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TV REVIEW : 'P.O.V.' Documentaries With Much to Say on PBS

July 05, 1988|SHEILA BENSON | Times Film Critic

The films you'll find on the PBS series "P.O.V." that begins tonight (9 p.m. on Channel 24, 10 p.m. on Channels 28 and 50) and unfolds over a 10-week period, are a briskly eclectic selection, not named "Point of View" for nothing. If they lack the grand institutional feeling of made-for-TV documentaries, it's not accidental. They're not journalism but something closer to real personal dramas: You can feel the film maker's passion to show us these people, this neighborhood, these fighters. (Lots of fighters here, battling age, AIDS, Franco, political repression, the decline of the old neighborhood.)

The level of craft varies widely. There are vivid, classically well-made portraits from history ("The Good Fight," Aug. 9, on the Lincoln Brigade). There are films by student film makers, one memorable one which ("Knocking on Armageddon's Door," July 19) turned up first at a USC screening. "Best Boy" (Sept. 6) took home an Oscar in 1979.

While checking my own strong reactions to "Best Boy" against the universally enthusiastic press of the time, I found this sentence by the Village Voice's astute Tom Allen. Pondering the film's success, in spite of its, shall we say, modest craft, Allen felt that the fuss over the film came from "its ability to convey warm feelings about easily identifiable subjects." Absolutely. And, without the slightest condescension, you could apply that phrase to at least half these "P.O.V." choices. Frankly, I think it's what's makes some of these films stick so tenaciously. Give them a chance and I think they may engage you, too, or make you mad, or even make you weep. But I doubt that anyone will be indifferent to them.

One of tonight's two lively films is a perfect example. Frankly, does anyone want to see a film about aging? An unexpected glimpse in the rear-view mirror is quite enough, thank you. Nevertheless, there are two women and one huge, wonderful family, part of Michal Aviad's "Acting Our Age," whose thoughts about the way they are determined to live as they grow older are truly life-changing. Not as much about aging as it is about life, "Acting Our Age" turns out to have enough drama and surprise for anyone, not only subscribers to Modern Maturity.

A sassy little film kicks off the series: "American Tongues" which hears American speaking, and can't quite believe its ears. This is the perfect example of a film that begins with a simple-enough subject and expands it seductively until it touches those American taboos, money and class. It's enthralling.

I want to write more about these films when the time comes closer to their airing, but between now and the series' halfway point, I'd especially suggest the survivalist movement profile, ('Knocking on Armageddon's Door," July 19), which is hilariously funny when it's not chilling your blood; and "Living With AIDS," July 26, a student film about support, bravery and community, which has won a student Oscar and Emmy.

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