Rest in Peace, Jimmy Scott

Jimmy Scott, at a jazz club in NYC, 2004

Jimmy Scott, at a jazz club in NYC, 2004

Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott, the subject of the Independent Lens documentary (and 2004 IL Audience Award Winner) Jimmy Scott: If Only You Knew, passed away June 12 at the age of 88.  Scott’s life and career was a real rollercoaster, which started with him singing in the 1940s with Lionel Hampton’s band, falling out of sight until the ’60s, and then finding newfound popularity once again in the ’90s, including singing the song “Sycamore Trees” for David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks.

There have been quite a few wonderful obituaries written since his passing, including from David Ritz in Rolling Stone, who wrote the biography Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott:

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Vote for the 2013-2014 Independent Lens Audience Award!

Independent Lens Audience Award graphic

Now that the Independent Lens 2013-2014 season is officially concluded, voting for the Audience Award is heating up.

If you haven’t already, rate and vote for your favorite films from this past season by going to 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.

Deadline for voting is Thursday, June 26. We will close all voting at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET.

Last year’s Audience Award winner was The Revisionaries, and you can read more about that here.

We hope you enjoyed the incredibly diverse slate of films that comprised this season and thank you for watching! Now’s the time to share the love for your favorites.

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The New Black: Yoruba Richen Expands the Conversation on Marriage Equality

Filmmaker Yoruba Richen

Filmmaker Yoruba Richen

Yoruba Richen brings to her films a diverse perspective coming from a multifaceted background, all of which came into play when making her new documentary The New Black. The film has the honor of concluding Independent Lens’s 2013-2014 season with a broadcast television premiere this coming Sunday, June 15 at 10:30 pm [note the special day and time; check your local listings]. “As The New Black shows repeatedly and so compellingly,” wrote Cynthia Fuchs of PopMatters, “the intersections of faith and identity, community and individuality, are constantly changing, over time and across places.” The film is “essential viewing,” adds Martin Tsai in The L.A. Times.

Richen spoke with us over the phone about the path she traversed to get to The New Black. [See also her very recent TED talk, "What the Gay Rights Movement Learned from the Civil Rights Movement."]

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LGBT Pride: Movies That Rocked Their World


June is LGBT Pride Month, and traditionally it’s been both a time for reflection on gay history and struggles (originally created to commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 1969), along with a colorful, pride-ful celebration of many important achievements and milestones. Since Independent Lens is naturally a film-centric space, we decided to honor the occasion by reaching out to a few filmmakers who’ve made documentaries for Independent Lens, asking them to contribute their own picks for the gay-themed films (features or documentaries) that affected them most profoundly. While one important film deservedly gets mentioned twice, it’s an appropriately diverse list.

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Independent Lens Statement on Somaly Mam

Due to the questions that have recently been raised regarding Somaly Mam, one of the women featured in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, PBS has stopped offering to public television stations episode one of Half the Sky, which included Ms. Mam.

As Newsweek reported on May 21, 2014, elements of Mam’s personal history are under investigation.

On June 7, Nicholas Kristof, who co-wrote the book Half the Sky, fully responded to the news developments surrounding Mam here.

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Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams on God Loves Uganda

street preacher in Uganda

Roger Ross Williams won an Academy Award for his short documentary Music by Prudence, which told the moving story of 21-year-old Zimbabwean singer-songwriter Prudence Mabhena, who was born severely disabled and has struggled to overcome poverty and discrimination. For his first feature-length documentary God Loves Uganda, which itself was on the short list for an Academy Award this year, and premieres on PBS May 19th at 10pm (check local listings), Williams returned to Africa to tell another powerful, if far more chilling, story.

The film is “a searing look at the role of American evangelical missionaries in the persecution of gay Africans,” wrote Jeanette Catsoulis in The New York Times. Adds Andrew Lapin in The Dissolve, “one effective sequence after another carries the alarming sensation of ideological chaos without resorting to technical trickery.” We spoke to the filmmaker about the challenges of making God Loves Uganda and getting it to a wide audience.

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Let the Fire Burn: The MOVE Bombings 29 Years Later

MOVE members and police during the 1978 confrontation outside MOVE headquarters.

MOVE members and police during the 1978 confrontation outside MOVE headquarters.

It’s the week of the 29th anniversary of the MOVE bombings, and for those who were in the middle of it and are still with us, the memories of those tragic events still linger all these years later. As the haunting story unfolds in Jason Osder‘s Let the Fire Burn, which premieres tonight on Independent Lens on PBS (check local listings), you may be curious as to what became of some of the people involved.

[Much of the information cited here and linked is thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer's 25th anniversary coverage.]

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Jason Osder Explores an American Tragedy in Let the Fire Burn

Filmmaker Jason Osder

Let the Fire Burn Filmmaker Jason Osder

Let the Fire Burn, which won Best Editing in a Documentary Feature and nabbed Jason Osder Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca Film Festival, manages to tell the supremely tense and tragic story of the longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and controversial radical urban group MOVE coming to a deadly climax in 1985 — entirely through archival footage. “Piecing the components together, and only sparingly deploying intertitle cards for clarity, Let the Fire Burn brings this 28-year-old tragedy front and center again – vividly, viscerally,” wrote Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It’s “a first-rate piece of forensic filmmaking,” adds David Fear in TimeOut

For Osder, who teaches in The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and helps run a post-production company, Let the Fire Burn is his first feature documentary, but reflects a sober maturity. The film has its broadcast television premiere on Independent Lens Monday, May 12 at 10pm (check local listings), a day before the 29th anniversary of the day things came to a head in Philadelphia in 1985. Osder spoke to us about the film.

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Decisions on Deadline: Journalism Game


Connected to Samantha Grant’s film A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times, which premiered this week on Independent Lens (check local listings to see if it’s airing again in your area), we’ve collaborated with the filmmakers on a new game that explores the ethical debate central to Blair’s story. As Grant notes in our interview with her,

My hope is that this film, in combination with “Decisions on Deadline,” the companion game project that teaches journalism ethics in a fun and interactive way, will cause an uptick in the national conversation about journalism ethics in the digital age, restoring public faith in the media, and the future of journalism.  I want to inspire people to start really talking about this (both the public and journalists) and I want to be part of the conversation. Beyond just talking, I am really interested in efforts to actually build a few tools that might help in some of these efforts.

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Filmmaker Samantha Grant on the Saga of Jayson Blair

Filmmaker Samantha Grant

Filmmaker Samantha Grant

“a remarkable film for its probing, its wealth of detail and testimony—remarkable above all, perhaps, in the clinical picture of its subject”  — Wall Street Journal

In A Fragile Trust, Samantha Grant explores one of the most infamous scandals in recent media history, the complicated but disturbing story of Jayson Blair, wunderkind reporter who disgraced himself and one of the world’s greatest newspapers, The New York Times, when it was discovered he had plagiarized numerous articles.

Grant, who takes a journalistic approach to documentary filmmaking, has produced and directed short films on subjects as varied as the black market trade in human kidneys in India, polygamy in Utah, and fair trade roses in Ecuador. A Fragile Trust, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS Monday, May 5 at 10pm (check local listings), is her feature-length debut.  She spoke to us about the film in anticipation of the television debut.

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