And the Winner of the 2014-2015 Independent Lens Audience Award Is…

The winner of this season’s Independent Lens Audience Award, as chosen by voting viewers, is…. Kumu Hina!

Congratulatory image saluting Kumu Hina, winner of the 2015 Independent Lens Audience Award

Interestingly, Kumu Hina is not the first Independent Lens film to win the Audience Award that is about hula dance: Men of Hula won the award in 2008.

We heard from Kumu Hina filmmaker Dean Hamer, understandably ecstatic about the news:

The Kuma Hina team is thrilled and humbled to receive this award from Independent Lens viewers. It’s a wonderful reflection on the commitment of PBS and Pacific Islanders in Communications to bring forward voices that are rarely heard in American media and to reach audiences that are not served anywhere else. For all the native Hawaiians and indigenous peoples around the world, for all the māhū and those who fall outside the Western gender binary, we say mahalo nui loa – thank you – and aloha – love, honor and respect for all.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the voting, and for watching Independent Lens this past season. We bet the competition for next year’s Audience Award will be just as tough and close as this year’s.

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Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization Rises Again

Editor’s note: While these aren’t Independent Lens films of course, the Decline films are some of our very favorite music docs, make for perfect summertime viewing, and are finally all out together on DVD. Read on for critic Noel Murray’s exclusive take on them, and a few more of his own favorites.

Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris surrounded by Poison (the band), in Decline of Western Civilization III the Metal Years

Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris surrounded by Poison (the band)

By Noel Murray

Each of director Penelope Spheeris’ three Decline of Western Civilization documentaries contains a moment where the various punk and metal bands featured in the films stand on the stage and read a disclaimer to the audience, warning them that by attending the show, they’re consenting to being photographed. Spheeris and her editors cut all the announcements together, being sure to keep in any moment where the men and women at the microphone insult their fans or mock the entire Decline project. These scenes are important, because they cut to the heart of what Spheeris’ films are all about: the flippant anti-authoritarianism of youth culture, the illusion that rockers and their fans are on the same level, and the disturbing awareness that being an anarchic rebel can only carry a person so far.

This week, Shout! Factory is releasing the three Declines in DVD and Blu-ray box sets, answering the demand from documentary devotees and music buffs who’ve been waiting for Spheeris to clear up any lingering rights issues and get her best work back out on home video. Watched in succession, 1981’s The Decline of Western Civilization, 1988’s The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, and 1998’s The Decline of Western Civilization III tell a story about 20 years of life in the Los Angeles music scene — functioning almost like a rock musical version of Michael Apted’s Up series. It’s not just the announcement montage that these three have in common. They share a point of view, and a generosity of spirit that gives their subjects the benefit of the doubt whether they’re begging in the streets or living in a mansion.

Below are key moments from each of the Decline films, which help define both what they’re about individually, and how they all fit together. Continue reading

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Tony Sullivan and Limited Partnership Producer React to Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

Tony Sullivan (wearing red glasses) and husband the late Richard Adams, of Limited Partnership

Tony Sullivan (at left) and husband Richard Adams

Naturally, when news of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality came down, a 5-4 vote that the Constitution guarantees a right to same sex marriage, our thoughts immediately turned to the makers and main character of Limited Partnership.

We heard from the film’s co-producer Kirk Marcolina, and from Tony Sullivan, who with his longtime partner Richard Adams become one of the first same sex couples to be legally married in the world, in 1975. That marriage was challenged legally and they battled the government in the courts for years, in large part leading up to the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in June 2013 and again this month.  Their reactions to Friday’s momentous news: Continue reading

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19 Memorable Faces of Independent Lens’ 2014-15 Season

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than unleash many more words on you, here’s a photo gallery reminding you of some of the memorable faces from this just-concluded season of Independent Lens. We thank you for spending time with us over the past few months.

Peyangki and mother, in Happiness        John and Bonnie Raines, and their children, late '60s, before  the 1971 Citizens to Investigate the FBI break-in      Trey, Ty's best friend, Perkins, Oklahoma      Young Darius Clark Monroe, in bow tie, in front of family, in photograph shown in Evolution of a Criminal        Choreographer Elizabeth Streb, wearing trademark dark framed glasses, interviewed in Born to Fly        Pfc. Adam Winfield, from The Kill Team        Andrew, from Rich Hill        Jessica Posner Odede, at work in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya        Loha Singh, peering between a mass of wires in Kanpur India, in Powerless        Kumu Hina, with student Ho'onani, during Hawaiian culture class        From Through a Lens Darkly, black and white art photo of masculine and feminine people split screen         Young African American man is put up against chain link fence and frisked by undercover cops, from recreation in the film American Denial    littlehope-lookeehere          Hiroshi Ueda mourns his son, who died in the crash of West Japan Railways Train 5418M., Brakeless Twin Sisters (Mia visits Alexandra in Fresvik, Norway)           From Little White Lie: Lacey Schwartz as a child, walking with her mother om leafy path           oil-shrimp-tgi              Kasey reads a book in study, sitting outside on steps, from documentary Homestretch  Tony Sullivan and Richard Adams   take pics of themselves in a photobooth, 1970s; from Limited Partnership
Peyangki and mother, in Happiness
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Time to Vote! Independent Lens 2014-2015 Audience Award

Vote for the Independent Lens 2014-15 season Audience Award

The Independent Lens 2014-2015 season may have ended, but the Audience Award is heating up.

