Because a Waist Is a Terrible Thing to Mind: New HBO Series Takes on ObesityBY ADDIE MORFOOT
Spending years researching, filming and editing documentaries about the nation's most pressing health issues--including cancer, drug addiction, Alzheimer's disease and obesity--might turn some people into hypochondriacs. But for John Hoffman, executive/series producer of HBO's upcoming documentary series The Weight of the Nation, educating himself about "frightening" subjects makes him "more confident." Over the past 12 years, Hoffman has collected quite a body of knowledge as one of the lead producers behind four HBO documentary series focused on public health education. The first, Cancer: Evolution to Revolution, released in 2000, won a Peabody Award. Addiction and The Alzheimer's Project followed in 2007 and 2009, respectively; both series garnered Emmy Awards.
HBO will premiere The Weight of the Nation, the cable channel's fourth comprehensive health-related series, May 14 and 15. The project is an exhaustive, invigorating, multi-platform look at the obesity epidemic facing the American public. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, a partner with HBO on this series), obesity contributes to six of the ten leading causes of death in America, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and stroke.
In addition to the CDC, HBO partnered with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on the series. Together they dissect and spotlight the facts as well as the myths surrounding obesity by uncovering not only the physical, emotional and social effects it has on individuals, but also its causes and its devastating impact on the heath-care system.
Obesity-related healthcare costs are about $147 billion annually, according to the CDC. The center also reports that an obese person costs, on average, $1,400 more per year to treat. At current rates of increase, obesity-related healthcare costs are projected to exceed $300 billion by 2018.
Three years in the making, The Weight of the Nation is comprised of four feature-length documentary films, a three-part HBO Family series (The Weight of the Nation for Kids), 12 bonus shorts, a social media campaign, a companion book and a nationwide, community-based information and outreach campaign. According to Hoffman, he and his team spent a year in research and development, followed by an 18-month production period, with editing beginning "about one year in." The majority of the series, which had 56 shoots, was captured on a VariCam as well as 20 different cameras. The team shot 700 hours of footage.
"What is particular about our process is that we do not use a narrator or a host, so you have to be able to write with the words you have in the edit room," Hoffman explains. "Some of the interviews were five hours long. That was so when we went back to edit we had everything we could possibly need to move from one topic to another, building and tying stories together. When it came to the technical-speak, we decided to have people speak as if they are taking to a ninth-grade, first-semester biology class. We felt that that was an appropriate level."
Although the topic of obesity doesn't seem like a subject matter that would garner vast television audiences, over 50 million people accessed both the Addiction and Alzheimer's series via cable, the Internet and a companion book. "When we were done with The Alzheimer's Project, we asked ourselves and the people we have come to know and respect--especially at the NIH--‘What is the next frontier for us?'" Hoffman recalls. "Where should we use this platform that we've established for ourselves to impact public health? We realized that it was time to talk about obesity. It has reached critical dimensions."
It is estimated that in the US, 68 percent of adults age 20 and over are overweight or obese, while nine of the 10 states with the highest obesity prevalence are also among the poorest.
Sticking with The Alzheimer's Project's four-part structure, each Weight of the Nation documentary uses a variety of approaches to illuminate the different aspects of the disease. Kicking off the series is Consequences, which examines the scope of the epidemic and explores the serious health consequences of being overweight. Choices follows, revealing what science has shown about how to lose weight, maintain weight loss and prevent weight gain.
According to Hoffman, the third film, Children in Crisis, is at the heart of the series. Tackling subjects ranging from school lunches to the decline of physical education to the marketing of unhealthy food to children, the film uncovers the damage obesity has on the nation's youth.
According to a survey conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination, 31.7 percent of the nation's children and adolescents ages two to 19 are overweight or obese. As NIH director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, maintains in the film, "If we don't succeed in turning this epidemic around, we are going to face--for the first time in our history--a situation where our children are going to live shorter lives than we do."
"As a country, if we are going to really conquer this epidemic, we have to prevent it, which is why an entire show is devoted to children," Hoffman says.
The fourth film, Challenges, examines the major forces behind the obesity epidemic: agriculture, economics, evolutionary biology, food marketing, racial and socioeconomic disparities, physical inactivity, American food culture and the strong influence of the food and beverage industry.
