Through the Lens

RadioWest and Utah Film Center have partnered to present the best in documentary filmmaking. We talk with established and new directors who are changing the way audiences see the world and then screen their films.

Kino Lorber | TOWER

On August, 1, 1966, a lone gunman opened fire from the top floor of a tower at the University of Texas at Austin. It was America’s first mass school shooting, and civilians and law enforcement on the ground struggled to respond. When the gunshots were silenced, 16 people lay dead and dozens were wounded. In a new documentary film, director Keith Maitland revisits the events of that infamous day through the words of the people who lived it. Maitland joins us Thursday to talk about his film. It’s called TOWER.

Tuesday, we continue our Through the Lens series with a poetic and provocative documentary film about terraforming. That’s the idea of altering another planet and making it suitable for life. Director Ian Cheney’s film “Bluespace” is a kind of thought experiment, asking what it would take to reshape Mars in Earth’s image. In the end, it’s less about the red planet than it is about our own very blue planet. As Cheney says, “The more you study other worlds, the more we come to understand our own.”

Photo courtesy of The Orchard

As a young boy, Owen Suskind went years without saying a single word. He was autistic, and his parents worried that he’d never be able to relate to other people. One day, they discovered they could communicate with the help of classic Disney animated films that Owen adored. He could recite the films verbatim, and they helped him understand the complex cues of social interaction. Director Roger Ross Williams' film Life, Animated is about Owen’s emotional coming-of-age story, and he’ll join us to talk about it.

During World War II, 8,000 German prisoners of war were interned in Utah. Many of them worked alongside American civilians on the state’s farms and factories, where unlikely friendships and lasting memories were created between sworn enemies. In a new documentary film, filmmaker Scott Porter explores this little-known chapter in Utah history, the end of which was marked by a tragic massacre in the rural town of Salina. Porter joins us Tuesday to talk about his film. It’s called Splinters of a Nation.

Blessed with astonishing power and grace, Ukrainian dancer Sergei Polunin rocketed to the top of the ballet world. At 19 years old he became the youngest ever principal dancer in London’s Royal Ballet. Two years later, he quit. There was nothing left for him to accomplish, and his pursuit of stardom had torn his family apart and left him feeling hollow. Filmmaker Steven Cantor’s new film documents Polunin’s rise, fall, and redemption. It’s called Dancer, and he joins us Thursday to talk about it.

Monday, we continue our Through the Lens series with a thrilling exploration of the power of protest and the efforts to contain it. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang will join us to talk about her documentary film Hooligan Sparrow, which follows the efforts of activist Ye Haiyan as she and fellow protestors work to shed light on sexual exploitation in China. They’re marked as enemies of the state and routinely harassed by thugs, and the web of trouble also threatens Wang’s film, not to mention her personal safety.

[cropped] istolethetv via CC/Flickr, https://goo.gl/uEGuCL, https://goo.gl/z2PPQx

For the latest installment in our Through the Lens series, we’re trying something different and talking about an in-the-works documentary. Director Ellen Goosenberg-Kent is working on a film called Don’t Make Me Over about the life and career of famed singer Dionne Warwick. Recognized at an early age for her vocal talent, Warwick was one the greatest female voices of her generation and an outspoken advocate for social and political change. Warwick and others will join us to talk about her inspiring journey.

Abortion may be legal in America, but conservative legislatures have been working for years to pass laws that restrict women’s access to it. Hundreds of those laws have been enacted this decade, and they’ve forced many abortion clinics to close their doors. In a new documentary, filmmaker Dawn Porter tells the stories of clinic workers and lawyers fighting the restrictions designed to regulate abortion out of existence. Porter’s film is called Trapped, and she joins us Tuesday to talk about it.

Thursday, we continue our Through the Lens film series with a documentary about pioneering writer Alice Walker. She made history as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Color Purple. Director Pratibha Pamar’s film tells the dramatic story of Walker’s life and reveals the inspiration for many of her works. It also explores Walker’s refusal to submit to gender stereotypes or compromise her artistic search for beauty and truth.

Back in 1979, local filmmaker Trent Harris documented a strange series of events. It started when he met “Groovin’ Gary,” who led him to a talent show in Beaver, which inspired him to make three films. The Beaver Trilogy became a cult classic, and questions have surrounded it since its release. Just who was “Groovin’ Gary,” and what happened to him after the talent show? In a new film, director Brad Besser investigates the mystery behind The Beaver Trilogy. He joins us Thursday to talk about it.

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