In honor of Earth Week, THIRTEEN is featuring a lineup of environmentally friendly shows that inform by looking to our green pioneers of the past, and future initiatives set to make our planet more a efficient place.
Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks: A new documentary tracing the career of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose firm designed and built nearly 100 public parks, including Central Park. Airs Wednesday, April 20 at 10 p.m.
Nature: Survivors of the Firestorm: After bushfires tore through the Australian state of Victoria in February 2009, burned and traumatized survivors showed a remarkable ability to bounce back, and the environment an extraordinary capacity for healing. Airs Sunday, April 17 at 8 p.m.
Independent Lens – Wasteland: Brazilian artist Vik Muniz creates portraits of people using found materials from the places where they live and work. The film picks up as Muniz embarks on his next project, inspired by the trash pickers at the largest landfill on earth. Airs Tuesday, April 19 at 10 p.m.
NOVA – Power Surge: NOVA travels the globe to reveal the surprising technologies that just might turn back the clock on climate change. The show will focus on the latest innovations, ranging from artificial trees to green reboots of familiar technologies like coal and nuclear energy. Airs Wednesday, April 20 at 9 p.m.
See Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform live on tour:
March 12 – Washington DC
March 25 – Boston, MA
March 26 – Providence, RI
April 9 – Charlotte, NC
April 15 – Vail, CO
June 2 – Ozark, AK
June 3 – Chicago, IL
June 5 – Hunter, NY (Mountain Jam)
June 10 – Manchester, TN (Bonnaroo)
June 11 – Santa Rosa, CA (Harmony Festival)
Director Tamra Davis is hardly an “outsider artist.” She is a well-known Hollywood director of music videos (with Sonic Youth, Hanson, Depeche Mode, Cher, and many more), feature films (including Billy Madison, Half Baked, and Crossroads with Britney Spears), and television series (My Name is Earl, Everybody Hates Chris, and Ugly Betty, among others).
You had footage of Jean-Michel for years. Why did you wait until now to make this film?
Honestly I think it had to do with a few factors. I had been working in television and I really wanted to get back into feature film directing and this was a project I could do without having to wait for a studio or for a huge amount of money. I also was feeling confident enough in my skills as a filmmaker that I could make this film pretty much by myself. Those are the technical reasons. On a personal level, having that footage and feeling it still lingering I really felt that it was time for Jean-Michel to have his voice heard. I was getting tired of all the misconceptions about who Jean-Michel was.
How did you come to make Jean-Michel’s acquaintance?
I lived in Los Angeles and I was going to film school and working in an art gallery. My best friend Matt worked at Larry Gagosian’s gallery and Jean came to L.A. for his first show. Matt and Jean-Michel came into the gallery I worked at and we just immediately bonded over our love of film and music.
When was the last time you saw or spoke to him?
I spoke to him about a month before he died. Maybe even a few weeks? I had just stayed in his loft on Great Jones Street in Manhattan and told him that he had to fix the air conditioning. It was like sleeping in an oven.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making your film?
Many of the people I spoke with were hard to track down and get an actual date to film them. So it took a lot of effort setting up all the interviews. I also made the film mostly by myself, so that took a tremendous amount of self-motivation. I was happy to have David Koh as my producer, because he would call me every day and ask me if I did this and that. Getting all the archival footage together was a challenge and i am so grateful to all the photographers and filmmakers whose images help fill out the world my film takes place in. The other thing that was challenging was the edit. I wanted to make an emotional film, so to do that I had to keep myself emotionally raw. I think I cried everyday while in the edit room.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
I really feel I made the exact film I set out to make. I wanted it to have edge, so I think my lack of funds helped with that.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
I really liked all the stuff about fame and its effect on a young artist. I also really loved the section on racism. I think the thing that most moves me is the look in his eyes. Especially when I see him looking at me.
I’m grateful to say it has been overwhelmingly positive. It meant so much to me to show the film to people and even though it was such a personal film about someone the audience does not know personally, the film still had a deep impact.
Basquiat was a street artist, then an “outsider” artist, and then very much embraced by the art establishment. Do you think his success with mainstream collectors and celebrities actually doomed him and his art?
I wanted to show that it is hard for an artist to become famous so quickly. It’s hard to have people talking about you and trashing you in the media and saying they think your career is over … and you are only 25.
You make big-budget Hollywood pictures, television series, and music videos. What brought you back into the world of the independent film?
