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Florangela Davila's TV Picks
11 films, 6 nights: Documentaries cover spectrum of views on war
Seattle Times TV writer
It's being billed as a major public-television event — 11 independently produced documentaries — and not one of them is connected to Ken Burns. No, his mega doc on World War II (the one already rankling some Latinos because they're not included in the project) doesn't air until September. What we're being invited to this week, 9-11 tonight and for the next five nights (on KCTS), are films focused on that other, ongoing war. The one against terrorism. The one against radical Islam. The one being waged in Afghanistan, Iraq and right here at home.
"9/11 is an archwayof fire through which the world must walk to enter the 21stcentury."
The quote from Kofi Annan ushers in the ambitious "America at a Crossroads" series, and it's an appropriate starting point for this project. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, back in 2004, announced the launching of a project that would inform and engage public discourse in the wake of Sept. 11. Some $20 million would be granted to filmmakers; "innovative" and "provocative ideas" would be prized.
At the time, sensing the proposal was merely meant to usher conservative viewpoints onto the airwaves, some people grumbled about the series' aim. But the result (based on screenings and excerpts of nine of the 11 films) is a broad, sobering and insightful project including films that will rattle your own sense of security (the secret life of moderate — or militant? — Abdulrahman Alamoudi as chronicled in "The Brotherhood" ) as well as inspire (the risks taken by Muslim author and activist Irshad Manji in "Faith Without Fear.") Some of the films, frankly, would have engaged me more if they had been crafted a little more artfully, or edited way down ("Jihad: Men and Ideas Behind Al Qaeda," the only two-hour-long film in the series).
But we do get a very good account about homegrown terrorism: "Europe's 9/11," which looks at the birth of the cell behind the 2004 Madrid bombings. And a film sure to incite fury: "Gangs of Iraq," showing us a fractured country and the enormous, near impossible hurdles faced by U.S. and Iraqi security forces to staunch the insurgency.
PBS should be applauded for giving the public as much as it does in the series, which is hosted by Robert McNeil. Although I don't think the impact would have been lost if the films had been spread out over several weeks, even a month, rather than packed over six straight days. Who has the time, or even the attention span, for a singular subject no matter its relevance now?
The film that'll be a talker: "The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom," profiling Richard Perle, former assistant secretary of defense. Hear him lauding JFK and Ronald Reagan. See him show us the freedoms enjoyed by female students in Afghanistan.
If that description sends you running for the remote, make a point, though, to catch my favorite in the series, "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," a one-two punch of originality and emotion. (Read a profile of one of the Iraq war authors in Monday's "Northwest Life.") Times and air dates for all 11 documentaries are available at www.kcts.org. For the series' interactive Web site, go to www.pbs.org/weta/crossroads.
From war to grifters — and no, we're not touting FX's "The Riches" (which you should already know about and be faithfully watching). It's "Hu$tle," returning for a new season (9 p.m. Wednesday on AMC). Still stylish, still British, and still so very fun to watch.
But attention Adrian Lester fans. In the series opener, his Mickey Stone character, the handsome crew leader, is off working on a con somewhere in Australia. In real life, actor Lester departed from the series to delight us on the big screen (the upcoming blockbuster-to-be "Spider-Man 3").
What this means, then, is scrappier — and insecure — Danny (Marc Warren) tries to be head con when veteran Albert (Robert Vaughn), brainy Ash (Robert Glenister) and sexy Stacie (Jaime Murray) arrive in Hollywood for an elaborate scheme. Robert Wagner guest stars as the mark, playing a movie memorabilia fiend. Look for up-and-comer Ashley Walters, playing young and eager Billy Bond, in the second episode. And you thought Stacie was the only hot one.
"24" tick tock: The nuclear strike was a bluff. Jack strangles Fayed. The bombs are secure. And oh yeah: Audrey is ALIVE.
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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