"Each film stands perfectly fine on its own," Hoffman says. "You don't have to watch them in order, or watch one to understand the other."
A built-in following and increased partnerships with the nation's leading research institutions allowed HBO to make a few alterations to the production of The Weight of the Nation. Instead of hiring acclaimed filmmakers like Albert Maysles, Barbara Kopple and DA Pennebaker, who oversaw portions of the omnibus Addiction project, Hoffman and fellow executive producer Sheila Nevins decided to keep The Weight of the Nation in-house. "With Addiction, we really needed to bring in a lot of other brands, meaning that these great filmmakers brought attention to the series," Hoffman notes. "But with obesity, there is so much interest in the subject that we didn't need to work that way."
Although HBO kept the centerpiece series in-house, Hoffman recruited Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, who directed The Memory Loss Tapes, one of the films from The Alzheimer's Project, to helm HBO Family's The Weight of the Nation for Kids. Comprising three half-hour films, that series looks at children who have taken action to prevent obesity in their own lives and communities. From the Rethinkers, a group of New Orleans students, to the story of a Goldsboro, North Carolina high school student, the films offer inspiring examples of kids who have made a difference. "Like Memory Loss, these three films are vérité documentaries," Cookson explains. "But this time we are looking at kids who want to change things...fight back."
"Obesity is an enormous topic with giant issues involved, like health, capitalism and how we are taken care of or not taken care of," Doob adds. "It's amazing how it permeates out into every single person's life."
In addition to its May 14 premiere on HBO, all four films of The Weight of the Nation will stream for the general public on May 14 at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com.
Addie Morfoot writes about the film industry for Daily Variety. She has also written for the Los Angeles Times, Premiere and Marie Claire Magazine. She holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School.
International Documentary Associate
HBO Documentary Highlights Gun Violence
BY AISHA BHOORI
A new HBO documentary about gun violence will air Monday, just days after a deadly massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
Requiem for the Dead uses documentary material such as Facebook status updates, 911 calls, news reports and police investigations to tell the stories of some of the estimated 8,000 people who died from gunfire between March and June of 2014.
“People now document themselves in these very intimate ways,” co-director Shari Cookson tells TIME. “It was like reading a diary.”
“Every story,” her filmmaking partner Nick Doob adds, “is a kind of Greek tragedy.”
In one example, a 12-year-old boy confesses to police that he killed his 11-year-old friend while showing off his father’s loaded handgun.
Another example, about a 12-year-old who shot his sister eight times before turning the gun on himself, is accompanied by a montage of photographs of his belongings, including the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto videogames, a Hunter Education certificate and a picture of him beaming, one hand clutching a rifle and another caressing an antler.
While the directors say they emphasized character portraits over a political agenda, many of the examples in the documentary seem to highlight incidents that could have been prevented by proper gun storage or better mental health treatment.
“Of course,” Doob admits, “we want to foster dialogue. We want the film to open people to talk so that even NRA people can look at this.”
JUNE 22, 2015
Grace and pain and Alzheimer’s
HBO‘s documentary is excruciating, but important, to watch.
“The Alzheimer’s Project“ is an ambitious, disturbing, emotionally fraught and carefully optimistic four-part documentary, exploring virtually every angle of Alzheimer’s disease that can be explored on television. Interviewed and filmed by the same team that produced HBO’s “Addiction” project, patients and their families, scientists and doctors, caregivers and advocates are all given an opportunity to speak, often with heartbreaking details of their lives, and impact Alzheimer’s has had on them.
That this will resonate with millions of viewers is indisputable – as many as 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and as the baby boomers age, some predict that number could more than double. That much of the documentary is difficult to watch is equally so, particularly the first part, which debuts on Sunday.
In “The Memory Loss Tapes,” we meet seven people in various stages of the disease. Thought 87-year-old Bessie Knapmiller is becoming increasingly forgetful, she is still feisty and active. Yolanda, Santamaartino, 75, is in a far darker place. Her closest friend in the resident facility in which she lives is their own reflection – whom she berates for never coming to visit. Plagued by visions of snakes, surrounded by other similarly beset patients, she declares, in a rare moment of clarity that “this is no life.“
So while it’s heart wrenching, it’s not surprising that at 63, Joe Potocny, who was diagnosed two years ago, plans to kill himself when he feels he has become someone he no longer recognizes. In one scene, he shows his wife the box which he has chosen to contain his ashes.
