On Monday night I attended the Montclair International Film Festival event at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theater. It was a fantastic event, including a panel moderated by Montclair’s own Mary Alice Williams. She did a fantastic job asking questions of producers Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker, as well as eliciting helpful contextual information from MSU Assistant Professor Dr. Brizuela-Garcia.
The audience was given a preview of the upcoming PBS series Women, War & Peace, a collection of five films that focus on war-torn areas around the world with an emphasis on how the violence affects woman and what the women are doing to make life better for themselves and their countries. The series will premiere on PBS stations on October 11th, 2011 – beginning with the award-winning Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
And it’s a series like Women, War & Peace that makes it clear why we must have public television. It’s not about whether there is a liberal or conservative angle. It’s not about importing shows from the BBC or keeping up a tradition of excellent, appropriate shows for children and our cultural minds. It is, at its most basic, having a space for films and television programs that delve into issues with more than a sponsor or sound-bite as a goal. Would one of the major channels show a series that describes the violence and abuse that women and children in Liberia experienced for years? Would they continue on to talk respectfully, without sensationalizing, the trial of rape as a war crime in Bosnia? How about the ongoing atrocities in Colombia? Or the women of Afghanistan demanding a voice in their own government – and getting one? No, they wouldn’t.
And I know this for a simple reason. If they would, they could. But they don’t.
They could do it, because there’s a lot more money in the mainstream broadcast channels than there is in public television. I know people who work for both, and believe me, there’s a lot more cash in advertising-dependent programming. If these channels wanted to get into really messy issues around the world, they would. But it’s costly, controversial, disturbing, and some of their advertisers might even be involved – or connected to a company that is. It’s the price you pay for higher salaries: hushed tones about certain subjects.
This is not to say I don’t like what mainstream channels offer. Believe me, I probably watch far more than is good for me. (I wish I knew how to quit you Thursday Night Line-Up!) But while there is a place for the numbing of minds, there is a greater need for showing us a world that is suffering and evolving in ways far more intense than property taxes and petition scandals.
And that’s why Monday night’s event was so great. Co-sponsored by NJTVonline, it allowed Montclair to align itself with whole stories and depth over sensationalism and a quick thrill. Even our own Governor Christie has shown that he wants more depth in television; he
rescinded wanted to rescind* the tax break for the show spectacle that is Jersey Shore. Cameras were rolling in Kasser Theater as the panel discussed the issues behind the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Questions were asked from the audience, and each of the panelists spoke in detail about the context and build-up that caused the problems. They also had time to discuss how life has changed for the subjects after the making of the film. I’m looking forward to seeing the series on PBS, and I hope I’ll have lots of company.
The website for Women, War & Peace is a great resource to learn about each of the films being shown, as well as hearing many back stories and details not included in the films. You can also *like* the series on Facebook and *follow* it on Twitter.
The series starts on October 11, 2011. Check your local listings for Women, War & Peace here.
* Of course, it’s a violation of the First Amendment to pick and choose which shows get tax breaks. It’s all or nothing – no matter how foolish one (or two) may find the program.