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Steve James: Thanks for the documentaries

Once again this year, the pre-Sundance buzz is headline news worldwide, with The Daily Telegraph asking if, at age 30, the renowned festival still has its edge. There and in widespread coverage like Elizabeth Weitzman’s great New York Daily News article from this past Sunday, “Highly Anticipated Films At The 2014 Sundance Film Festival” from BuzzFeed and others, the latest news from filmmaker Steve James leads the way. Steve’s new Kartemquin Films feature documentary “Life Itself” executive produced by Martin Scorsese will have its world premiere at this year’s festival, and he will also be honored during a 20th anniversary Sundance screening set for “Hoop Dreams,” his very first film, which is also one of history’s highest-grossing and most-acclaimed documentaries. Steve continues breaking new ground as a director and I am definitely a huge fan. I also have much love, respect and admiration for Loretta “LJ” Jeneski of Nonfiction Unlimited, the NYC and LA-based commercial production company that has represented Steve and many of the planet’s best documentary filmmakers for commercial and creative assignments since 1995. Read more

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Doug Pray: Thanks for the Documentaries

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Doug Pray‘s exuberant portraits of subcultures and maverick individuals have led him to three Sundance premieres, critical raves, numerous awards, and worldwide distribution. His feature documentaries include the Emmy Award-winning “Art & Copy,” a film about creativity and advertising, “Big Rig” a 40,000 mile road film about independent, long-haul truck drivers, “Infamy,” an intense journey into the lives and art of six notorious graffiti writers, “Scratch,” a celebration of hip-hop DJs and turntablism, his first film, “Hype!,” which told the story about the emergence and explosion of the early ’90s Seattle music scene that remains on Rolling Stone’s Top 10 list of best rock DVD’s of all time – and “Surfwise” the amazing odyssey of the Paskowitz surfing family.

Doug has directed dozens of commissioned short films and documentary-style commercials for a wide range of major clients, including Read more

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Coming soon to PBS: “Mission of Hope”

Premiering Jan. 31, 2013, on PBS, “Mission of Hope” is the untold inspirational story of Colonel Ilan Ramon, a fighter pilot and son of Holocaust survivors who became the first and only astronaut from Israel, embarking on a mission with the most diverse Shuttle crew ever to explore space. Ramon realized the significance of “being the first” and his journey of self-discovery turned into a mission to tell the world a powerful story about the resilience of the human spirit. Although the seven astronauts of the Columbia perished on February 1, 2003, a remarkable story of hope, friendship across cultures and an enduring faith reemerged.

Playtone presents a West Street Productions and Herzog & Company film. Read more

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Half the Sky: Thanks for the Documentary

Thankfully, the Half the Sky Movement is well underway tonight, continuing a vital quest to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. The Movement’s Documentary begins its two-night engagement on PBS about an hour from now on the U.S. East Coast. Produced for PBS’s Independent Lens by Show of Force, the film is based on the groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The video embedded here is the film’s main title sequence, which was produced by renowned design firm Chermayeff & Geismar in collaboration with award-winning design and digital production company Thornberg & Forester (T&F).

I hope you’ll join me in the Half the Sky Movement here: www.halftheskymovement.org

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America’s national parks, part 5: Go!

Back on Sept. 27, 2009, Ken Burns and his colleagues began revealing the history and splendor of, and public passion for, America’s national parks. As you can see if you watch the videos in the embedded playlist, this six-part series by Burns and Dayton Duncan tells the story of a radical idea: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved for everyone. From Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades to the Gates of the Arctic, the series explores the stories of the people who devoted themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved.

You can buy the DVD here, and learn a lot more at www.pbs.org/nationalparks. Most importantly, I urge you once again to get out and explore these treasures first-hand, as soon as possible, to the greatest extent you are able.

