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Stopping guns and skipping stones

Films focus on topics both heavy and light-hearted

Ryan Seitz’s “Skips Stones for Fudge” won the grand prize for best documentary at<ld/> the Independent Film Festival of Boston.
Ryan Seitz’s “Skips Stones for Fudge” won the grand prize for best documentary at<ld/> the Independent Film Festival of Boston.Highway Goat Productions

Perhaps the only good things that have come out of gun violence in America are the brilliant movies that have been made about it. Independent Lens will screen two of the best in a two-night event on PBS called “Armed in America.”

Both films follow the transformation of conservatives who are initially pro-gun, but after enlightening experiences become advocates of gun control legislation and the reform of police use of deadly force.

Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s “Peace Officer” (Monday at 9 p.m.) tells the story of “Dub” Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained Utah’s first SWAT team. Thirty years later, that same unit gunned down his son-in-law, who was armed and despondent after an incident of domestic violence.


Lawrence found the circumstances suspicious. In the film, he examines the evidence and builds a case against law enforcement involved in the shooting, and more generally against arming the nation’s police with advanced military weaponry. It is both a detective story and a spiritual odyssey.

In Abigail Disney’s “The Armor of Light” (Tuesday at 8 p.m.), which debuted locally at the GlobeDocs Film Festival last fall, a similar conversion happens with Evangelical minister Bob Schenck, who is first seen at an anti-abortion demonstration thrusting a dead fetus at the camera. When a fanatical fellow activist shoots and kills a doctor, Schenck enters a profound spiritual crisis. But then he meets Lucia McBath, an African-American woman whose teenage son was senselessly shot to death (that case is the focus of the 2015 documentary “3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets”), and he joins her crusade for tougher gun laws. His eloquent plea to his skeptical followers at the end of the film might bring tears to your eyes.

An hourlong town hall conversation will immediately follow both broadcasts.

For more information go to www.pbs.org/independentlens.


Hot ‘Fudge’

The Independent Film Festival of Boston (April 27-May 4) last Sunday bestowed its grand prize for best documentary to Ryan Seitz’s “Skips Stones for Fudge.” Had there been a prize for best title, it probably would have won that, too.

Appropriately, the film is about a competition. For more than a decade, Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars and Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner have competed to see who can get a stone to skip in a body of water the greatest number of times.

Steiner, the former world champion, holds the Guinness record for skips (40). Byars is the current world champion, a title he plans to keep when he and Byars go head to head again at the 2014 Pennsylvania Stone Skipping Tournament in Franklin, Pa.

An engaging saga of the American values of excellence, competitiveness, obsession, and weird sports.

For more about “Skip Stones for Fudge” go to www.highwaygoat.com.

Deep freeze

Talk about cold cases.

In 1991, tourists in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border stumbled across the 5,000-year-old earthly remains of “Ötzi,” frozen in ice and well preserved. He may be the world’s oldest mummy.

He is also a man of mystery. Since his discovery, experts in many fields have been trying to figure out how he lived. And how he died.

PBS Distribution’s documentary “Nova: Iceman Reborn,” directed by Bonnie Brennan, pieces together the latest evidence. His death has been ruled a homicide, but there are no definitive suspects or motives. Nonetheless, Ötzi provides a glimpse into Europe at the dawn of civilization. As scientists analyze his clothing, the contents of his stomach, his teeth, and his DNA, they gather clues about the society, culture, technology, and religion of his time.


In many ways he resembles people today — he has numerous tattoos and used holistic medicinal herbs. He also followed a Paleolithic diet. That is so 12,000 BC.

“Nova: Iceman Reborn” will be available Tuesday on DVD ($24.99) and also for digital download. For more information go to www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/iceman-reborn.html.

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