I am so inspired by new media. I really wanted to make a film myself. I have a great little camera and I had a theory that if the story is interesting, it doesn’t matter what medium you shoot it on. You just have to make a good film. It was inspiring to me as a filmmaker to have that freedom.
Why did you choose to present this film on public television?
There is a moment I had in speaking with Jean-Michel on tape where he specifically says that this documentary is for PBS. He really wanted me to make a film that would be educational and have a large audience of everyday people. I was so excited that Independent Lens invited my film to be on PBS. It would have made him so happy.
You have a cooking show? How did that come to be?
I had just had my second child in a very short time period and was at home trying to come to grips with my new role: Mom. I had not stopped making films and videos in 20 years, so it was hard for me not to identify myself as a filmmaker. I was also obsessed with food and reality TV (like any other mom). I thought I had an amazing opportunity. I was a mom that was cooking healthy food for her new family and I was a filmmaker. I put the two together and created a show. It gave me something to do and was good for my family. It also gave me the confidence as a filmmaker that all I needed was a camera and a computer and I could make, edit, and distribute a something I had made.
I don’t know what this means … I’m the queen of multitasking, as I sit even now in a director chair on the set of a TV series I am the director and exec for, texting with my husband about feeding dinner to my kids, and answering these questions. I will always get it done.
What are your three favorite films?
Unfair question because there are way too many. I can tell you what I’ve been watching this week…
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
If you think you are a filmmaker … make a film, and then show it. You need to be able to finish what you started so it is presentable. When you screen it and see if your film has an effect on an audience, you will understand what it means to be a filmmaker.
On April 11, PBSKIDSGO.org will premiere Noah Comprende, a new web-only series produced by THIRTEEN for WNET that introduces children 6-8 years old to Spanish through animated videos with embedded games.
The series is about a nine-year-old boy visiting his grandmother in a community where nobody speaks English. As Noah tries to learn Spanish from a precocious five-year-old neighbor named Coco, he sometimes gets it wrong. Each misunderstanding launches a new comic misadventure for him and his pet mouse, Pequeño. With Pequeño’s help, Noah always manages to solve the problems he’s created, learning Spanish in the process.
Each three-minute video features opportunities for kids to roll their cursors over objects on the screen to hear the Spanish translations. Three different vocabulary-driven, arcade-style games reinforce learning. Another game on the website, How Do You Say…?, helps kids learn common expressions in Spanish.
The bilingual dialogue of Noah Comprende introduces Spanish to English speakers and English to Spanish speakers. The goal of Noah Comprende is to help youngsters get the benefits of learning a language at an early age. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, they include:
Improving a child’s understanding of his or her native language.
Having a positive effect on intellectual growth
Enriching and enhancing a child’s mental development
Promoting more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.
Noah Comprende introduces kids to collections of vocabulary words that are accessible and of interest to the target age group. The videos also teach common phrases, with visuals providing the context needed for viewers to make sense of the language.
Noah Comprende is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET and is funded by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Jill Peters and Sandra Sheppard are executive producers, Michelle Chen is the producer, and David Matthew Feldman and Louise A. Gikow are writers and associate producers.
This Friday, April 8, Live from the Artists Den presents singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne and his band, the Pariah Dogs, as they take to the stage at the historic Don Strange Ranch in Boerne, Texas. LaMontagne will sing songs from his latest album, God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise.
Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev discovered a book at a flea market in Moscow about Russian avant-garde art that miraculously survived Soviet censorship. That chance encounter led to many years traveling back and forth between Los Angeles, Moscow, and Uzbekistan, piecing together the history of the most remarkable trove of modern art you’ve probably never seen. The result is The Desert of Forbidden Art, which premieres on THIRTEEN on April 5, 2011 at 10 p.m.
Independent Lens sat down with the filmmakers to discuss their travels and the making of the film.
We hope that our film will serve as a catalyst to bring international attention to protect and preserve this endangered 20th century art treasure. Even though the museum houses a collection worth millions, government salaries for its staff average less than $100 a month. This is just one example of the economic pressures on the museum. Ninety-seven percent of the collection is in dire need of restoration. We are using the film to encourage a traveling exhibition of Nukus Museum paintings to several museums across the U.S. Our final act of art activism will be to create the first book in English on the collection.
