For the past two decades, the PBS documentary series P.O.V. has helped to put a human face on issues from around the globe, leading the way for today’s independent media- and filmmakers by forging new forms of storytelling in public media.
In celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary, The Center for Social Media released its latest publication, The View from the Top: P.O.V. Leaders on the Struggle to Create Truly Public Media, which features interviews with P.O.V. executive directors who have guided the project through its last two decades. Their stories reveal a project driven not only by social concern but by a passionate commitment to fostering public knowledge and action.
The Center launched the report—authored by Research Fellow Barbara Abrash—on November 1 at a reception held in P.O.V.’s honor at American University. There, P.O.V. Executive Director Simon Kilmurry commented on the series’ early initiatives, which included mailing video cameras to independent producers in the field to encourage them to share their stories. This impulse—to seek out singular voices as producers as well as subjects—paved the way for the types of interactive and participatory media that play an important role in today’s public media.
As the report notes, "The series was a showcase for first-person storytelling and subjective voices long before they became common modes of expression in mass media. But, unlike in much commercial ‘reality’ media, personal stories were framed as portals to vital social and political issues— fortified with rich contextualizing information and participatory opportunities."
Mr. Kilmurry also remarked on the signature role that documentary storytelling plays in initiating conversations on social issues that would otherwise be too difficult for the public to discuss. P.O.V. films offer viewers the chance to share the lives of the films’ characters, an aim that has always been the series’ top priority. The films themselves may not change the world, but the empathy and intimacy that these human stories evoke serve as a powerful catalyst to incite social change.
John Boland of PBS, Sandy Pedlow of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Tamara Gould of ITVS, Charles Benton of the Benton Foundation, John Prizer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Diana Ingraham of SILVERDOCS also attended the reception and reflected on the tremendous opportunities that P.O.V. has provided for independent (and often first-time) filmmakers.
The reception followed a screening of the P.O.V. film, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, which was also included in the 2007 Human Rights Film Series.