Review: Independent Lens "We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân"

Director Anne Makepeace offers a unique perspective on the fight to recover and preserve native languages in her latest documentary, “We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân”. The subject of her film is the indigenous Wampanoag nation of southeastern Massachusetts who helped the first Pilgrims in America survive. While their good deeds ultimately resulted in the aboriginal culture’s demise, the Wampanoag language rapidly declined as their traditions were replaced in the shadows of imperialism. No known native speakers have survived for the past 150 years as the Wampanoag language has becomes completely dormant.

Centuries later, a new generation of speakers is emerging under the direction of linguist Jessie Little Doe. A descent of the Wampanoag culture herself, Doe discovered the native language in researching her ancestors and found that they were attempting to communicate through a dead language. She decided to revive the language by creating the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, a group whose primary focus is to rescue Wampanoag from the verge of extinction. Through her continuous efforts, Doe’s research has developed into weekly vocabulary meetings and reading through Wampanoag copies of The Bible to search for words they have not recognized yet. Though tedious, the group’s passion to preserve their dying culture has renewed Wampanoag as a living language that is now being taught to even younger generations.

“We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân” engages the audience in the story of the Wampanoag Indian language’s return while demonstrating how Americans are the link between preserving their heritage for future generations. It also places a heavy emphasis on the struggle between assimilation and cultural preservation with a focus on the tribe’s demise in the midst of European settlement. As the language disappears around the world, viewers are given insight regarding the traditions and cultural history of the Wampanoag community from the group’s discoveries, which may be the path towards a once again thriving future for the Wampanoag people.

About the Review: Kaitlyn Roche is a third-year student at the University of Texas at Austin and currently works in the Marketing department of KLRU. She has contributed to online and print publications such as A.V. Club, San Antonio Express-News and Verbicide Magazine.

Review: Austin Film Festival 2011

After months of trading ten-dollar bills to sit in a theater for two hours, while disappointing films like Transformers III, The Hangover 2, and Rise of the Apes flashed in front of me, I was quickly losing faith in the film industry the way the Autobots lost faith in their fearless leader Optimus Prime when a Decepticon cuts off Optimus’ arm in battle.

Enter: the Austin Film Festival.

For those feeling like they’ve been wandering through a barren desert of movies that deliver a message shallower than a gutter puddle, the Austin Film Festival provided an oasis for weary blockbuster-filmgoers to take shelter and feast.

For a behind-the-scenes look at the Austin Film Festival, tune into KLRU’s series, On Story. Showcasing exclusive footage from past festival panels, as well as interviews with the screenwriters and filmmakers behind the films, On Story gives viewers a chance to experience the Austin Film Festival in a unique way. Every episode of On Story pairs interviews and panel discussions with a short film from a Texas filmmaker who was featured at the Austin Film Festival.

As a first-time festivalgoer, I had no idea what to expect, so I decided my only objective would be to see and do as much as possible on Saturday and Sunday. Below is a tasting of some of the films I saw, including ones that made me think “what on earth?”, films I appreciated, but did not necessarily love, and films that made me want to be a better person:

Review: Pearl Jam Twenty

If you’ve been around for the past two decades, there’s a good chance you are familiar with the band Pearl Jam. Likely it is also that you have heard the classic story of a band whose rise to fame accelerates too quickly, resulting in a blindsided superstardom and towards the inevitable result of tragedy (let it be applied towards substances and/or dismemberment of personal relationships). Does the story accompany the subject? Well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

Into the picture walks Cameron Crowe, established as both a successfully offbeat director (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire) and former journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. A dabble in both spheres (along with being among the band’s inner circle when they formed) certainly qualifies Crowe as a contender for telling the story of Pearl Jam’s complicated yet lasting bond, a task which he grippingly accomplishes in the new documentary Pearl Jam Twenty.

The film traces the band’s early beginnings towards the chaos that ensued after being catapulted into celebrity status, their resulting digression from the spotlight in hopes of preserving the band’s values, and the making of an everlasting bond between the five members. Through grainy footage and raw recordings, we are given the ultimate perspective into Pearl Jam’s past as we are led through backstage antics and footage of a young Eddie Vedder singing timidly onstage as he notices violence ensuing in the crowd of their first performances. While some moments progress towards tragedy and dark problems, the band’s ability to learn from and adjust to fame work to make up the larger narrative: the premature development of a genuine rock band that both defined and survived the Grunge era.