In 2000, we were filming in Uzbekistan just finishing a two-year production on grassroots reformers in the former Soviet Union. Neither of us had ever been to Central Asia before and tales of Uzbekistan’s Silk Road and the fabled blue-tiled domes of Samarkand, one of Muslim world’s most dazzling capitals, sparked our interest. But then we were told of a cultural treasure from our own time, a museum of Soviet-era forbidden avant-garde art in a far off desert at the Western border of Uzbekistan. The improbability of the story was arresting: an amazing art collection, created by a penniless man, in the one of the world’s poorest regions, in an Islamic country suspicious of art created by their former colonizers.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Usually in a historic documentary where the main characters are no longer alive, filmmakers rely on diaries and letters, but the Soviet regime was so repressive that few people dared to document their views on art and their frustration about the lack of artistic freedom.
Painstakingly, by combing through archives and KGB files, we were able to piece together the story. And luckily we found friends and family with excellent memories of these former times. Children of the artists, now in their 80s, relived with relish their experiences from the Soviet era. And the main character, the collector Igor Savitsky, was so charismatic that everyone who had even the slightest interaction with him would quote him and would regale us with his antics.
Another challenge was the setting for the story. Our film’s saga takes place in a remote part of the world, about a time in history that was harsh and foreign to an American audience. We had to find visuals to bring this epoch to life. We were thrilled to learn that the Soviets had sent one man, Max Penson, to Uzbekistan to document the Revolution. He took more than 15,000 images of the historical, social, religious, and political transformations that were taking place in the same period as the artists were painting. Thanks to his son, we were given full access to this collection by this Soviet Central Asian equivalent of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
Tchavdar’s fluent Russian was essential and we came recommended from organizations and other individuals whom our subjects already trusted.
The children of the artists were eager to share with the world stories of their parents’ struggles. At one point, Amanda flew to Moscow with the sole purpose of interviewing the 81-year-old son of painter Alexander Volkov. He welcomed a non-stop filming interview of six hours, declining each hour her offers to pause for a break.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
We wanted to show more of the ordinary life of the curators and the people who live around this magnificent collection — because the contrast is so striking between their daily struggles for survival and the art collection they protect which is worth millions. This discrepancy has so much to say about the precarious future of a cultural treasure in a poor country.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
One of our favorites is the story of the artist, Ural Tansykbaev, who paints brilliantly as a young man, then sells out and becomes famous painting propaganda works. Then as an old man he decides to go and visit his early work that he has not seen since he turned it over to the Collector, Igor Savitsky. What happens we won’t give away, but it resonates big time.
What has the audience response been so far?
For art-loving audiences who are at first skeptical about “new” discoveries, the bold colors and originality of the art surprises and delights them. We have played to sold-out venues across the globe. We are told the film deals with very dark historical content but in an uplifting, sometimes even humorous way. They respond strongly to Miriam Cutler’s score, richly punctuated with authentic instruments from Central Asia and Russia as well as some of our never-before-seen archival footage.
Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
We sent a copy of the film to the director of the Nukus Museum this last spring and she showed it first to her staff. When these folks had last seen us we were very low key about our filming. We are told there were not many dry eyes at the end. Unfortunately one of our dear characters, Militza Zemskaya, Savitsky’s best friend, died before she could see herself in the film and we were reminded that we made the film not a moment too soon.
The independent film business is tough. What keeps you motivated?
It’s a more interesting way to live. There’s an adrenaline rush when you pull off a next to impossible day of filming or editing or when an audience “gets” your film. Making films is exhilarating in its power to motivate and inspire.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
PBS viewers are our ideal audience — open minded, culturally sophisticated, curious about the arts (especially art not familiar to them), hip to a quality film score, at ease with foreign language and sub-titles, and above all, appreciative of the care that goes into telling complex stories.
What do audiences tend to ask after they see your film?
“What is the future of the collection?” It is endangered, uncertain, and that is why we made the film.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Tchavdar: I wish we had sophisticated film equipment like a dolly, steadi-cam or a jib arm on location with us at the museum so that we could have glided seemless through the paintings and experience them even more up close, feel the texture of the brushstrokes. But unfortunately as indie filmmakers we didn’t have the budget to physically bring such large equipment to Uzbekistan and did our best using some old tricks that our Russian cameraman had to shoot paintings.
Amanda: I wanted to be able to speak with Karakalpak villagers who remembered Savitsky coming to collect their family heirlooms and hear their response at discovering that these objects were now world-prized. I also wished we could have spent more time following Savitsky’s trail back to Russia, locating more people who had first-hand stories about him.
Soldiers of Music, by Bob Eisenhardt, Susan Fromke, and Albert Maysles
F for Fake, by Orson Welles
Little Dieter Needs to Fly, by Werner Herzog
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Find a story and with characters who are original enough to sustain your interest for the several years it make take you to complete the film. If you can, find a community of like-minded people who will support you, often quite literally. If you gravitate towards social advocacy, find the small individual stories that reveal your larger themes. Always honor the power of your medium.
