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Building Bombs.

Mark your calendar for August 10. Check your local TV listing for the time when "P.O.V." will be airing on your public-television station. The "P.O.V." film scheduled for that evening is Building Bombs, which has previously been banned from public TV. It should be well worth watching.

"P.O.V." means point of view. It's the name of a documentary series that often deals with controversial topics, and that supposedly reflects the perspective of the filmmakers. The name is somewhat misleading, of course, since it implies that other, less controversial films - films that reflect the mainstream point of view - are "objective," whereas "P.O.V." films are idiosyncratic personal statements. It reminds me of the occasional reference to The Progressive as a "journal of opinion" - as if Time or Newsweek or U.S. News and World Report were journals of fact.

Such considerations aside, "P.O.V." has, at least, provided a forum for some documentaries that would not otherwise be aired by the increasingly conservative - or, at least, timid - public broadcasting system.

Even "P.O.V." has not been as accessible as it ought to be to material that hasn't a prayer of making it onto the commercial networks. Public television was, after all, supposed to be the place "where all our voices can be heard, all our stories can be told."

I wrote about all this three months ag in this space (Memo, March issue), an mentioned Building Bombs as a film that had been nominated for an Academy Award as best documentary in 1990. Its producers, Mark Mori and Susan Robinson, were fighting to get their film aired on public TV, which had turned it down because "it just wasn't up to snuff" and "did not give adequate voice to both sides of the issue."

The issue, in the case of Building Bombs, was the social and environmental impact of the nuclear-weapons industry. The film focused on the Department of Energy's Savannah River plant in South Carolina, long an egregious example of nuclear risks.

Mori mounted a vigorous and vociferous campaign against PBS censorship, not only of his own film but of others, including two Academy Award winners - Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons, and Our Environment and The Panama Deception.

He enlisted the support of manv prominent film-industry figures - Ed Asner, Jane Alexander, Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Jack Lemmon, and Robin Williams, among others.

Sometimes it pays to fight back. After a series of meetings between Mori's Ad Hoc Coalition Against PBS Censorship and PBS executives, Mori apparently persuaded the public network to overcome its objection that "Building Bombs does not give adequate voice to those who are proponents of nuclear arms." And the film will be aired in August.

Mori also persuaded "P.O.V." to eliminate from his contract - and from future contracts with other filmmakers - language giving "P.O.V." the right to edit a film "in order to comply with censorship requirements."

"That was a poor choice of words," conceded Ellen Schneider, executive vice president for "P.O.V." She said there would be no reference to censorship in future contracts.

However, PBS did not surrender to Mori gracefully. According to a story in The Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Lawson, vice president for programming at PBS, continues to insist that "definite changes were made that made the program acceptable." The only changes, Mori says, involve updating to take account of developments at Savannah River since the film was made. He was shooting new footage in South Carolina at the end of April.

"We are editing out certain scenes and adding new narration to the current version to update the film," says Mori. "Because PBS refused to run this three years ago, we are now spending taxpayer money to update the film."

Mori and other docunaentary film-makers are continuing the fight to get public television to air dissident points of view. And PBS's Jennifer Lawson says she'll hold more meetings with the film-makers because "there is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding out theref,that I hope to eliminate."

She can say that again.
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Article Details
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Author:Knoll, Erwin
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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