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Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Photo Credit:  PBS
  • Premiered: 
    August 9, 1999
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: PBS
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
  • Subject Matter: Anthology
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Plot Synopsis

This acclaimed anthology series features documentaries -- and a limited number of fiction films -- united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. INDEPENDENT LENS features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history.

On Monday, October 13, 2014 at 10pm (check local listings), INDEPENDENT LENS returned for its sixteenth season -- the show's thirteenth since its relaunch in February 2003. Lee Hirsch's BULLY, the first film of the new season, highlights the challenges faced by bullied kids, showing how teachers and parents address aggressive behaviors that defy dismissal with "kids will be kids" cliche. By revealing the effects of bullying on the lives of five kids and their families and by capturing a growing movement to change the ways to address bullying in schools, BULLY was the perfect choice to air on INDEPENDENT LENS in October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month.

Season 17 of INDEPENDENT LENS premiered on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings), with a special presentation of the 90-minute documentary "Stray Dog," which introduces Ronnie 'Stray Dog' Hall, a Vietnam vet trying to come to terms with his combat experience and help others like himself. Other films in Season 17 include: "India's Daughter," which reveals how the harrowing rape and murder of a young Indian woman sparked an international movement; "Mimi and Dona," which introduces an unforgettable, deeply connected mother-daughter duo facing tough choices as they both age; "East of Salinas," which chronicles the story of Jose, a bright third grader, and his dedicated teacher, both sons of migrant farm workers; and many more.

INDEPENDENT LENS returned for its 18th season on Monday, October 2, 2016 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings). The season opener, "Best of Enemies," documents the summer of 1968 when television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC News hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. Gore Vidal, a Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Armed with deep-seated distrust and enmity, Vidal and Buckley believed each other's political ideologies were dangerous for America. Like rounds in a heavyweight battle, they pummeled out policy and personal insult, their explosive exchanges devolving into vitriolic name-calling. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted as Nixon became the Republican nominee in Miami and violence rocked the Democratic convention in Chicago. Ratings for ABC News skyrocketed and a new era in contentious public discourse was born. Directed by Robert Gordon and Academy Award-winning Sundance Film Festival alum Morgan Neville.

Season 20 of INDEPENDENT LENS premiered on Monday, October 29, 2018 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings). The new season opens with "Wildland," directed and produced by Alex Jablonski and Kahlil Hudson. Filmed during two recent wildfire seasons, thsi film is a sweeping yet deeply personal account of a single wildland firefighting crew as they struggle with fear, loyalty, dreams, and demons. What emerges is a rich story of working-class men -- their exterior world, their interior lives, and the fire that lies between. Every summer, the American West burns. As climate change has increased, average temperatures have risen, resulting in a sudden increase in both the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Inside each of these fires are small crews who work to contain them by hand, using shovels, pickaxes, and methods that haven't changed in sixty years. With a lifelong admiration for those who do this dangerous work, filmmakers and native Westerners Jablonski and Hudson went through firefighting training with the men in the film, in Grants Pass, Oregon, a sleepy mountain town. Here they toiled alongside and chronicled the lives of the men on their fire crew. Each of them has come to this work for personal reasons -- for some, it's a need to test themselves, or a desire for adventure and purpose; for others, it may be the job of last resort after time in prison or a lifetime of addiction. For 46-year-old John, it's a final chance to let go of a troubled past and be a better father; for Charlie and Aidan, both 23-year-old Bible college dropouts, the summer holds the promise of challenges that will transform them from boys to men. For their crew boss Tim, a sixth-grade dropout and former meth addict, the tough work of firefighting is salvation. Together these men are tasked with facing nature's most elemental force and finding their way through boredom, fear, and a job aptly described as "long hours of hard labor punctuated by moments of sheer terror." For each, it's a chance to discover a piece of themselves that they'll be able to carry forward forever.

INDEPENDENT LENS returned for its 21st season on Monday, October 28, 2019 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings). Season 21 episodes include: "Made in Boise" (October 28); "Decade of Fire" (November 4); "The Interpreters" (November 11); "Conscience Point" (November 18); and additional episodes debuting in 2020. In the season opener, "Made in Boise," a surprising -- and booming -- industry has emerged in Boise, Idaho. In this idyllic, all-American city, nurses, nail technicians, and stay-at-home mothers are choosing to become paid reproductive surrogates for people from around the world. "Made in Boise" goes inside the lives of four women as they build relationships with intended parents, prepare for the rigors of pregnancy, and navigate the mixed feelings of their own families, who struggle to understand the surrogates' choice to risk the physical and emotional complications of carrying babies for another family.