There are no craft services on an independent documentary shoot in the middle of a desert in Central Asia. What sustained you?
For us it was honey pepper vodka that helped us deal with the time difference of 12 hours between Los Angeles and Uzbekistan. When was the last time you tried to negotiate visas with a bureaucracy after working a 10-hour day?!
Inside Thirteen recently spoke with Bruce Marcus, executive producer of Vine Talk, and Josh Nathan, WNET‘s Vice President of Business Development, to discuss how the unique show came to fruition (pardon the pun).
Hosted by Stanley Tucci, Vine Talk features wine experts Ray Isle, Stepahanie Caraway, and Emilie Perrier. Each episode hosts wine tastings with a new and diverse panel of celebrity guests, from chefs (Lidia Bastianich, Stephen Raichlen, and many others) to actors (including Patricia Clarkson and John Lithgow), and beyond.
Inside Thirteen: What was the inspiration behind Vine Talk?
Bruce Marcus: The inspiration really came about by noticing a real void of television programs related to wine that were comforting and welcoming to people. At the same time, knowing that for years, producers have said they were going to try and deal with that and they just never did – there was always the same type of show with wine experts prancing through the fields of France. Those are beautiful shows, I’ve produced them, but very few people watch and they certainly don’t sustain themselves over time. This is an adult entertainment show with a focus on wine – it’s not a wine show.
I think the show can seriously have an impact on wine drinking habits in the United States, and it should. Wine drinking is becoming more and more popular. It has a long way to catch up with many countries in the world, and there’s no reason people should be nervous about wine, just because there is a history around it and an academic side.
Ray Isle, Steve Buscemi, Stephanie Carraway, Emily Bergl, Stanley Tucci, and Chef Joe Bastianich
Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane
Aidan Quinn, Chef Amanda Freitag, Emilie Perrier, Ray Isle, Nanette Lepore, Stanley Tucci
Ray Isle and Stanley Tucci
IT: How are celebrity guests selected for the show?
BM: There are a number of us working together – we work very closely with Stanley Tucci’s production company, OLIVE Productions. We get a certain number of guests that are known to Stanley, but in general we are looking for a wide range of interesting people. They don’t have to be Hollywood celebrities. We’ve had a good share of musicians, we’ve had a poet, writers – we just want a good group that we think will make a good mix at the tasting table.
IT: What is the process for selecting which wines will be featured?
BM: We’re doing everything we can to make it a very credible process. First, our production staff selected the wine regions for the purpose of attracting a large audience. Over 80% of the wine purchased in the States actually comes from U.S. vineyards, so we wanted a large percent of the shows to be out of the U.S. wine regions. After that, we gave certain parameters to the wine associations and asked them to find 25-35 wines within their regions that fit our parameters. For example, one of the parameters was, for the most part we needed wines that were available in stores – we did not want to go out in front of millions of viewers and have 10 bottles available across the country, because we know it’s going to drive people to want to get these. We also wanted a good price spread. The associations were then invited to a selection event in October where we put together independent wine panels that tasted the wines and picked their six favorites of each group of 25 or 30. Our sommeliers did participate, but it was mostly outside people – retailers, distributors, wine-knowledgeable people, and they picked the six for each show.
IT: Can you talk about working with WNET and what the experience has been like using the Tisch/WNET Studios?
BM: We are very fortunate that the timing worked out and perhaps the ideal location for us in New York City was becoming available unbeknownst to us, right at a great crossroads of American culture at Lincoln Center. It wasn’t the exact physical makeup that we had initially envisioned, but that’s never the case, and we ended up with what we believe is a very effective use of both the upstairs and the downstairs – we like to call it our upstairs cellar, and then the studio audience is down on the first level. We couldn’t have asked for a better public television partner. It’s been great working with the WNET and WLIW team, and everyone has been incredibly supportive.
IT: What is your favorite wine?
BM: They keep changing, every few months! I’m very much into wines from Chile – Chile is not featured in our first season of shows – I got outvoted!
Inside Thirteen: What first interested you in Vine Talk?
Josh Nathan: The show grabbed my attention – there’s nothing else on television like this. It’s an opportunity to have fun and educate at the same time. I think wine is something that needs to be made accessible to people, and I think Public Television’s mission is to make complicated subjects accessible.
