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Serving the public, forgiving offenders, touring the border, going to the mat

The film crew riding through Big Bend National Park in “The River and the Wall.”
The film crew riding through Big Bend National Park in “The River and the Wall.”

The absence of a leader like Norman Mineta, who retired from public office in 2006, is dearly felt at this time of partisan polarization and anti-immigrant rancor.

Dianne Fukami’s “Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story” chronicles the remarkable career of this son of Japanese immigrants. As a child of 11 he was interned with his family in a concentration camp during World War II, as were 120,000 other Japanese-Americans. But he would grow up to become the first Japanese-American from the US mainland to be elected to Congress and would serve on the cabinets of two presidents — Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush. And he would spearhead the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which apologized for the internment policy and paid $20,000 in reparations to the survivors.


Drawing on archival material and Mineta’s own recollections, Fukami provides a moving portrait of this remarkable life. Interviews with Bush, Clinton, former Senator Alan Simpson, former US Representative Barney Frank, and others testify to Mineta’s achievements and his contribution to the causes of justice and political civility.

“Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story” can be seen on May 20 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Go to www.pbs.org/show/norman-mineta-and-his-legacy-american-story.

The power of forgiveness

Much underrated these days, the virtue of forgiveness asserts itself in Julie Mallozzi’s short documentary “Circle Up.” Scenes in which the mother of a slain youth relates how she forgave her son’s killer, or when a murderer weeps after apologizing to his victim’s mother at her son’s gravesite, should remind you of Shakespeare’s dictum that “the quality of mercy is not strained.”

These are just two examples of the effectiveness of the local victim-offender dialogue program seen in the film. Compassion and empathy work better than wrath, hatred, and vengeance to ease the pain of loss and facilitate the process of reconciliation.


“Circle Up” can be seen on May 14 at 8 p.m. on PBS World Channel as part of the “America Reframed” series . It can also be seen on worldchannel.org, amdoc.org and all station-branded PBS platforms including PBS.org, and on PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast.

Go to www.pbs.org/video/arf-circle-promo.

Border patrol

A lot of people have opinions about what to do about the border, comments a local in Ben Masters’s documentary “The River and the Wall,” but most have never been there. To get the facts on the ground a group of five friends — NatGeo Explorer Filipe DeAndrade, ornithologist Heather Mackey, river guide Austin Alvarado, conservationist Jay Kleberg, and the filmmaker — travel the 1,200-mile length of the Rio Grande, from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. That is the natural boundary between the two countries along which the Trump administration hopes to erect a 25-foot-high wall.

On foot, by bicycle, on horseback, and by canoe they make the journey, meeting landowners, border patrol agents, congressmen from both parties, and regular people from both countries. They even have a nighttime encounter with a group surreptitiously crossing the river. Are they undocumented immigrants? Narco traffickers? The film crew figures it’s best not to tempt fate to find out.

What they do find out is that pretty much everyone thinks that something needs to be done about border security but that a wall is the worst way to go about it. It will take land away from ranchers, endanger wildlife, disrupt the eco-system, and blight the stunning landscape that is so splendidly photographed in the film. And it will be more or less ineffective.


“The River and The Wall” can be seen on demand, including on iTunes and Prime Video.

Go to www.theriverandthewall.com.

Grappling with the future

There is a subgenre of documentaries in which students, often from at-risk backgrounds, prepare for a competition and in so doing reveal the crises, challenges, and aspirations of their lives. The activities range from basketball, in Steve James’s “Hoop Dreams” (1994), to Rubik’s Cubes in Amina Chaudary’s “Tariq’s Cube” and while the preparation and actual competitions build suspense and drama the films’ insights into the participants’ lives and backgrounds are what make them compelling.

That’s the case with Lauren Belfer and Suzannah Herbert’s “Wrestle”, and, whatever your feelings about that sport, its significance in the lives of the film’s subjects will heighten the excitement of the intense matches. The four students profiled attend J.O. Johnson High School, in Huntsville, Ala., an endangered, failing school with a mostly African-American enrollment and with none of the resources that allow predominantly white schools to dominate the sport. But they do have a driven and compassionate head coach — himself with a troubled past — motivating them, and in most cases supportive families driving them to excel so they can get athletic scholarships and attend college.

And they are talented athletes. But drugs, rocky relationships, troubles at home, mental health disorders, and racist cops impede their path to the state championship, a process recorded with intimate access by the filmmakers, who shape 650 hours of footage into a seamless narrative.“Wrestle” is one of the best documentaries of the year so far and will be a likely presence during the awards season starting in late fall.

“Wrestle” can be seen on May 20 at 10 p.m. on PBS as part of the “Independent Lens” series. It will also be available simultaneously for online streaming at pbs.org.


Go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/wrestle.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.