Ofra Bikel is one of America's leading documentary filmmakers. Her most recent FRONTLINE productions are Close to Home, a 2009 film that chronicles the recession through the stories of a New York City hair salon owner and her clients; and The Hugo Chavez Show, which aired in November of 2008 and looks at Venezuela¹s controversial and outspoken president. She has produced 25 programs for FRONTLINE, and collectively these films have received broadcast journalism's most prestigious honors, including the duPont-Columbia Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award, the NACDL Champion Of Justice Award, Grand Prize and Best of Category accolades at the Banff International Television Festival, and six national Emmys. In 2007, Bikel received the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, honoring her 30 years of outstanding journalism and filmmaking.
Bikel began her career with FRONTLINE before the series even began. Under the moniker WORLD, Bikel began her collaboration with Executive Producer David Fanning in 1977, producing foreign affairs reports distinguished by their sensitivity, depth and thoughtfulness. She continued to produce these documentaries when the show became FRONTLINE in 1983. Bikel's foreign affairs reports ranged from the experience of Americans working in Japan to a report on Poland's attempt to transform itself from communism to capitalism.
Starting in 1991, Bikel began to focus her journalistic inquiries on the U.S. justice system. Her programs about the justice system are used in the law schools of Yale, Harvard and Georgetown University, among others, and have warranted her being profiled by major American newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, People magazine, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Bikel is perhaps best known for her Innocence Lost trilogy: three films that meticulously detailed the charges of sexual abuse at a day-care center in the small town of Edenton, North Carolina., and the trials that resulted. The series, which included Innocence Lost (1991), Innocence Lost: The Verdict (1993) and Innocence Lost: The Plea (1997), was met with critical acclaim and won several awards. More importantly, the series resulted in freedom for all seven defendants -- including two who were set free on the eve of the final film's broadcast in 1997.
Another film brought similar results. In The Case for Innocence, Bikel profiled several men whose claims of innocence seemed to have been confirmed by DNA testing of trial evidence but who remained in jail. Several months after the film's airing in January 2000, all three men profiled had been set free. Finally, Terence Garner, subject of the January 2002 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award-winning film An Ordinary Crime, was freed following the airing of that program and saw all charges against him dropped in June 2002.
Bikel's other credits for FRONTLINE include: The O.J. Verdict (2005); Requiem for Frank Lee Smith (2002); Snitch (1999); Saving Elian (2001); The Search for Satan (1995); Divided Memories (1995); Poland -- The Morning After (1990); American Games, Japanese Rules (1988); Israel: The Price of Victory (1987); The Russians Are Here (1983); and the Emmy-winning Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill: Public Hearing, Private Pain (1992). In March 2006, she produced The Unexpected Candidate, a film for FRONTLINE/World that profiled the then-Israeli candidate Ehud Olmert. In 2007, Bikel produced When Kids Get Life, which looked at the crime and punishment of five young men serving life without parole.
Born in Israel, educated at the University of Paris and the High Institute of Political Science in Paris, Bikel began her career in the United States as a researcher for ABC Television. She soon moved into public television, producing films for such series as Your Dollar's Worth, Enterprise and The Great American Dream Machine. In the mid-70s, Bikel moved to her native Israel to produce more than 15 films on political, economic and cultural subjects. She returned to the U.S. in 1977.