Review: Young Navajo at the Crossroads: Reflections on Lydia Nibley’s Two Spirits

On Tuesday, June 14, at 9 p.m., KLRU will air award-winning director Lydia Nibley’s moving documentary, Two Spirits. It was recently the last film in this season’s Community Cinema screenings. Using reenactments and interviews, Nibley presents a portrait of a 16-year-old Navajo, Fred Martinez, from his early years immersed in his people’s traditional culture in the rural West to his life as a rambunctious high school student in the small town of Cortez, Colorado. It is the story of his life as a nadleehi, a “feminine man” revered by traditional Navajos as a balance of the masculine and feminine in nature. He (I’m using the pronoun favored in the film) can also be understood as a “two-spirit” person, integrating the male and female genders, or as a transgendered person whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at his birth. However we define Martinez, he fully embraced his identity, standing at the crossroads of male and female, Navajo and mainstream America. Yet, as two-spirit activist Richard (Anguksuar) LaFortune notes, “The place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to be.” Two Spirits sensitively recounts the prejudice and hate the resilient Martinez faced everyday. Ultimately, this hate culminated in his brutal murder at the hands of 18-year-old Shaun Murphy, who later bragged that he had “beat up a fag.” Prosecutors hesitated to charge Murphy with a hate crime. Eventually, he pled guilty to second-degree murder and received a 40-year sentence.

Martinez’s mother, Pauline, asks at one point, “Why are people killed for being who they are?” As Nibley tells Fred’s story, she sets out to answer his mother’s question. The director squarely places the blame on Western culture, particularly Christianity, and its dualist concept of gender. Rooted in a literalist reading of Genesis, it claims that people are only male and female, and nothing in between. Nibley contrasts this with an explication of the Navajo understanding of four genders, ranging from the asdzaan, or “feminine woman,” to the nadleehi. Mainstream Americans and Christianized Navajos, she suggests, lack a nuanced understanding of gender and so respond with hostility to transgendered people. Such sweeping generalizations, however, are a major problem for Two Spirits.

Review: Life on Mars

The BBC series Life on Mars debuts on KLRU-Q Saturday, January 22nd. Life on Mars will air at 9 p.m. each Saturday. The show will air on KLRU at 11 p.m. Sundays starting January 23rd.

Manchester Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler is having a bad day. Forced to release his chief suspect in a murder case, fighting with his co-worker/former lover Maya, who then disappears while tailing the suspect, Tyler finds himself standing outside his Grand Cherokee after being nearly run off the road by a careless driver. As he collects himself to the strains of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?,” he’s suddenly hit by a speeding car, and his reality skews off-kilter in a way he couldn’t imagine.

Sam awakens to find himself on the same stretch of road, but in a very different time: 1973. Demoted a rank and tracking the same killer in the ’70s as he was in the ’00s, Sam fights to accept his bizarre new circumstances as he finds direct connections between the case he’s working on now and the one he unwillingly left behind. Assisting Sam in very different ways are Annie, a friendly WPC to whom he confesses his state of mind, and DCI Gene Hunt, his aggressive boss who prefers physical confrontation and coercion to forensics when it comes to solving crimes.

While the circumstances of Sam’s arrival in 1973 are deliberately left vague, major hints get dropped. Sometimes Sam hears the sounds of medical workers and machines trying to save his life. He also watches an educational TV show whose host unexpectedly shifts from talking about math to talking about Sam’s coma and responsiveness. Sam also meets Neil, Annie’s hypnotherapist ex-boyfriend, whose first words to Sam are “Sam, can you hear me?” and who may be a direct link to 2006.

Review: Masterpiece Contemporary Lennon Naked

Masterpiece Contemporary Lennon Naked airs on Sunday, November 22, at 8 pm

“What do I want?” That’s the primal question at the heart of Lennon Naked, Masterpiece Contemporary’s biopic of John Lennon in the 60s. Forced at six years old to make a choice no child should ever be asked to make, Lennon spends the years depicted in the film (roughly 1964-1971) searching for the answer, aware that the consequences of any choice he makes will haunt him, no matter what the outcome.

As a result, Lennon spends most of the film on a quest to leave the past behind – not just breaking with it, but scorching the earth and burning any bridge that leads to it. Whether it’s for his own sanity or because he’s a selfish git, Lennon either abandons the people in his pre-Yoko Ono life – his first wife Cynthia, his son Julian, the Beatles – or forces them to abandon him, as with his childhood friend/right-hand-man Pete. It’s a cycle, of course – his father leaving the family when Lennon was six (a pattern repeated by the son) and the unexpected death of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, the father figure Lennon didn’t have as a child, left deep wounds which clearly never fully healed. Only his time with Yoko Ono (who, except for one offhand comment from Paul McCartney, is never portrayed as “the woman who broke up the Beatles”) seems to bring him any peace or happiness, though his own inner anguish still vibrates just below the surface of his man-in-love smile.

