Stephen Ives / Amanda Pollak / Michelle Ferrari
For filmmaker Stephen Ives, the year 2003 celebrated:
• the premiere of Seabiscuit, his Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary;
• the PBS primetime rebroadcast of The West, the acclaimed 8-part, 12-1/2-hour series he directed in 1996;
• and the premiere of Reporting America at War, a three-hour exploration into the role of American journalists in the pivotal conflicts of the 20th century and beyond.
An avid student of American history, Ives is perhaps best known as a creator of historical documentaries yet his interests include contemporary topics as well. Amato: a love affair with opera, the story of the world's smallest opera company in New York City, premiered on PBS in 2001, and Cornerstone, the uplifting story of an innovative theater troupe on a 10,000-mile journey across the United States which he made with producer and co-director Michael Kantor will have its first national broadcast sometime next year.
Ives was born into the world of public television his father was the late David O. Ives, the longtime President of Boston's WGBH, the PBS station responsible for Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery!, Nova, and This Old House, among many other prestigious series. The younger Ives' interest in history was kindled in part by "the joys of Sunday nights at 9 p.m.," watching "Upstairs, Downstairs" and other series offered as part of Masterpiece Theatre.
At Harvard, Ives majored in American history. After graduating he moved to Dallas to work with Robert A. Wilson, a former president of KERA-TV whose advertising agency was then making films for major corporations as well as one for a prominent local billionaire named Ross Perot. With Wilson, Ives produced a half-hour film, Where the Heart Is, featuring interviews with Lady Bird Johnson and San Antonio's then-mayor Henry Cisneros, among others. When a host for the short film was needed, Ives suggested David McCullough, the prominent historian who had just begun to appear on television as host of Smithsonian World. McCullough's passion for popularizing American history was an inspiration to the young filmmaker.
A short time later, Ives met Ken Burns, whose work included The Shakers, Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty, and Huey Long. Burns was then working on a number of projects, and asked Ives to serve both as a consulting producer on The Civil War and as co-producer on The Congress, a portrait of America's first branch of government. Not long after, with Burns serving as a co-producer, Ives made "Lindbergh" for PBS's American Experience series. These projects were followed by the epic PBS series The West, which Burns executive produced and presented as "A film by Stephen Ives."
Lindbergh and The West received wide critical acclaim, and The West was seen by more than 40 million people nationwide, making it one of the most watched programs in public television history. After the national broadcast of The West, Ives's interest turned to more contemporary subjects. His first cinema-verite film, Amato: a love affair with opera, told the story of a New York City company known for performing classical operas in a tiny brownstone sandwiched between a gas station and the famous rock club CBGB's on the Bowery. His portrait of the company, and its two octogenarian founders, Tony and Sally Amato, played at film festivals nationwide and earned Ives a nomination from the Directors Guild of America for outstanding directorial achievement. "A married couple and partnership has rarely seemed happier or more fulfilling onscreen," wrote Variety.
Not long after Ives began work on Amato, his long-standing love of history reasserted itself and gave rise to his next project. He came across a magazine piece by a then unknown writer named Laura Hillenbrand about a long-forgotten thoroughbred from the 1930's named Seabiscuit. He was swept up by the story and got Hillenbrand to agree to participate in a documentary project but it wasn't until Seabiscuit made the New York Times best-seller lists that PBS finally came on board. Ives filmed interviews with a host of old racetrackers „ some of whom had actually ridden the famous horse as well as a deeply emotional interview with Norah Christianson, the jockey Red Pollard's daughter. By the time his documentary aired in the spring of 2003, Seabiscuit had been on the New York Times best-seller lists for over a year, and the Universal Studios motion picture adaptation was about to hit theaters. Ives's film made the Amazon top 10, and became the best-selling PBS Video title of the year. In September 2003, the film was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, and won an Emmy for outstanding writing by Michelle Ferrari.
Like "Seabiscuit," Ives's next project could not be better timed or more topical. In two 90-minute programs, Reporting America at War traces the history of American war correspondence through the experiences of some of the most prominent war reporters of the 20th century, and illuminates the myriad tensions and contradictions of a democracy at war. In production for five years, the series will be broadcast in early November, while the impact of embedding in the deserts of Iraq is still being hotly debated. The list of interviews for the series reads like a Who's Who of distinguished journalists: Christiane Amanpour, Malcolm Browne, Walter Cronkite, David Halberstam, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, and many others. Indeed, the interviews represent such a remarkable body of commentary that Hyperion publishers collected them in a new book, Reporting America at War: An Oral History, compiled by Michelle Ferrari with commentary by James Tobin, which arrived in bookstores in early October. Both the film series and the book examine the shifting relationship between the military and the press, and explore the role of correspondents in shaping the way wars are remembered and understood.
