Beginning in January 2020, unforgettable and acclaimed new stories are coming to Independent Lens on PBS, America’s home for documentaries. From the story of a Somali family in Minnesota torn apart by a son’s fateful decision, to Chicago for a look at one of political activism’s most unlikely alliances as well as a shocking look at that city’s devastating 1995 heatwave, and the South for the story of religion and science clashing over a faith-based amusement park, and attempts to reconcile the history of lynching in America, and then to China for the emotional stories of so-called “leftover women” and for the aftershocks of that country’s “One Child” policy, these new documentaries take viewers into the heart of different communities around the world to explore the hot-button issues of our time.

“Over the next few months, we’ll continue exploring issues facing communities in the U.S. and all over the world, to help audiences better understand the beliefs and ideals that unite and divide us,” said Independent Lens Executive Producer Lois Vossen. “Our job as ambassadors of public media at Independent Lens is to spark conversations on issues that are often tough to talk about, but are urgent and essential to the growth of our culture.”

Here are the documentaries coming to Independent Lens January through March, 2020:

Accept the Call (Jan. 20): An anguished Somali father in Minnesota seeks to understand what led his American son to attempt to join the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. An intimate story of a father and son attempting to mend their relationship after breaking each other’s hearts. 

The First Rainbow Coalition (Jan. 27): In 1969, the Chicago Black Panther Party began to form alliances across lines of race and ethnicity with other community-based movements in the city, including the Latino group the Young Lords Organization and the southern whites of the Young Patriots organization. Banding together in one of the most segregated cities in postwar America to collectively confront issues such as police brutality and substandard housing, they called themselves the Rainbow Coalition. 

COOKED key art

Cooked: Survival by Zipcode (Feb. 3): The repercussions from the little-known 1995 Chicago heatwave are explored in this documentary, from its effects on the city’s entrenched poverty, to its economic and social isolation, and racism. Was this a one-time tragedy, or an appalling trend?

Leftover Women's Xu Min looks forlorn while eating with her parents

Leftover Women (Feb. 10) follows three successful Chinese women — Qiu Hua Mei, a 34-year-old lawyer; Xu Min, 28, who works in public radio; and Gai Qi, 36, an assistant college professor in Beijing — who, despite thriving careers, are still labeled “leftover women,” or sheng nu, a derogatory term used in China to describe educated, professional women in their mid-20s and ’30s who are not married. The film “remind viewers that the fight for equality is not a problem confined to one country or community, but rather the world” (Film Inquiry).

man holding ape head replica

We Believe in Dinosaurs (Feb. 17): The Bible and science collide amid the battleground of a Kentucky creationism museum and a $120 million Noah’s Ark-inspired theme park in this documentary. The film is “often amusing, but never condescending towards either Ark proponents or their equally vocal opponents,” says Variety.

Claudia, at swingset, from Always in Season

Always in Season (Feb. 24): A recipient of the Sundance Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency, Always in Season follows the tragedy of African American teenager Lennon Lacy, who in August 2014, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. His death was ruled a suicide by law enforcement, but Lennon’s mother, Claudia, her family and many others believe Lennon was lynched. The film chronicles Claudia’s quest to learn the truth and takes a closer look at the lingering impact of more than a century of lynching African-Americans, connecting this form of historic terrorism to racial violence today.

Nanfu Wang as an infant with her parents, from One Child Nation

One Child Nation (March 30): Making its broadcast television debut, Nanfu Wang’s One Child Nation explores the devastating impacts of China’s one-child policy from both a personal and wider perspective. The film has been a steady presence on the awards circuit since taking home the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, garnering a nomination for the IDA Award for Best Documentary Feature and five Critics Choice Documentary Awards nominations, among many others.  


Look for the rest of this amazing season announced in this space soon.