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Austin Chronicle TV Eye

The Real Real World

By Belinda Acosta

JUNE 19, 2000:  It started with Katie Couric's shoes. The girl has fabulous shoes, shoes that I "ooh" and "ahh" over whenever I watch her on The Today Show. Katie wears those high-heeled, narrow-toed shoes that I've long given up, thanks to too much dancing (if there is such a thing), weight gain, injury, and inheriting my mother's bunions, which she got from too much dancing, weight gain, etc. I was admiring Katie's shoes one morning, thinking how fabulous they were, wondering who designed them and wouldn't it be great if I could still wear shoes like them, when I was overcome with angst. It was not an angst over the near fetish-like admiration of her shoes, but because I was suddenly, uncomfortably, if not amusedly, aware of myself.

Here I was, watching Katie Couric, when most of America was on their way to work. When my mother was my age, she would have been on the job for three hours already. But no, I was at home, watching TV in my office. The TV in the living room was tuned to CNN. I was drinking coffee -- not the Sanka my mother drinks -- but some nice blend from Guatemala, ground in my own kitchen. Maybe I'd finished a "TV Eye" column, which, if all went well, was turned in over e-mail on Monday morning. Because I've been mostly yawning over what network TV has to offer over the summer, I've been turning to cable fare. I've gotten giddy over The Sopranos' second season rerun and the third season premiere of Sex and the City, both on HBO. I've been curious about Soul Food and Resurrection Boulevard on Showtime, and recently signed on to Michael Moore's e-newsletter to be prompted about The Awful Truth episodes on Bravo I don't want to miss. But it took a turn of Katie's ankle under The Today Show coffeetable to make the angst flair up: What am I -- a person from what used to be called the other side of the tracks -- doing in this world where expensive shoes, designer coffee, central air conditioning, the Internet, and paid cable are necessities?

How did I get here, and more importantly, what good can I do in this privileged space? I think the answer is to continue to be self-conscious.

I've always thought of television, especially public television, as akin to the public library. But this is an idea of television tinged with nostalgia, a television in which the world was experienced as a glorious place ripe for exploration, if only I could make my way to it. At the same time, I'm also talking about television in the modern sense, in which cable, niche markets, and pay-per-view are the norm. To the more cynical observer, the proliferation of home entertainment media only means you can handpick your own poison with the remote control. But that's the source of my angst, you see. I can customize my television intake, because I can (barely) afford cable television. I can also afford books, magazine subscriptions, movies, and most of the gadgetry that comes along with this media.

Television is still woefully lacking in programming that appeals to a culturally diverse audience. What does it mean, then, to only have the resources for regular network television, when there's a whole world out there to be explored, if only it were accessible? The cynics would say: Turn off the set, read a book. That's not entirely bad advice. But I've yet to outgrow the desire for ideals and reality to come together. Every once in a great while, they do. Fortunately, in the case of public television's fine Point of View (POV) series, it comes together repeatedly, season after season. This year promises to be no exception with the launch of its 13th season entitled, "American Ideals Confront American Realities."

The POV series is what makes me feel good about watching television and encouraging others to do so. A showcase for independent documentaries, POV has brought the extraordinary world to television screens accessible by most. Press materials state that POV is "a lab for TV's potential ... seeking to entertain, inform, and connect citizens to ideas, services, and each other."

This year's season, with an eye to the margins of American culture, promises this and more. The POV series is carried on local PBS affiliates. Check the POV web site for information on when and where the series is appearing near you.

Upcoming POV features include:

  • Butterfly: Julia Butterfly Hill, the daughter of an evangelical preacher, was new to California and to the environmental movement when she climbed into a redwood tree nicknamed Luna to save it from logging. She thought her tree-sit would last a few weeks. She remained in the tree for two years, galvanizing an already intense dispute over the future of California's old-growth forests. Hill's remarkable story is captured by filmmaker Doug Wolen.

  • La Boda: A film by Hannah Weyer, La Boda (The Wedding) tells the story of two families in the midst of preparations to marry their children as a way to dramatize the negotiations migrant workers must master to exist on the U.S. and Mexican border. Elizabeth Luis, the 22-year-old bride-to-be, has grown up with experiences distinct to migrant life along the U.S.-Mexico border. Crossing and recrossing the border, the Luis family succeeds at keeping their roots in Mexico alive while seeking economic opportunity in the U.S. They are neither poverty-stricken nor foreign, having become U.S. citizens, but they must contend with the image of migrant workers as both illegal and alien. Elizabeth's fiancé Artemio ardently expresses his love of Mexico, yet insists the future for him and his future bride is clearly on "el otro lado," the other side.

  • Stranger With a Camera: In 1967, Canadian filmmaker Hugh O'Conner was shot and killed while documenting poverty in the Kentucky coal fields of Appalachia. Director Elizabeth Barret revisits the death of O'Conner and the motivations of Hobart Ison, the local area resident who shot him. In reexamining the incident, Barret turns the story of a shooting into an indictment of the media and its relationship to public knowledge and personal privacy, as well as a mediation on Appalachia's place in the American imagination.

Future POV features include Blink, a troubling portrait of Greg Withrow, a once-rising star in the white supremacist movement by filmmaker Elizabeth Thompson ; and Our House in Havana by filmmaker Stephen Olsson. Olsson's film examines the nostalgia and the reality of Cuba through the eyes of Sylvia Morini, who returns to modern-day Cuba in search of the Cuba of her memory. The POV series continues through August.

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