Just when you've tired of guffawing at pop-star wannabes massacring "Genie in a Bottle," sneering at man-hungry women in Alaska, and moaning over the reappearance of The Mole and Big Brother, along comes a kinder, gentler (though no less provocative) brand of television. P.O.V. (Point of View), the national showcase of nonfiction film -- or "television with a point of view" -- launches its 15th season Tuesday on PBS.
"Shared history" is the tagline of this year's season, but it could have easily been love. Love in all its heart-wrenching, selfless, and absurd incarnations appears in this year's collection of documentaries, which welcomes veteran P.O.V.- filmmakers as well as encores from past seasons. Season highlights include:
The Smith Family by Tasha Oldham. Unlike their common surname, the Smiths are an uncommon family. Steve Smith and wife Kim were happily married and devout Mormons, the parents of two handsome sons. But all was not what it seemed. After nine years of marriage, Steve revealed his infidelities with other men. Three years later, Kim discovered she was HIV-positive and, soon after, Steve was diagnosed with AIDS. What could have destroyed most families was just the beginning of an astonishing story of how the Smiths' deep love kept them together in the face of guilt, pain, excommunication from the Mormon Church, and death. Kim Smith's candor and articulateness carry The Smith Family (which screened at SXSW 02), but the film is also a love story between a man, a woman, and their family as they dismiss the all-too-human desire for retribution, instead choosing to live their lives with forgiveness and grace.
Hybrid by Monteith McCollum. This sometimes absurdly funny and strangely engrossing film tells the story of Milford Beeghly, an Iowa farmer obsessed with corn. Beeghly was the man behind Beeghly's Best Hybrids, hybrid corn that Beeghly devoted his life to developing. Laconic, eccentric, and deeply devoted to his work, Beeghly spread the gospel of hybridized corn to farmers in local 1950s television commercials. Although its unique reproductive system and Beeghly's method of hybridizing corn at first brought suspicion and even fear that it was sinful (i.e., incestuous), Beeghly was able to launch a solid business enabling him to carry on his passion for corn and farming. McCollum, a first-time filmmaker and Beeghly's grandson, offers a whimsically stylish valentine to a man who was both pragmatic and iconic.
Sweet Old Song by Leah Mahan. A love story as soft, protective, and resilient as kidskin gloves. Musician and visual artist Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong (the subject of Terry Zwigoff's Louie Bluie, shown in P.O.V.'s first season) and textile artist Barbara Ward met in 1983. Although there's a 30-year age difference between the two, the charismatic couple began a relationship that was part romance, part artistic collaboration, and part selfless devotion between friends. Mahan's film reminds viewers that love can indeed be oh so sweet.
Other notable films include: Marlo Poras' Mai's America, the story of a vivacious Vietnamese exchange student placed in rural Mississippi. Mai's America won an Audience Award for Documentary Feature at this year's SXSW Film Festival.
Señorita Extraviada, Lourdes Portillo's distressing film that contemplates the mysterious murders of nearly 300 Mexican women in Juárez, Mexico, and dares to ask why.
Escuela, Hannah Weyer's moving companion to La Boda (The Wedding). The documentary again follows the Luis clan as the family tries to balance the demands of migrant farm work with the needs of their children's education. Escuela won a Special Jury Award for Documentary Feature at this year's SXSW Film Festival.
All P.O.V. films air at 9pm on PBS on consecutive Tuesdays starting June 25. The complete P.O.V. schedule is as follows:
The Smith Family, June 25
Boomtown by Bryan Gunnar Cole, July 2
Hybrid, July 9
Refrigerator Mothers by David E. Simpson, J.J. Hanley, and Gordon Quinn, July 16
Fenceline: A Company Town Divided by Slawomir Grünberg, July 23
Sweet Old Song, July 30
Mai's America, My American Girls (by Aaron Matthews), Señorita Extraviada, and Escuela -- all originally scheduled for August -- are postponed due to KLRU's membership drive. Airdates are TBA.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Enterprise earned trophies at the 28th Annual Saturn Awards. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters (Spike) and Enterprise's Jolene Blalock (Vulcan Subcommander T'Pol) were named Faces of the Future. In addition, Blalock was named Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was named Best Network Series. Both shows air on UPN. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and Cinescape Magazine co-sponsor the Saturn Awards.
Viewers who missed the musical episode of Buffy ("Once More With Feeling") have a second chance. It reruns July 2, 7pm, on UPN.
Connie Chung makes her CNN premiere on Monday, June 24.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie, based on the popular Cartoon Network series created by Craig McCracken, opens nationwide July 3. Imagine those bug-eyes on the big screen. Yowza!