Season 22 of INDEPENDENT LENS premiered on Monday, October 19, 2020 from 10-11:30pm on PBS (check local listings). The season opener, "Feels Good Man," recounts the harrowing journey of Pepe the Frog, the creation of artist Matt Furie, and his transformation from light-hearted comic book character to registered hate symbol. Additional episodes include: "Represent" (October 26); "Jonathan Scott's Power Trip" (November 16); "Belly of the Beast" (November 23); and more.

PBS premiered the 23rd season of INDEPENDENT LENS on Monday, October 11, 2021 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings). The season opens on National Coming Out Day with "Cured," a one-hour film that shines a light on pioneering LGBTQ+ activists who fought to remove homosexuality from the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders in 1973. The activists' mission was not only to overturn the official diagnosis, but to create a meaningful dialogue that would challenge deep-rooted prejudices and transform minds. During these discussions, activists pressed the APA to examine evidence and data, urging psychiatrists to move beyond what activist Dr. Frank Kameny called the "shabby, shoddy, sleazy pseudoscience masquerading as science" that underlay the sickness label for homosexuality. "Cured" features rich, newly unearthed archival footage and incisive interviews with the people who experienced these events firsthand, including the pioneering LGBTQ+ activists Ron Gold, Dr. Lawrence Hartmann, Dr. Frank Kameny, Rev. Magora Kennedy, Kay Lahusen, and Dr. Charles Silverstein, among others, as well as allies and opponents within the APA. The filmmakers also interviewed Richard Socarides, an openly gay political commentator and advocate for LGBTQ equality who is the son of Dr. Charles Socarides, the leading proponent of the view that homosexuality is a curable mental illness. "Cured" illuminates a pivotal moment in the Gay Liberation movement that transformed not only the LGBTQ+ community, but also the field of psychiatry and the social fabric of America -- propelling a revolution that is still reverberating today.

The 24th season of INDEPENDENT LENS premiered on Monday, September 12, 2022 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings). Filmmaker Byron Hurt's "Hazing" kicks off the new season, making its television debut. Through a look at the history of hazing and deeply personal narratives of those affected by the rituals, the film tackles topics of violence, sexual degradation, binge drinking, institutional coverups, and debased notions of manhood. Interviews with violence-prevention experts and campus professional staff provide broader cultural context for these practices and their association with Greek-letter organizations. Hurt also discusses victim-blaming narratives, offering insight into the psychology of belonging, insecurity, and cycles of abuse which largely contribute to hazing culture. "Hazing" takes a look inward as well, as Hurt and many of the film's subjects find themselves conflicted with the joys of Greek culture while also admitting to the perils and damaging effects of pledging practices. Hurt speaks with numerous participants in the film including Marc Lamont Hill, a member of
Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; James Vivenzio, hazing survivor and whistleblower; Brent McClanahan II, hazing survivor who sustained permanent injuries; and Reverend Patricia StrongFargas, founder of Mother's Against Hazing whose daughter Kristin High drowned during a midnight hazing ritual.
Season 25 of INDEPENDENT LENS debuted on Tuesday, September 19, 2023 at 10pm on PBS (check local listings). Mexican American filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes' documentary, "Sanson and Me," kicks off the new season. The documentary vividly portrays the life of Sanson Noe Andrade, a young immigrant from coastal Mexico. Sanson is currently serving a life sentence in a California prison for his role in a murder that took place when he was 19 years old. Reyes served as Sanson's interpreter during his trial in 2012, and was struck not only by his earnestness and their common Mexican roots, but also how the systemic failures that plague the immigrant experience in America had touched the life of this young man -- with devastating consequences. After exchanging letters with Sanson and visiting him in Pelican Bay State Prison, Reyes began to shape what the film documenting his life would look like. Barred from conducting on-camera interviews in the prison, Reyes turned to reenactments to bring Sanson's story to life on-screen. He strategically cast Sanson's family members still living in the coastal town of Tecoman, Mexico, to play key roles in his narrative. Reyes also traces the growth of the friendship he and Sanson formed over the course of making the film and the deep, personal reflections they often shared with one another.Reyes's depiction of Sanson's story -- from a childhood stricken with tragedy to the multilayered obstacles he experiences in adolescence and adulthood -- illustrates a world defined by borders -- between Mexico and the U.S., fact and fiction, and incarceration and freedom. At age 12, Sanson moves from Mexico to California, eventually finds a job and falls in love while avoiding the gang activity that surrounds him, only to go to prison seven years later, where he's again surrounded by gang activity on the inside. In casting an untrained actor to play teenage Sanson, and with the support of his extended family to play his loved ones, Reyes uses cinematic poetry to capture the harsh realities of immigration, the U.S. prison system, and a man's journey toward redemption.