AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE and the INDEPENDENT TELEVISION SERVICE
Highs, Lows and Indefatigable Love of an Interracial
National Debut Sunday, September 12, on PBS
Extraordinary...In a perfect world, the over-worked accolade "landmark television event" would be reserved exclusively for the likes of Jennifer Fox's AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY . . . Joe Leydon, Variety
The only work at the 1999 Sundance Festival that might make history is not a film but a ten-part series . . . there's never been a more intimate study of the everyday significance of race and racism in American life. Amy Taubin, Village Voice
In 1973, the cinéma vérité series An American Family rocked America's vision of itself and transformed contemporary television with its unvarnished portrayal of a middle-class California family. This fall PBS will again rattle American television viewers with the groundbreaking broadcast of AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Fox's new ten-hour documentary series presented by AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE and the Independent Television Service (ITVS). A daring, dramatic vision of the joys, hardships and history of an interracial family living in Queens, New York, this unique blend of cinéma vérité footage, original interviews, music and media images will create a new style of television and promises to challenge American concepts of race, class, romance and family. The final production of an AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE, the series will debut nationally on Sunday, September 12, 1999 and air consecutive nights through Thursday, September 16 from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is the story of Bill Sims and Karen Wilson - a black man and white woman who have struggled for over 30 years against racial stereotypes and societal prejudices that have tried - sometimes viciously - to divide them. Culled from more than 1,000 hours of original footage, the series chronicles a year and a half in the life of the Wilson-Sims family, offering a joyful testament to the everyday lives of this couple as they work, cope with illness, juggle finances, and raise their daughters - Cicily, a 20-year-old senior at Colgate University and Chaney, a 12-year-old seventh grader on the brink of adolescence. With compassion and candor, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY captures the individual and collective experience of three generations on both sides of this American family - from the cotton fields of Georgia, to the steel mills of Ohio and into the teeming, ethnically diverse community of Queens, New York.
AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY has already been screened to critical acclaim at the 1999 Sundance, Berlin and Nyon film festivals and praised for its unusual cinematic "mixed marriage" of classic cinéma vérité with narrative documentary. The broadcast debut of the series will be accompanied by the soundtrack CD and a CD of original music by Bill Sims, a blues musician. Both recordings will be on the PBS Records label and distributed by Warner Brothers. An ambitious web site (www.pbs.org/lovestories) that will include love stories from Americans across the country will be launched a month prior to the series' broadcast. Extensive educational, community and public television station outreach campaigns are underway. Following the broadcast, the series will be available to general consumers through New Video's Docurama home video label and for educational use through the National Video Resources catalogue.
"AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE has historically been devoted to presenting the cutting edge of American drama and AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is uniquely consistent with that creative mission," says Barbara Ludlum, executive producer. "This documentary is a powerful, poignant, and creatively innovative statement about the dynamics of real life. And at a time when the fabric of American society has been torn by racism and family turmoil, this film highlights the pointlessness of racial conflict and the worthiness of love and commitment."
Beyond "Fly-on-the-Wall" Filmmaking
Jennifer Fox is an acclaimed filmmaker who won two Sundance awards and seven international honors for her film Beirut: The Last Home Movie. Fox and Jennifer Fleming (sound recordist/co-producer) lived with the Wilson-Sims family for a year and a half, camping out on the floor of the daughters' bedroom so they'd be on hand at any hour to capture the ordinary and extraordinary moments in the life of each family member: Cicily's efforts to adjust to life at a largely-white college and her unsettling journey to Africa; Karen's struggles with major surgery and returning to her childhood home for an anxiety-provoking high school reunion; the ups and downs of Bill's musical career and his coming to terms with a drinking problem; and the thrills (and parental chills) of Chaney's first teenage romance.