Review: Masterpiece Classic Anne Frank

Masterpiece Classic “The Diary of Anne Frank”
Sunday, April 11, at 8 p.m.
Note: This program airs on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Anne Frank’s story is one that has been recounted in many forms. Her writing is a unique slice of existence during the Nazi occupation and persecution of the Jewish people in Europe during World War 2. Masterpiece‘s authentic adaptation brings Anne’s writings to life with the help of an excellent performance by actress Ellie Kendrick (An Education). Kendrick aptly coveys the passion and longing of a girl coming of age in such a restrictive environment.

Stashed away in a hidden annex behind a bookcase, Anne’s family and a handful of their fellow Jewish neighbors struggle for two years to remain resourceful, quiet and hopeful, aided by a dwindling but dedicated group of supporters on the outside. As Amsterdam’s streets fill with Nazi soldiers, word of Jews disappearing from their homes makes it back to the hidden
group. The shock of which causes Anne’s mother to nearly break down with anxiety. Anne is in many ways too preoccupied with adolescence and what she may be missing outside to allow herself to be affected the same. She is an intelligent girl and understands the consequences of war, but her youthful spirit, perhaps an unconscious element of self-preservation, cannot be
darkened by her confinement.

The last entry in her diary perhaps best illustrates her spirit:
“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart”

A spirit that will surely live on forever. This is a Masterpiece not to be missed.

About the reviewer: Mark Pedini is KLRU’s Graphic Designer. He also enjoys illustrating and screen printing show posters with his wife Farley. Mark is the father of a two-year-old daughter who loves Elmo and Clifford. Mark’s favorite Masterpiece programs are Sense and Sensibility, Forsyte Saga and Bleak House.

Review: The Buddha

Program: The Buddha
Air date: Wednesday, April 7, at 7 p.m.

This documentary for PBS by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin and narrated by Richard Gere, tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors who, across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity.

This is a beautiful film, visually, musically and theologically. It blends the Buddhist traditions and practices with the life story of the struggles and learning of Siddhartha. His experiences and insights are as relevant today as in his own time. A wonderful 2-hour respite from the world. A time to hear the story, but also to reflect on the world we live in and what our response to it will be. I encourage you to set aside the time to watch this beautiful film.

— Betsy Gerdeman

About the reviewer: Betsy Gerdeman is Sr. VP of Development at KLRU. She returned to Central Texas and to public broadcasting in 2008. Being a news hound, her favorite PBS shows are Frontline and PBS NewsHour. She formerly worked in interfaith initiatives in Washington DC and Houston, Texas and was the Boniuk Center Fellow to the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life in Birmingham, UK in 2009.

Review: Eyes on the Prize

Program: American Experience Eyes on the Prize
Air dates: Part 1 April 1 at 8 p.m.; Part 2 April 8 at 8 p.m.; Part 3 April 15 at 8 p.m.

Program Web site:

Eyes on the Prize premiered on PBS and on KLRU in 1987.  This groundbreaking first season of Eyes on the Prize will return in April 2010.  Six one-hour episodes will air on Thursday nights: April 1, 8 & 15 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on KLRU-TV.

Eyes on the Prize remains the definitive documentary series exploring the civil rights movement.  It portrays the story of ordinary people who took extraordinary measures to create a social movement.  The television series is one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries on civil rights in America.  Eyes on the Prize has won six Emmy Awards and numerous other awards including the top DuPont-Columbia Award for excellence in broadcast journalism.

Through contemporary interviews and historical footage, Eyes on the Prize traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage to the mass demonstrations.  Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist narrates the series.

Many of us are familiar with civil rights leaders such as Rose Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Many of us are familiar with “Freedom Riders” and the March on Washington, D. C.  Yet there are many other events and individuals that have been captured in the Eyes on the Prize series.  And here is an exceptional way to become familiar with many more of the participants and events that defined the civil rights movement.

Please be sure to join KLRU for the presentation of Eyes on the Prize beginning Thursday, April 1st.

— Maria Rodriguez

About the reviewer: Maria Rodriguez is KLRU’s Sr. VP of Broadcasting.

Review: Masterpiece "Collision"

Masterpiece “Collision”

Watch online:
Episode 1 (available until December 22)
Episode 2 (available until December 22)

Collision is an action packed drama about how people’s lives become connected after a multi-vehicle highway accident.  The story unfolds with the accident in the beginning and then goes back to take a look at
the lives of those involved.  Each time they flashback to a different character you learn a little bit more about what was going on in their lives before the accident.  With an element of mystery and intrigue the directors keep you wanting to know more and guessing about what really lead up to the accident. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the episodes I watched and am looking forward to finding our more about the characters and their lives. 

— Allison Laymon

About the reviewer: Allison Laymon has been with KLRU in the Accounting Department for five years.  When she is not crunching numbers, she enjoys spending time with her family and remembers watching Masterpiece Theatre “Upstairs Downstairs” with her parents many moons ago. She hopes to instill the love of watching public television with her kids for many years to come.