PBS invites us to explore, discuss richness of our world

KINGS OF PASTRY: Chef Jacquy Pfeiffer and Chef Sebastien Canonne are part of a suspenseful documentary by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker about the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. Photo courtesy of Chris Hegedus and PBS:POV.Looking for a great way to keep your connections with our world expanding through the summer? Are you part of a small group that meets to discuss books—and might enjoy a change of pace for a couple of months? TODAY, we’re previewing PBS’ upcoming POV (Point of View) documentary series. We will report on individual films closer to the air dates—so stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit throughout the summer. Today, we’re suggesting that you plan ahead: Invite friends to read, view and discuss with you!

Why are we making such a big deal about POV? Over the last two decades, POV has become The Place to see cutting-edge documentaries. Wikipedia has a complete list of the 250-plus films that have debuted on POV since 1988 and it’s a stunning record! Many of the world’s top filmmakers are invited to show their most provocative work on POV—filmmakers like Errol Morris, Michael Moore, Alan Berliner and Arthur Dong have reached the world through this series. Never heard of most of those names? Well, that’s the challenge documentary filmmakers face—reaching people. And, that’s the value of POV.

PBS POV DEBUT: Tuesday June 21, Kings of Pastry

This year’s season opens with a crowd-pleasing documentary by one of the world’s most famous documentarians: D.A. Pennebaker. If you enjoy hit food shows with stars like Rachael Ray, Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver—you’ll love this look at real-life chefs competing for one of the greatest honors in cooking. The film is called “Kings of Pastry” and it’s wonderful to see Pennebaker still popping our eyes after all these years. Way back in the 1960s, Pennebaker was one of the restless young filmmakers who broke all kinds of media rules to give us startling looks at President John F. Kennedy, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Here’s Our Official ReadTheSpirit Suggestion: Invite some friends to gather with you to watch POV and discuss it afterward—or invite them to watch it at their own convience and discuss it later in the week. Considering the subject of the opening documentary in the series, you could ask your friends to contribute to a dessert buffet for the first week’s gathering. There’s a lot to discuss in this first film—and ReadTheSpirit plans to report in more detail on the POV series as we move through the summer. We’ll suggest questions you might ask—and help you have a good time with your group.


SWEETGRASS: Modern-day cowboys lead flocks into dangerous mountains of Montana in a film by Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. Photo courtesy of Sweetgrass and PBS:POV.JUNE 28: “My Perestroika” travels to Russia to show us the adult lives of the last Soviet-era children raised under Cold War propaganda. It’s easy to assume that our 24/7 access to the Internet provides an accurate window on the world. In fact, it’s rare to get a glimpse into this region of the world. If you’re planning a summer discussion series, your conversations will grow more spirited in this second week of the series. For example: How were American Baby Boomers’ lives shaped by our own Cold War propaganda about American culture?

JULY 5: “Sweetgrass” focuses on a region still rich with American dreams: The West. We travel into Montana wilderness areas and visit with real-life cowboys.

JULY 12: “Enemies of the People” is one of the most provocative documentaries in the series—and one of the most likely to make news in mid July. In the late 1970s, the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 2 million people—a story most Americans know from the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields, and the work by journalists Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg. Of course, the movie’s title refers more broadly to various sites in Cambodia where mass murder took place. This new film, “Enemies of the People,” represents a decade of work by the courageous Cambodian filmmaker Thet Sambath, who managed to report details never before documented. The film even includes an interview with Brother Number Two, one of the infamous architects of these crimes against humanity.

BIBLIOBURRO: Teacher Luis Soriano is followed by children as he arrives with his burro-packed library, a scene from the documentary film by Carlos Réndon Zipagauta. Photo courtesy of the filmmaker and PBS:POV.JULY 19: “Biblioburro: The Donkey Library” is an entertaining relief after the look at mass murder in Cambodia. But this film is thought-provoking as well. It’s the real-life story of one Colombian teacher who decided that nothing would stop him from bringing books to poor families. He finally settled on a pair of donkeys to gain access to remote villages.

JULY 26: “Mugabe and the White African” offers a rare look inside Zimbabwe. Much of the film was produced secretly because of Mugabe’s strict rules against outside journalists reporting on real life inside his deeply troubled country.

AUGUST 2: “Steam of Life” explores the Finnish culture of sauna.

AUGUST 9: “Food, Inc.” is slated for rebroadcast. If you do organize a discussion group, many participants may have seen “Food, Inc.” already—but the film is guaranteed to spark discussion!

AUGUST 16: “The Oath” is a rebroadcast of a timely film about the legacy of Osama bin Laden’s network for a couple of men caught up in al-Qaeda.

AUGUST 23: A half dozen documentary “shorts” air, including one short on birdwatching and two films that came from the StoryCorps project.

AUGUST 30: “Armadillo” carries us to Afghanistan for a look at a platoon of Danish soldiers under fire in a hostile region of this war-torn country so far from their homes.

The POV series continues through September—and we will tell you more about future films later this year. But, for now, plan ahead: Pick shows your group will enjoy. Call friends. Make it a weekly date to explore the world and discuss the richness of the lives you’ll encounter.

REMEMBER: Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit, because we will travel with you and we will provide helpful questions and more information on these great films as they debut.

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Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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