For hose who have only a theoretical understanding of the illness, “The Memory Loss Tapes“ provides a spine-straightening revelation. For those who have lost someone either physically or mentally, to Alzheimer’s or dementia, it may be excruciating to watch.
Certainly, there are moments of beauty and grace: Once a painter, Josephine Mickow, 77, composes visual, vignette that her daughter photographs in what may be their final form of real communication; endlessly cheerful Woody Geist, 78, does not remember his wife yet he can still sing all the old songs.
But there is no Michael J. Fox of Alzheimer’s, no Christopher Reeve to showcase the conquering human spirit. While even the most tragic physical limitations can leave a person essentially intact, Alzheimer strips away precisely what makes a human being a person, until there is nothing left but an empty outline where your mother or brother once was.
In “Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?,“ which airs on Monday, Maria Shriver, one of the more sugar-coating-averse individuals of our time, gets straight to the point: How does one handle having a parent or grandparent who is no longer the person they were? Her own father, the indomitable Sergeant Shriver, was diagnosed years ago and the First Lady of California long ago dedicated herself to raising awareness of the disease, including serving as executive producer of “the Alzheimer’s Project.“
In this segment, children express their sense of loss, their guilt over not wanting to visit a vacant and belligerent grandparent, and the stalwart optimism in believing that somehow just their presence will help. Frankly, if this doesn’t send everyone racing for a checkbook and a list of Alzheimer’s research projects, nothing will.
It’s a relief, then to learn that many scientists believe that they are very close to understanding what causes the disease. The two part, “Momentum in Science,” which begins Monday night as well, provides a near-perfect balance of scientific explanation and narrative accessibility – even a non-scientifically inclined television critic can follow the conversation.
The final installment is “Caregivers,“ and here are the stories of hope and transcendence. Here is the heartbreaking and at times nearly impossible task that is being undertaken by ordinary people each and every day.
As anyone who has been touched by this disease knows, it is hard to let a loved one go, even when they want to go, and even when they have been gone for a long, long time.
The Los Angeles Times
08 May 2009, Fri · Page 95
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
Stories of forgetting
HBO’s for part Alzheimer’s Project explores the disease on a personal and medical level with help from executive producer, Maria Shriver
Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t leap to mind as a subject likely to draw many TV viewers, much less draw them for a four-part series. But it’s tough to turn away from HBO’s exhaustive and bracing look at the illness through the lives of people enduring it and the scientific breakthroughs that could change everything. “The Alzheimer’s Project” marks the third time HBO documentary films has made a focused attempt at public health education. In 2000, it was the Peabody award-winning series “Cancer: Evolution and Revolution,“ followed by the “Addiction“ series in 2007.
About 50 million people accessed the “Addiction“ series via TV, the Internet, and a companion book, series, producer, John Hoffman said, a number that HBO executives consider staggering. So the producers quickly looked for other health issues that might warrant a series that could fill gaps in public health education and help raise money for scientific research.
“The question was, where is there need?“ recalled Hoffman, who helped produce all three series. “Where is there hope in the public health area, but where is there a lack of knowledge? And it kept coming up that Alzheimer’s was the area where great advances were being made, and at the same time we had a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety.“
“The Alzheimer’s Project“ debuts tonight with the film “The Memory Loss Tapes,“ which features seven patients in various stages of the disease, Joe Potocny, a 63-year-old computer genius, blogs through the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, noting wryly that he helped invent DVDs and now gets lost in his own front yard. Yolanda, Santomartino, 75, lives in a nursing home and befriends her own reflection, believing it to be a new resident named Ruth.
HBO Filmmaker‘s gained access to the world’s top, Alzheimer’s researchers and to families during some of the most vulnerable periods of their lives, capturing the death of 77-year-old Cliff Holman, a retired Alabama TV host
“I thought of it as short stories about forgetting,“ said HBO documentary Films President, Sheila Nevins, executive producer of the series. “To me that show was really a lesson in caring if nothing else and oddly not as depressing as everyone expected it to be. The love of some of these people is quite extraordinary.“
Nevins also involved First Lady of California, Maria Shriver, as executive producer. Shriver’s 93 year old father, Sergeant Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps and 1972 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. That figure accounts for one in every eight people over age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Assn. And those numbers are expected to balloon as the baby boomers reach retirement age.