Rate and vote for your favorite films from this past season on our Audience Awards page. In order to avoid ballot box stuffing, once your vote is recorded for a given film, you will not be able to vote for it again from the same ISP.  Rate all the films you watched using the star rating system.

Deadline for voting is Monday, June 29. We will close all voting at 4 pm PT / 7 pm ET.

Last season’s winner was Don’t Stop Believin’, and the year before that it was The Revisionaries. Who will be this year’s viewer’s choice? Tune back in here in a week to find out!

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In the Shadow of Ebola Takes You to Liberia for One Family’s Story

Liberian workers in hazmat suits carry coffin holding ebola victimIndependent Lens presents the premiere online of In the Shadow of Ebola [watch now], a gripping short film set around the height of the Ebola crisis, but told from a highly personal point of view. The documentary by Gregg Mitman and Sarita Siegel is the story of Emmanuel Urey, a Liberian going to school in Wisconsin but who was in Monrovia with some of his children when the Ebola virus broke out. The film is both an intimate portrait of a family in the center of a terrifying crisis, but also a fascinating look at how a country in the aftermath of a long civil war handled a major health scare.

Now, a year after the events depicted in the film, find out where life has taken the Ureys, the status of Ebola across western Africa, and the new project filmmakers Mitman and Siegel are wrapping in Liberia.

Continue reading

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POV 2015: More Great Docs to Get You Through Summer

Out in the Night: Venice, Terrain, Patreese and Renata.

Out in the Night

Our friends at POV are ready to grab the baton for thought-provoking docs airing Mondays on PBS, with a new slate of films about extraordinarily strong and determined individuals. The 28th season of POV begins this coming Monday, June 22, 2015 at 10 p.m. (check local listings) on PBS and continues through the fall. (Independent Lens will then be back with a new season beginning October 25.) Continue reading

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Limited Partnership Filmmakers Commit Years to Telling Marriage Equality Story

Limited Partnership director Tom Miller (left), and producer Kirk Marcolina

Limited Partnership director Tom Miller (left), and producer Kirk Marcolina

Tom Miller committed a long period of his life — 14 years — to his film Limited Partnership, and it became a true labor of love, appropriate for what is at its very heart a love story. The film traces Richard Adams’ and Tony Sullivan’s long journey to become legally married (again), as they eventually sued the U.S. government, initiating the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history. Miller, who went to medical school and is also a pediatrician as well as filmmaker (he’s produced several other films for PBS) partnered with producer Kirk Marcolina to tell what is both an historically important story and an incredibly personal, heartrending one.

“A remarkably poignant chronicle of the devotion of these two men for 40 years… Miller and his editors have kept the story hurtling forward right up to the rousing if bittersweet conclusion. It helps if a documentary has compelling subjects, and Adams and Sullivan certainly hold the camera. But the skill of the filmmakers socks the story home.”— Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Both Miller and Marcolina chatted with us about the making of Limited Partnership, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS tonight, Monday June 15 [10pm; check local listings], in likely the same month the Supreme Court will be ruling on the marriage equality case. Tony and Richard, the stars of Limited Partnership, were among the first to bravely trek down that long legal road. Continue reading

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Bringing the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Full Circle

Clela Rorex, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan reunite for the film Limited Partnership at event in Los Angeles

Clela Rorex, Richard Adams, and Tony Sullivan (l-r) reunite

Tony Sullivan is no stranger to practicing the art of patience. He navigated through decades of legal fights with the U.S. government over both his own legal status as an immigrant from Australia and the legality of his marriage to the love of his life, Richard Adams. And he was the subject of a film that took nearly 13 years to make, Limited Partnership, which premieres Monday on Independent Lens [10pm; check local listings]. In fact, when the film started production, no state had legalized same-sex marriage, but fast forward to this month, when the Supreme Court is about to rule on whether or not all states must allow it.

It’s possible none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for a progressive county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who had been approving same-sex marriage licenses. Tony says he first learned that gay marriage licenses were being issued in Boulder from TV, including Johnny Carson making a joke about it on The Tonight Show. And eventually the pair made their way to Colorado in 1975 to get married. The license was signed by feminist county clerk Clela Rorex. This set off a firestorm, but also helped set Tony and Richard on a long, historic journey fighting for both marriage equality and immigration rights.

Last week we had the opportunity to sit down with both Tony and Clela together as they visited San Francisco. Clela still lives in Colorado, retired but an activist for civil rights, speaking to students and on panel discussions as an ally of gay rights. “I talk about the requirement to not be a bystander in life, you have to be out there, not just through texting and Facebook,” she says.

Meanwhile, Tony lives in Los Angeles, his home for decades, save a few years he had to live in exile — but more about that in the film. Continue reading

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1971 Followup: A Conversation with Laura Poitras and Betty Medsger

Laura Poitras won an Academy Award for CitizenFour, her film about Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to the mainstream media and is now living in exile abroad. Betty Medsger wrote the book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and was a reporter at The Washington Post who first received the COINTELPRO files from the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. Medsger and Poitras are both important parts of Johanna Hamilton’s film 1971, which just premiered on Independent Lens: Medsger is featured in the film while Poitras was an executive producer. In a video exclusive for Independent Lens, Hamilton sat down for a conversation with both women, about protecting sources, the impact the Snowden revelations had on Medsger’s book, and things that shocked them about the 1971 story.

Read more about 1971 >>

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