In addition, the filmmakers recorded scores of interviews with the Wilson-Sims family, their friends and co-workers to fully convey the family's perspectives on race, love, parenting, growing up, growing old, identity, culture, drugs, sex, religion, work, money and marriage. "This wasn't fly-on-the-wall filmmaking," says Jennifer Fox, referring to the usual cinéma vérité procedure of having subjects "ignore" the presence of the camera in their midst while the filmmakers remain detached from the people and events they're recording. "This was a living and creative partnership that allowed us to create a much truer portrait of who they are, how they feel and how they live." And in the process, asserts the filmmaker, "we were able to explore the nature of love, family and race relations at the end of the millennium. By looking at this family, the viewer will have a chance to reflect on society's prejudices, as well as their own."
Breaking Ground Again
AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is significant on several levels. It is one of the most comprehensive explorations of an American family in existence and is crafted to capture the complexities and contradictions of everyday reality in a true-to-life style that constitutes a new format for American television. And whereas An American Family revealed the underside of the American dream, AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY reveals the goodness and normalcy within a family framework which, throughout history, Americans have regarded as taboo. Given the difficulty of the family's lives in a culture that still so strongly disapproves of mixed marriages, the series seeks to raise key questions: why did Bill and Karen choose to cross the color line and what price have they and their children paid for their decision? How have they managed to build a vibrant family life despite enormous social and racial pressures? What can the Wilson-Sims family teach all of us about American life? "Their story is quintessentially American because of what they've had to endure and how they've managed to endure it," says Jennifer Fox. "And it's an extraordinary love story because of what they share. It's our hope that as viewers spend time with them, they'll see love and family more than they see color and difference. That could be a very important message."
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AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE's new 10-hour documentary series by award-winning filmmaker Jennifer Fox that chronicles the life, love and experience of an interracial family in New York City. The national broadcast debut is Sunday, September 12, 1999 through Thursday, September 16 from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Inspired by AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY, a creative web site with a variety of features (www.pbs.org/lovestories) will capitalize on the Internet's ability to foster new relationships among people. In one area, couples who are successfully "negotiating differences" of race, ethnicity, religion, age, culture or economic background, will contribute their stories to a "quilt" of American love stories. And an innovative online discussion forum will encourage "dialogues across differences" among Americans from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. The site will be produced by Web Lab (www.WebLab.org), a New York based non-profit company that is an innovator in public interest uses of the World Wide Web.
AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE, incorporated in 1981, has been the longest running anthology drama series in American television history. Its mission was to bring American drama to public television audiences and to support the work of independent filmmakers in America. Since its inception, the series has provided audiences with over 360 hours of a unique blend of drama programming ranging from plays and literary adaptations to mini-series and feature length films. Productions from the series have garnered six Academy Award nominations and eight Emmy Awards, and the series itself was honored with a Peabody Award.
AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is co-presented by the Independent Television Service (ITVS). Unique in American public television, ITVS was established by Congress "to fund and promote programming that involves creative risks and addresses the needs of underserved audiences" while granting artistic control to independent producers. ITVS has funded over 250 single programs and limited series for public television since its inception in 1991.
The series is produced by Zohé Film Productions and presented by AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE in association with the Independent Television Service. Producer/director/cinematographer: Jennifer Fox; editor: Jay Freund; co-producer/sound recordist: Jennifer Fleming; co-producer: Vickie Kenny; music: Marcus Miller; and executive producers: Lindsay Law and Barbara Ludlum.
Funding for AN AMERICAN LOVE STORY is provided by the Public Broadcasting Service, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Max M. and Marjory Fisher Foundation*, The George Gund Foundation, The Waterman Fund at the Philadelphia Foundation, The Playboy Foundation, The Lucias and Eva Eastman Fund and private donations. The British Broadcasting Corporation and ARTE purchased license rights to broadcast the series in Britain, France and Germany.
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* There is no relationship between Fisher Foundation and Fisher Company
WHAT'S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
BREAKING OUT OF THE BOX
LAWS OF THE LAND
Partners Produced by Web Lab
Copyright © 1999 by Zohe Film Productions and Web Lab