“It’s the second most feared illness after cancer,“ said Hoffman, echoing a line repeated in the series.
The project’s producers quickly discovered why. As each film in the “Alzheimer’s Project“ demonstrates, Alzheimer’s dissolves the very traits that distinguishe us from one another. It steals the personality, shaving off memories, so gradually at first, like the name of one spouse, or the meaning of a stop sign, while preserving enough intellect to give the patient a profound sense of his or her loss.
“I wake up some mornings and don’t know whether I’ve been asleep at all,“ Alzheimer’s patient June, Vasse, 63, says in “Momentum in Science.“
Larger and larger swaths of the memory disappear overtime, often leaving odd bits and pieces, like song lyrics, or fondness for a long dead pet. Eventually, an Alzheimer’s patient exists in the world much like a toddler, who must be hand-fed, diapered, dressed, and vigilantly monitored.
“I think of it as the long goodbye,” said one Alzheimer’s caregiver in the “Caregivers” segment.
Finding the right individuals for these films was a months-long process. Filmmakers considered hundreds of cases and spent weeks interviewing families by phone before showing up with their cameras. “The Memory Loss Tapes“ directors, Shari Cookson and Nick Doob found two of their subjects, Potocny, me and Josephine Mickow, through blogs (Potocny’s http://living-with-alzheimers.blogspot and Mickow’s daughter Annie Michow’s http://maplecorners.blogspot.com.
Once the filmmakers were in position, the disease itself posed special challenges of shooting. Though they were often lost in their own reveries, the late-stage Alzheimer’s patients weren’t oblivious to the camera. It sometimes took hours of waiting, said Cookson, before a patient was comfortable enough to ignore them.
“It was hard because we couldn’t explain who we are to them,“ Cookson said. “We could just be as open and kind as we could be … What was amazing to me was to see what remained of people. When you see those bits of who that person was, shining through it, all, it’s kind of breathtaking in a way.“
In “Grandpa Do You Know Who I Am?,” which debuts Monday, a bubbly, eight-year-old girl tries to engage her disoriented grandmother. Eventually, her grandmother grows angry and orders the sobbing girl out of her room.
Later, her older sister assures the girl she did nothing wrong. In the “Caregivers,“ debuting, Tuesday, a grown son, out for a walk with his 82-year-old father with Alzheimer’s, has to stop to pull up his fathers pants that have fallen to his ankles. And another thing yet, a woman who had divorced her husband, welcomed him back into her life and became his primary caregiver when he was diagnosed, at 54, with early- onset Alzheimer’s. And in “Momentum of Science,” a two-part film airing, Monday and Tuesday, five of six siblings in the DeMoe family learned they have a genetic mutation that causes early-onset Alzheimer’s, and though science has no cure for them, they commit to an ongoing study in the hope the findings will help future generations
But ‘The Alzheimer’s Project” represents a greater commitment than a few stirring documentaries. It’s co-presented by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, a partnership that guaranteed producers would have access to the most cutting-edge research and the scientists over seeing it.
In “Momentum of Science,” scientists note that there have been more dramatic advancements in understanding the disease in the last two decades than took place in the preceding 80 years. In the last five years, scientists gained the ability to diagnose early-onset Alzheimer’s using brain imaging.
Other new research suggests that the disease may be delayed or even prevented by exercise, maintaining healthy blood pressure, broad social networks and intellectual stimulation into old age. There’s even an Alzheimer’s vaccine in the final stages of clinical trials.
“We are on the brink of controlling one of the major diseases affecting world health,“ says Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, in the film.
HBO sees the series as a sort of privately funded public health campaign. To reach the estimated 150 million Americans, whose lives are touched by Alzheimer’s, HBO is distributing the series in unprecedented ways.
Viewers can stream or download the series for free – as audio or video – from HBO.com. The cable network is also distributing 5,000 screening kids to nonprofits nationwide. The NIH will make screenings of the series available to its members.
“Alzheimer’s could cripple the United States if someone doesn’t figure out how to deal with it,“ said Nevins. Producing the HBO series, she had it, gave her hope.