Having Stanley Tucci host was an interesting and positive aspect of the show design; rather than having a chef or a wine sommelier be the host of the show, instead you have someone who everybody knows, is very likeable and delightful on the air, and who has an interest in and knowledge of wine. He’s not lecturing, he’s discovering with the audience, and I thought that was just a terrific approach.
IT: To what degree has WNET been involved in the creative process for this show, if at all?
JN: We got involved as soon as Bruce brought the program to us. He had a format and a layout for how the show was going to work, and we reviewed it, got engaged in refining that format with him and Joe Lacarro, the director. After the pilot was shot, we got very involved in deciding how to improve the structure of the show. Neil Shapiro (WNET’s president and CEO), Stephen Segaller (WNET’s VP of Content), and our team watched it, put notes together, and then I sat down with the Vine Talk team and one of the sommeliers, and we restructured the show based on that pilot learning experience. Bruce came up with the concept and the format, but all of our hands were in taking it to the next spot. The folks at APT screened it as well. It was a very positive and efficient collaboration, pre-pilot and post-pilot.
IT: What has the experience been like having the show film at the new Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center?
JN: I thought it was genius! They originally were going to shoot in another space, and I suggested that they look at Lincoln Center and think about the upstairs and the downstairs. I didn’t really know what their requirements were in terms of layout. They went over and spent some time in the studio and looked at the space and they came back to me and said they wanted to use the studio because it offered a way to separate the audience from the performance, which they thought would enhance the show. Now the studio audience can be talking and laughing and enjoying themselves while they watch the taping, without everyone having to be quiet while the show is going on. It also gives the guests, Stanley Tucci, and Ray Isle an intimate space to work. The way they transformed the studio was brilliant, and that’s what’s so cool about the Lincoln Center studio – it’s a gem of a space, and I think this show really shows the potential for how much you can do in that space. It was a pleasant surprise.
IT: What is your favorite wine?
JN: I have a few – it depends on what I’m eating, and the weather. In the summertime, it can be any number of white wines. On a really hot summer day as part of a cocktail hour, I’ll serve a rosé. There’s an Italian wine, Dolcetto d’Alba, a wonderful red wine from Italy, that, whenever I see it on a wine list at a restaurant, it’s always terrific. For white wine, there’s a Picpoul grape from France that’s fantastic – great with fish, chicken, crackers and cheese.
A fun tip: host a Vine Talk party – screen the show with friends and have your own wine tastings at home!
The Peabody Awards are the most prestigious of all broadcasting awards, recognizing outstanding achievements in electronic media, including radio, television and cable. The ceremony for this year’s winners will take place on May 23rd.
Congratulations to all of our award recipients!
Watch videos from the winning programs here: (more…)
Live from the Artists Den returns to THIRTEEN for its third season on Friday, April 1 at 9:30 p.m. with Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes. The concert celebrates the release of Costello’s new album, National Ransom, and features new songs from the release as well as hits from his three-decade long (and counting) career.
Watch a preview:
The full lineup for the season features:
April 1 – Elvis Costello, backed by his band, the Sugarcanes, at The New York Public Library’s world-famous Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
April 8 – Grammy winner Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs at the Don Strange Ranch in Texas Hill Country
April 15 – Vermont rockers Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, filmed at sunset in New York’s Bryant Park
April 22 – Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Robert Plant and the Band of Joy at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville
April 29 – A reunion concert by UK pop legends Squeeze, filmed on a different summer day in New York’s Bryant Park
May 6 – A compilation episode featuring three emerging artists in different settings, kicking off at Sotheby’s auction house in New York with R&B singer-songwriter Daniel Merriweather, followed by alternative pop songstress A Fine Frenzy and folk singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan (best known for her work with Damien Rice).
The conference brought together experts from a wide range of fields, including the Arts, Global Awareness, Health & Wellness, Instructional Technology, Social Studies, Special Education, and Whole School Issues.
Among this year’s notable speakers were NBC’s Brian Williams, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Joanne Weiss; Mayor Cory Booker, and WNET‘s own Jon Meacham (Need to Know).
Check out our photo highlights from the event:
NBC Nighty News host Brian Williams at the 2011 Celebration of Teaching and Learning
Brian Williams and Mayor Cory Booker
Dr. Mehmet Oz greets the crowd
Leymah Gbowee, founder of Women, Peace and Security Network Africa
Chris Morgan, host of Nature’s upcoming special, “Bears of the Last Frontier”
Professor and author Linda Darling Hammond signs her newest book, ‘The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future’
Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan
Leymah Gbowee speaks at the ‘Women, War & Peace’ panel