Virginia Filmmakers On Public TV

Jul 31, 2020

Between the pandemic and our current heat wave, many people are hunkering down inside – watching a lot of TV, and next week offers some especially good viewing for those who like documentaries. 

Former President George H.W. Bush reviews a briefing paper in the film Statecraft, airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. on public television.
Credit Miller Center

George H.W. Bush was not this country’s flashiest president, but his administration saw one global challenge after the next – from the Tiananmen Square massacre in China to the fall of the Berlin wall, the break-up of the Soviet empire to invasions of Panama and Iraq. That made Bush a fine subject for the documentary called Statecraft: The Bush 41 Team.

The program, which airs Tuesday night at 10 on public TV, features interviews with those who surrounded the president – like Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney who recalled a middle-of-the-night meeting with the king of Morocco before the U.S. launched Desert Storm.

“The king reached into his robes and pulled out a little box," Cheney recalls in the film. "He put it in the hands of the interpreter, and they uttered some Arabic back and forth, and then he put it in his pocket.  He could tell I was interested, and he said that box contains a piece of the Koran, and he just swore on pain of death that he won’t reveal anything that he’s about to hear in this conversation.”

The film relies heavily on interviews done by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia where co-producer and librarian Sheila Blackford works. Earlier it had produced an oral history of the Bush 41 presidency.

“We were unbelievably lucky with him and his team that they had so much experience and so much knowledge around foreign policy,” she says.

Former White House correspondent Ann Compton remembers George H.W. Bush as gracious and diplomatic, getting along well with the White House press corps.  In the documentary, she shares a hand-written note in which he apologized to her for remarks made during a media briefing.

“‘Dear Ann, " it reads. "You did a great job yesterday.  I hope my response during our press to-and-fro was not offensive.  I wasn’t too happy with my reply to you,’ and by his initials President Bush drew a happy face, wearing a frown.”

Blackford hopes those who see the film will appreciate the importance of good government.

“Having people that believe in what the federal government does, who have experience, who are hard-working and disciplined really matters. Bringing people into the government who are either disdainful of the government or have no government experience doesn’t work so well,” she says.

UVA students head into a juvenile detention center to join inmates for a discussion of life through literature in Seats at the Table, airing Sunday at 2:30 on public television.
Credit Chris Farina

Also appearing on public televison in the Shenandoah Valley, Richmond and Charlottesville, a film by Chris Farina.  It’s called Seats at the Table, and it features UVA Professor Andy Kaufman who teaches a class at Virginia’s juvenile detention center.

“One group from a university, the other group from a correctional center, come together and have conversations about life through literature,” Kaufman explains.  

Farina says the film was a labor of love and a chance to shape the way this country treats young offenders.

“If we can share this with the wider world, we can inspire replication so that more of our youth benefit from this type of experience.”

Seats at the Table airs Sunday at 2:30.  Farina hopes the public will enjoy it as much as prisoners at the Bonaire Correctional Center did when it was shown there.

“When Andy asked them afterwards, ‘Who’s interested in taking the class?’ literally everybody raised their hands," he says.  "You’re lifted several feet off the ground knowing that your work resonated with someone.”