“ It was invigorating to know there could be something on the horizon to, if not prevent, at least extend the length of time from diagnosis to incapacitation.“
The Los Angeles Times
10 May 2009, Sun · Page 17 and 33 (D Section)
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
HBO, 7 PM/6C
The three-part series “The Weight of the Nation for Kids“ begins with a look at a group of children in post Katrina New Orleans, who work together to transform their school’s lunch menu, all part of their community fight against obesity. A companion series for the four part “The Weight of the Nation,” Monday, and Tuesday. The program details how roughly 94 percent of school lunches fail to meet federal health standards, and 80 percent of the lunches served in the schools exceed federal recommendations for total fat and saturated fat. Dubbing themselves the “Rethinkers,“ the young activists attracted the media by surveying their fellow students and issuing them annual report cards, then met with school officials and corporate executives from Aramark, one of the nations largest food service providers, to get them thinking about the quality of school meals and how they could be improved.
The Commercial Appeal
13 May 2012, Sun · Page 104
NCCU student changing diets, lives 6/26/2013 (The Weight of the Nation for Kids: Kebreeya's Salad Days)
NCCU student changing diet, lives
Kebreeya Lewis is featured in HBO series
By Carlton Koonce
Michael Jackson sang about change starting with the mirror.
For 19-year-old N.C. Central University rising sophomore Kebreeya Lewis, they are words to live by.
As a high school student at Wayne School of Engineering in Goldsboro, she changed her family’s and school peers’ lives.
Lewis’ efforts are highlighted in “The Weight of the Nation for Kids“ a three-part HBO series, focusing on young people working to improve their health and the health of those around them.
“Kebreeya‘s Salad Days,“ directed by Emmy-winners, Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, follows Lewis as she maneuvers through the politics of local government to bring a salad bar to her school cafeteria.
According to the 2012 N.C. Prevention Report Card, 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Of adolescents ages 12 to 19, 22 percent are obese, and 30 percent of children ages 6 to 11 aree obese.
North Carolina is fifth in the state for childhood obesity.
Growing up, Lewis watched family members struggle with obesity, diabetes, and asthma. She worried when her brother was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 8.
Her mother, Alberta, Louis Hayes, is a single parent who worked as a healthcare technician for years. In 2007 she underwent gastric bypass surgery.
At the time, she stood 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed about 400 pounds.
Lewis didn’t want to be in the same position when she got older.
“My family pushed me to make a change,“ she said. “I can’t change other people if I’m not doing it.“
To “do it,” Lewis changed her diet as an example, especially to her mom. She quit eating fast food and hasn’t had a soda in three years.
After learning gardening from a neighbor and from Susan Randolph, an earth science teacher at her high school, Lewis tried her hand, growing tomatoes, collards, and cucumbers in her backyard.
The experience allowed her and Students Working for an Agricultural Revolutionary Movement or swarm, a student group she participated in, to volunteer at an elementary school’s garden in Goldsboro.
The group helped kids at Dillard Academy Charter School by discussing fresh food and helping maintain the garden the children started. They also helped sell produce from the garden at the Goldsboro Farmer’s Market.
Back at her former high school, which shared a campus and cafeteria with Goldsboro High School, Lewis heard complaints about the cafeterias, lack of variety, constant pizza and chicken patties, and limited fruits and vegetables.
“If they wouldn’t do anything about it, I decided I would,“ Lewis said.
She conducted surveys and discovered most students wanted to eat better. She gathered names on a petition to urge system officials to make changes to include a lunch salad bar.
Lewis had trouble pushing her plans through. After the school system’s child nutrition, director told her the cafeteria met regulations, she decided to go higher up the local government chain.
After meeting with the Wayne County commissioners, and eventually standing in front of the mayor and city council to advocate her case, Lewis compelled them to write a letter to the school system supporting her cause.
The policy was changed and the salad bar approved.
“We worked hard for that salad bar and now the kids are enjoying it,” Lewis said.
Bath’-She’-Ba Patterson, a high school friend of Lewis, participated in SWARM and is proud of the fight to bring community kids “one step healthier.”
“It was like a revolution movement watching her,“ Patterson said.“ It was inspiring.”
Lewis hasn’t stopped there.