Next year, Ives plans the first nationwide broadcast of his film Cornerstone, which he produced and directed with Michael Kantor. The film chronicles a national tour by the ground-breaking Cornerstone Theatre Company, a passionately idealistic troupe, known for performing classic plays in small towns across America, cast with non-professionals who lived and worked in those towns, and with scripts adapted to employ contemporary language comprehensible to rural theatergoers. Ives and Kantor accompanied a 10,000-mile Cornerstone tour of Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," this time with a cast drawn from all of Cornerstone's previous productions. The blossoming of the raw talent, the travails of funding non-commercial theater, and the inevitable conflicts and exhilarations to be found in mounting ambitious art can all be found in this remarkable film. Broadcast on HBO Signature, Cornerstone will debut to a larger television audience in 2004.
Ives's next project a two-part, three-hour history of Las Vegas for the PBS series American Experience is now in development. Las Vegas is "a fascinating window into the future of America," Ives said recently, "and a great story of the rise of one America's most unlikely, and most entertaining cities. I think the film offers a chance to do great history and great contemporary filmmaking, and make them come together in one dynamic package."
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Amanda Pollak has been producing, researching and writing highly acclaimed documentaries for Public Television since 1992.
Her investigative skills were rewarded early on when she received an individual Emmy for her leading role in researching TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt. The New York Daily News proclaimed this series to be "one of public televisions proudest achievements."
Since then she has continued to research and produce compelling historical films, including the Emmy Award-winning Truman and Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided. During the latter film’s production, she took exclusive charge of over forty days of Hollywood-style production, traveling across the country to nearly twenty states.
Following this effort she delved into the history of world commerce with the movie Money and Power: The History of Business. The New York Times called this two-hour documentary "smart and well-edited," and went on to laud the film's extensive displays of long forgotten archival material from the 1500s to the 1900s.
In 2002, she revealed her ability to work in different genres by winning an Emmy Award for producing one hour of David Grubin's five-hour scientific series for PBS entitled The Secret Life of the Brain. Well received by public and critics alike, New York Newsday named it "provocative, and a triumph" and The Los Angeles Times asserted "the content breaks new ground."
With her recent work, Pollak has returned to her specialty, historical narrative, by working with Ives and Ferrari and the rest of the Insignia Films staff on Reporting America at War. PBS has shown its support for this endeavor by enthusiastically selecting it as one of the networks's showcase programs during the national fall sweeps of 2003.
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Over the past decade, screenwriter Michelle Ferrari has created a series of innovative and critically-acclaimed documentary narratives. In addition to the forthcoming three-hour PBS series Reporting America at War, she recently completed "Seabiscuit," a documentary profile of the Depression-era thoroughbred champion for the PBS series American Experience. Her work on that film which was hailed by critics as "sleek" and "notably stylish" earned her the 2003 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming.
Ferrari was the writer of Miss America, an affectionate, illuminating look at the legendary pageant and its place in American culture. "Equal parts serious and satirical," Variety raved, "this amusing and informative edition of American Experience. . . offers enough fodder about the pageant and its winners to keep cultural scholars debating for decades." The film premiered as an official selection of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and aired nationally on PBS. Ferrari also served as the senior creative consultant on Blue Vinyl, Judith Helfand's "toxic-comedy" about her family's experience with PVC. Broadcast on HBO's America Undercover series, Blue Vinyl was an official selection of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and a two-time Emmy nominee.
Other credits include the PBS special Margaret Sanger, which was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for best documentary script, and Calling the Ghosts, which in 1998 received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Special. Ferrari was the senior researcher and script editor on the landmark series The West, and has served as story editor and creative advisor on numerous documentaries, including Beauty in a Jar, State of Denial, T-Shirt Travels, Bombay Eunuch and Paving the Way.
Her debut effort as a screenwriter, Out of the Past, was the winner of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award. Bruce Diones of the New Yorker called Out of the Past "an engaging dialogue between the past and the present, and an emotionally textured treatise on alienation and marginalization that is intelligent and entertaining." The film was broadcast nationally on PBS and continues to be an integral part of high school curriculums throughout the United States.
In 1992, Ferrari left academia to pursue a career in documentary film. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and holds an M.A. in American History from Columbia University, where she was a President's Fellow. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York.
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