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America’s national parks, part 4

As you have seen over the past several weeks, inspired by the epic 2009 PBS documentary from Ken Burns entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” I and my family have taken up the challenge of visiting — and extolling the virtues of — the national treasures which form the heart of the film… and of America itself. This is the final week of our travels, and while our 2012 time in Yellowstone and Grand Teton has ended, like Mark Twain, the experiences are now integral aspects of us all, which we shall each continue to fathom forever. We will actually be making our way through the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, and spending time exploring caves and waterways that form the backdrop of some of Mr. Twain’s most wonderful tales. Entering these adventures, as privileged as I felt, I did not dare hope to experience revelations, but in truth, the knowledge we are gaining of people and places is already priceless to me. To say the least, I encourage you to follow these trails, or those you come across which inspire you the most. Read more

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America’s national parks, part 3

In February of 2009, just as the winter season in Yellowstone National Park was winding down, two very special visitors were on-hand at a public meeting in the park. As you can see above, the visitors were Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who presented a first look at their 12-hour documentary on America’s national parks. For more on the project, please visit www.pbs.org/nationalparks. Below, I’m also embedding North America’s National Park IMAX HD for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy! Read more

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America’s national parks, part 2

As my family and I made our way north and west toward Yellowstone National Park, we traveled through many beautiful lands that we knew had changed in profound ways over the past two hundred years. In truth, many of our thoughts were with the continent’s native people and the maelstrom of circumstances that arrived with the European settlers. As you can see above, at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a new interpretive program instituted by Supt. Gerard Baker now highlights the stories and cultures of all Americans, including American Indians, in addition to telling the traditional stories of the carving of the mountain and of the four presidents memorialized there. The result is a more complex but complete understanding of the National Parks and the legacies they protect. For more on Ken Burns’ The National Parks, America’s Best Idea visit: www.pbs.org/nationalparks.

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Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan and PBS: Thanks for the documentary

In September, 2009, a new PBS opus from filmmaker Ken Burns arrived in the form of a 12-hour documentary series entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” This fascinating 12-hour history of America’s national park system spans the pivotal era of 1851 to 1980; watching it over six consecutive nights, it affected me profoundly (just ask my family members and friends). Inspired by America’s glorious national parks, the film’s riveting, masterfully written and edited stories hooked me heart and soul. Dayton Duncan wrote and co-produced the series and co-wrote the Alfred A. Knopf companion book with Ken Burns, and he shares many memorable, inspirational contributions on screen, along with many other important interview subjects. Peter Coyote narrates, and my old friend Tom Hanks voices several central characters; you’ll also hear Adam Arkin, Philip Bosco, Kevin Conway, Andy Garcia, John Lithgow, Josh Lucas, Carolyn McCormick, Campbell Scott, George Takei, Eli Wallach and Sam Waterston. The complete DVD box set available from PBS Home Video features “making of” footage and an interview with Burns and others involved in the film.

Just before the film’s debut, Mike Hale wrote these words about it for The New York Times: In what feels very much like a thesis statement near the end of the 12 hours, an American Indian park superintendent says: “America is not sidewalks. America is not stores. America is not video games. America is not restaurants.” Read more

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Joe Hutto, Passion Pictures and PBS: Thanks for the documentary

Watch My Life as a Turkey on PBS. See more from Nature.

Almost eleven years ago, my wife and I moved from Los Angeles to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the small college town of Boone, North Carolina, which is home to Appalachian State University. Among many new family-focused joys of life we’ve experienced here, this move has truly immersed us in mother nature’s richness. Many species of wild flora and fauna flourish in the sprawling patch of woods right outside our windows. We can view wilderness each day, and when we’re especially lucky, we see wild turkeys.

Until recently, most of what I’d learned about these creatures had come from my personal observations of them; through different seasons over the years, our homestead has been a regular daily stop for flocks (sometimes with dozens of members), as well as the occasional lone wanderer. My basic curiousities were extremely well rewarded when I watched “My Life as a Turkey” late last year on PBS. Produced for the network’s award-winning Nature series, I highly encourage you to watch the complete episode now available online (in the U.S. and its territories), which I have embedded above. I promise you, it is a fascinating window into a secret world. Read more

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