On NCCU’s campus, the criminal justice major maintains a 3.3 GPA while directing her own newly-found student movement, Building Our Own Movement or BOOM.
The organization resembles SWARM and its local, healthy, eating mission, including workshops and food challenges, and maintains a campus garden.
Lewis says being from North Carolina, it can be hard to quit fried foods and other southern staples, but that the way it is cooked makes a difference.
“Good food is still good even if you change how you cook it,“ she said.
Lewis’s mother was recently named most inspirational mom by Raleigh-based radio station 103.9 The Lite, after Lewis entered her name in a contest.
Since the filming of the documentary. Hayes has given up her own daily habit of lightly-salted chips, and the family eats out less. They cook less fried food and have added more vegetables to their diets.
Hayes now weighs less than 200 pounds.
Proud of her daughter, Hayes said the best advice for folks stuck in unhealthy eating habits is to do it a “step at a time“ and not jump in.
“Don’t go cold, turkey,“ she said. “Focus on the change by trying something fried twice a week instead of five times.“
Lewis, who is now a vegetarian, said the meat eaten by her mother or siblings is grilled or baked. She is currently losing weight and feels healthier with more energy and alertness.
She relates to Michael Jackson’s “man in the mirror.“
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard to change the culture,” she said. “But you have to start with yourself.“
The News and Observer
26 Jun 2013, Wed · Page A3
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
Director breaks television mold
By Elenita Ravicz
Shari Cookson may never reach her goal of growing to be 5 foot 2, but the 25-year-old Director has achieved many of her other goals, including the winning of both a Los Angeles area Emmy Award, and a Television Academy Student Award.
Cookson recently won an Emmy in the Los Angeles area Emmy Awards competition for her work on “On Campus. “ In 1982, she received a $4,000 Television Academy Student Award while she was a student at USC.
“This is a special thing that has never happened before. For someone to win an Emmy only two years after winning our student award is a miracle. We are very impressed.“ Said Larry Stewart, chairman of the Student Activities Committee of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Winning both awards so quickly is only one of the things that makes Cookson unusual, however.
As she says, “I just don’t fit the stereotype of a Hollywood TV Director. I think of a Director as somebody slick … Somebody, usually male, who is a life-in-the-fast-lane type.“
With her corduroys, casual shoes, slender, build, and a height of only 5 foot 1 1/2, Cookson looks more like a gymnast or a student than a director. “I’m 25, but I look even younger,“ she commented. “If I dress casually, I look more like I’m 13.“
At times looking so young and being a woman can be a disadvantage. “This is a male – dominated industry,” she said matter-of-factly. “The camera and sound crews I work with are usually male. I have to be the boss and make decisions. When you’re starting out, it’s not enough to be good, you have to be super good.“
Cookson, who originally wanted to be a newspaper reporter, won the TV Academy’s Student Academy Award for Ggunshot,” a 25–minute documentary about five people who were changed physically and mentally by being shot.
After winning the award and graduating from USC, she was hired as an intern by Dave Bell Associates, which produces numerous television, shows, including “On Campus.“
When that series had an opening for someone who could produce, direct, write and edit segments for the show, Cookson got the job. She described the program as a half-hour, magazine-style format dealing with events, students, and organizations connected with the Independent Colleges of Southern California.
Cookson lately has been working on a sequence for the program titled “The Re-emergence of Richard Nixon,“ about former President Richard M Nixon‘s visit to Chapman College. It will air Saturday at 5 p.m., repeating Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on Channel 28. Cookson said of the segment, “We interviewed students who saw Nixon, and most of them said they thought he was wonderful.
“They seem to have no memories of Watergate. It was very strange, almost as if Nixon was campaigning again. I think he is trying to make his place in history more complementary.“
It was also for “On Campus“ that Cookson made “Golden Graduation Day,“ a 10-minute sequence that won her a Los Angeles area Emmy. Cookson was the field producer on the segment, and Bruce Johnson was the supervising producer. Johnson too received an Emmy for “Golden Graduation Day,“ and Cookson is working with him again on the Nixon segment.
“Golden Graduation Day“ dealt with the class of 1933‘s returned to Chapman college 50 years after graduation. The college has a tradition that allows such classes to don caps and gowns and stage another graduation ceremony.
