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'Human values' scripts get prizes, hearings.

CENTURY CITY, Calif. -- This was not the predictable Hollywood awards ceremony:

* A prizewinning television screenwriter gave his $10,000 to a Santa Monica homeless shelter;

* The writer of the movie "A River Runs Through It" told the gathering it inhabited "the perimeter of the Hollywood Circle";

* And a Catholic priest defended television's ability to "honestly show us the effects of violence on the victim and society" and "the courage fof those who dare to break this tragic cycle."

The annual Humanitas prize ceremony ("for humanizing achievement in television") here July 7, organized by the Paulist Fathers-created Human Family Education and Cultural Institute, honors with cash prizes up to $15,000, documentaries, and 30-, 60- and 90-minute adult television programs and children's live-action and animation programs that "contribute to the growth and fulfillment of the viewers."

At a time when television violence has become a serious topic in public print and congressional hearings, the Humanitas prizes and the Institute's work have suddenly come center stage as the institute encourages the creative community, in founder Paulist Fr. Ellwood Kieser's words, "to tap into the media's humanizing potential, and harness its capacity for audience enrichment."

For example, in addition to annual prizes, the institute conducts each year nine all-day Master Writers Workshops for Hollywood screenwriters (average attendance, 75 writers) and human values seminars for NBC, CBS and ABC programming staffs.

This summer the seminars have moved to the major studios, too, including Paramount, Warner and Tristar.

Richard ("A River Runs Through It") Friedenberg, in his keynote speech, talked about "the yawning gulf in Hollywood between the folks with the pens and the folks with the power."

He described how hard it was to get a hearing for "human values" scripts, how a Hollywood writers' trip to famine-stricken Somalia -- long before the United States went in -- as an attempt to alert the world through television to the crisis there, produced nothing. "Could I make a deal?" asked Friedenberg. "What do you think the answer is?"

This year's winning documentary was "Scared Silent: Exposing and Ending Child Abuse," shown on the three major networks and PBS, in a rare simulcast by the three networks. Writers Arnold Shapiro and Melissa Jo Peltier said the "topic was draining, and you can't just walk away from it."

Prizewinner Betty Birney, who wrote the CBS Schoolbreak Special "Big Boys Don't Cry," about a 14-year-old sexually abused by a relative, said the award she cherished was the fact that after seeing the program, a nine-year-old Pittsburgh boy being abused by his best friend's father revealed the abuse.

Winners included those writing episodes of ABC's "Roseanne" ("Terms of Estrangement," writer Rob Ulin, who gave his money to the homeless shelter), NBC's "I'll Fly Away" ("Comfort and Joy," writer Barbara Hall), and NBC's Hallmark Hall fo Fame ("Miss Rose White," writer Anna Sandor).

Many winners described what was behind their writing. Lee Bleesing, who was awarded $25,000 for "Cooperstown" (TNT), said people cannot depend on awards, which are intermittent. While his winning story, he said, was about "the need to be recognized for our accomplishments, we need (in daily life) to grant ourselves recognition. The struggle there is not so much for a |state of grace' as for a 'state of gratification'" for what we have been able to accomplish.

Writers David Corbett and Dianne Dixon, who won in the children's animation category for "The Flute," on what they admitted was the not-widely-seen Family Network, said their series "The Legend of Prince Valiant" is "issues-driven."

As an antidote to violence, said Kieser, "television can illumine the necessity -- and the rigors -- of nonviolent conflict resolution: talking things through, affirming our adversaries, appealing to the best in them, seeking the truth through honest dialogue -- even if that should demand we change our position; seeking justice. for the adversary as well as ourselves -- even if that should require we cut back our demands."

"Does nonviolence work?" asked Kieser. "Of course. Is nonviolence easy? No way. It requires courage. It requires trust in the truth and in the basic goodness of even the most debased human being. And it requires a kind of spiritual depth and moral richness found only in the fulfilled person."

And television, contended Kieser, can show those values.
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Title Annotation:Human Family Education and Cultural Institute's Humanitas awards for television programs, documentaries
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 30, 1993
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