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Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003

Channel surf

NHK wins documentary film awards all over the world, but this week the public broadcaster will showcase some award-winning documentaries from other countries on its BS-1 satellite channel. All programs begin at 10 p.m. and are in bilingual format:

Nov. 17, "The Hand That Tills the Soil": This 2000 Vietnamese documentary received a cultural prize from the Japanese government. It focuses on a farmer in the central region of the country who for the past 10 years has been removing land mines left over from the Vietnam War with his bare hands. Since 1975, the year the war ended, Vietnam's population has doubled. This increase has put a strain on the country's food production. One of the main problems that farmers have is that uncultivated land must be de-mined. There is no special equipment or techniques for mine removal. The only way to clear the land is by hand.

Nov. 18, "Against My Will": This documentary was made for Netherlands Public Television and won an award in Italy. The film profiles a women's shelter in Pakistan established by a group of lawyers in 1990 that provides sanctuary to victims of domestic violence. In many cases, these women are not only abused by their husbands, but also by their in-laws and in some cases their own families. However, even the shelter cannot always guarantee safety. In one case, a 28-year-old woman was sold by her father to an elderly man, who beat her. She fled to the shelter, but at one point her own parents convinced her to come home. Three weeks later she was dead.

Nov. 19, "Sister Helen": This U.S. documentary is about a 54-year-old nun who runs a drug-treatment center in New York City. She herself lost a husband and two sons to alcoholism, after which she joined the Benedictine order. Sister Helen is no Mother Teresa. She's a sharp-tongued old bat who sees through junkie lies. Her "treatment" isn't really treatment at all: cold turkey and a heavy dose of shame.

Nov. 20, "Alison's Baby": An English documentary about a girl who was born without arms or legs in 1965. Alison grew up in a hospital. When she was 20, she left and threw away her prosthetics. She lives independently, and has even given birth to a child whom she is raising by herself.

Nov. 22, "Chavez: Inside the Coup": This Irish documentary has won many awards all over the world. A film crew who was in Venezuela in April 2002 to do a profile of President Hugo Chavez witnessed firsthand the coup that tried to overthrow him. It only lasted two days. Chavez was elected by the lower classes, thus enraging Venezuela's oil-rich oligarchy, which also controls the media. After TV blamed pro-Chavez forces for the casualties in a violent demonstration, the army moved in and ousted the president. But when the populace learned that the reports were all fabricated they stormed the palace and reinstalled Chavez. The Irish film crew got it all.

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