanted to investigate how I, at 16, found myself deeply embedded within the American criminal justice system when a year prior, I had hopes for college with the dream of one day being an architect.

This film is an exploration of the behavioral, familial, and systemic influences that pushed me to make the decision to rob a bank, and the long lasting impact of that choice.

What were some of the challenges that arose for you in the making of this personal film?

Most creatives tend to be emotional. I’m no different. I’d fooled myself into thinking that I had become emotionally detached from the events that occurred ten years prior, but that was far from the truth. The biggest challenge was having to relive everything. It felt like time had collapsed and I was back in 1997. I had assumed that I was emotionally ready to embark on this journey of self-discovery. I was not.

Young Darius Clark Monroe in Evolution of a Criminal

Young Darius Clark Monroe, in Evolution of a Criminal

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in Evolution of a Criminal?

The majority of the subjects featured in the film are family members. The trust was already built in. I have tremendous respect and admiration for all of the individuals interviewed in this project. They knew that I was not going to exploit, falsify statements, or manipulate them in any way. I was on the hunt for the truth and they were committed to the same goal. My subjects also knew that I, too, was a subject and that I’d be just as open and vulnerable in my interviews.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

Every scene where I’m interacting with or interviewing one of the customers in the bank (victims) moves me. I’m still incredibly humbled and truly blown away by their kindness, their compassion, and generosity. It took a lot to ask for forgiveness, but I never expected to be forgiven. Those scenes show the resilience of the human spirit. I’m left feeling hopeful each time I experience them.

Dramatic re-enactment scene from Evolution of a Criminal

Dramatic re-enactment scene from Evolution of a Criminal

What do you hope viewers can connect with in seeing Evolution?

Evolution of a Criminal is a universal film. The majority of this country lives paycheck to paycheck. The financial struggle that my family experienced is an American struggle. We’d like to believe that most people wouldn’t go to the extent of committing a crime to help ease that burden, but I’m of the belief that it’s more common than advertised.

Was there anything you couldn’t get done when you were making your film?

I didn’t get married, have children, or buy a house. One day, I’d like to accomplish all three, but who knows… Film is a jealous and selfish lover.

What are your three favorite films?

Jurassic Park, The 400 Blows, Do the Right Thing.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring filmmakers?

Do you really want to do this? Like REALLY want to do this…? If you’re not passionate about filmmaking, not about film watching, there’s no need to waste anymore time fooling yourself. The work is painfully hard but incredibly rewarding, but you have to want it like you’ve never wanted anything else. You have to be okay with not seeing family and friends. You have to be okay with being broke. You have to be okay with rejection. Be okay with not knowing what your future will look like. You have to be a dreamer and be realistic at the same time.

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Bonus:

Hear Monroe interviewed by CBC (Canada) Radio.
See Monroe talking about the film on MSNBC:

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Evolution of a Criminal: Juvenile Justice Quiz

Evolution of a Criminal Juvenile Justice Quiz

With the broadcast television premiere of Evolution of a Criminal almost upon us (Monday, January 12th; check local listings), we thought it’d be interesting to dig a little deeper into the topic of juvenile criminality in America. To step back for a moment, the Indie Spirit Award-nominated film itself is by filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe, who tells the story of how he went from honor student and good kid to robbing a bank as a desperate teenager. Wrote Moira MacDonald in the Seattle Times:

“Now in his early 30s and an MFA film-school graduate, Monroe returned to his hometown to interview his parents, his relatives, law-enforcement officials and the two other young men involved in the crime. The resulting film, which intersperses interview footage with an artfully filmed re-enactment of the robbery, is a thoughtful, gripping exploration of the mindset of a 16-year-old boy.”

To expand on that topic, we created a Juvenile Justice Quiz that was as much an eye-opening experience for us to research and create as it hopefully is for you to take. Don’t worry as much about how well you do (though we try to make it worth your while in the judicial quiz grade categories).

Take the quiz >>

Watch the trailer:

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American Dreaming: Small Towns Through the Movies

By Craig Phillips

Rich Hill is a new example of a realistic portrayal of a small American town, through the eyes of three young residents and their struggling families, but the fascination with (capital letters intended) Small Town America has been with us since the beginning of cinema. The premiere of the acclaimed documentary tonight on PBS [check local listings] is an occasion to revisit how both documentaries and fictional features have portrayed this truly iconic locale on screen, in both authentic and not-so-authentic ways.

While every film set in a small American town is a product and reflection of its era, a common thread in these films is the way our towns betray a vulnerability to economic depression.

Although there are obviously far more to mention, here are a few key examples of some of the best portraits of small town life (and a couple of the not-so-great):

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Filmmaker-Cousins Return to Rich Hill

Appachey, in Rich Hill

Appachey, in Rich Hill

Rich Hill won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and plenty of critical acclaim — Katie Walsh of Indiewire called it “a truly moving and edifying film…the type of media object that could and should be put in a time capsule for future generations”— but co-directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo didn’t make it for the award hardware. The filmmakers, who are cousins, came back to the namesake western Missouri town in which their family has a long history, to capture a sobering look at what the American Dream means today through the eyes of three young men and their working poor families. The film premieres January 5 at 10pm [check local listings] on PBS.

We caught up with both Tracy and Andrew to get their thoughts on making this intimate film and getting it out to the world.

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Best Documentaries of 2014: Scanning the Critics’ Lists

citizenfour-edward-snowden-doc-film

The critics have spoken. And they’re saying… a lot of different things, but when it comes to picking the best documentary films of the year there is plenty of common ground. We’ve surveyed a wide variety of critics and publications to gather the documentaries they thought were the best of 2014 [highlighting Independent Lens films in brackets]. We’ll add to this list, too, as more critics release their favorites into January.

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Independent Lens Social Buzz 2014 in Review

Still from Blood Brother

Blood Brother

By Elisabeth Copper, Independent Lens Social Media Manager

2014 was a great year for Independent Lens, and we owe it all to our incredible community of viewers and fans. People across the country tuned in to play music alongside the Swampers, investigate the 1985 MOVE bomb tragedy, visit an orphanage in India, and witness the tearful reunion of twin sisters raised apart. Many of you took to social media to share your thoughts about what you saw, and we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the conversations that unfolded.

Without further ado, here are a few of the most buzzed about Independent Lens films on social media this past year.

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