“These people hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and some of them never expected to make it back,“ she said. “They had a great time. This is the kind of show that makes you feel good.“
The “Golden Graduation Day” segment was nominated in the category of special events, competing against coverage of the Rose Parade on KTLA and the Foxfield Jumping Derby on KNBC.
Recalling the day of the Emmy ceremony, she said: “While I was waiting to hear the results I was so nervous that I kept shaking and saying ‘I want to go home.’ Then, when I won, I was so excited that I got up and ran around my chair three times. People must have thought I was crazy.“
In an impersonal business, one of the things that makes Cookson‘s work stand out is what she called her “willingness to get involved with a story.“
“What I like about television as a medium is that it allows me to introduce one person to other people in society, so that the audience can understand the essence of that person, his life and emotions,“ she explained.
It was this desire to convey the feelings and experiences of others that led Cookson to make “Gunshot“ as a student. She said she chose the subject of how people’s lives were changed by being shot because she wanted to make a documentary on something she felt passionately about.
Now, even though she’s working as a television director, Cookson said, “I don’t watch much TV because a lot of it is impersonal and trite.“
“In college,” she added, “I didn’t have many classes which focused on TV. I think that being naïve about TV helps to make my pieces different, less clichéd.“
Los Angeles Times
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
Gun culture makes mass murder routine
Michael A. Cohen
Two nights ago, America’s sick gun culture was revealed to us once again – in the most tragic, yet seemingly predictable manner. A church. A Bible study group. A peaceful Wednesday evening. Nine black men and women. One white man. These types of mass shootings are the moments that most Americans associate with the epidemic of gun violence in this country, in part, because these events are so horrific, and so tragic that they somehow seem like outliers.
Yet gun violence in America is actually a routine event. It’s sudden, it’s unexpected, and it leaves in its wake more shattered lives.
It’s a reality captured by a new HBO documentary called “Requiem for the Dead.” It premieres, Monday, and it’s the story of eight devastating, incidents of gun violence, all of which occurred in the spring of 2014, a three-month period in which 8,000 Americans died at the hands of a firearm.
It is a harrowing documentary, in large measure, because the filmmakers, Shari Cookson, and Nick Doob, relied exclusively on found media -- tweets, Facebook posts, police, interviews, surveillance video, and TV reports. The effect is to memorialize these individuals, both as victims, but also as ordinary Americans, living, ordinary lives. None of them might have been famous, or influential, but their lives mattered so much those closest to them – and in the matter of an instance, a gun in the wrong hands changed everything.
So we hear the frantic primal, incoherent screaming of an 11-year-old boy in Frazeysburg, Ohio, as he called 911 to report that he just shot and killed his best friend – with a loaded revolver that his father left under his bed.
We watch the videos, see the pictures, and read the Facebook postings from Renotta Jernigan of Chesterfield, Va., talking about the love she feels for her two young children – only weeks before Father’s Day, when her husband killed all three of them, and then turned the gun on himself.
These incidents are the reality of gun violence in America.
In a sense, Charleston is the outlier not just because it’s so horrible, but because Americans, for a brief moment, will pay attention to this constant, unending carnage. In the days and weeks to come, much of the attention in Charleston will be focused on the particular heinous nature of this crime – as it should. A white man killing nine black parishioners in a church – and to do so out of apparent racial animus - is a uniquely evil offense.
Indeed, the clear racial element to this crime is reflective of what in the United States is the original sin towards black Americans.
But the instrument that was used is, today, representative of America’d second sin, this nation’s sick gun culture, and the fresh tragedies that it bequeaths to us 88 times a day and more than 30,000 times a year.
Perhaps this will be the moment when American stand up to the NRA, the craven politicians, and the gun enthusiasts who care more about their “rights“ then their fellow citizens, safety, and say, “Enough. Our lives are more important than your guns.“
Or perhaps we’ll just go on with our lives … until the next mass shooting that we know, without a doubt, will surely come.
The Boston Globe
19 Jun 2015, Fri · Page A12
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
Requiem focuses on horrors of our everyday murder culture 6/22/2015 (Requiem for the Dead: American Spring 2014
‘Requiem’ focuses on horrors of our every day murder culture
What’s more destructive: A sudden flood? A freak, storm? Or the drip, trip, trip of an unattended leak?
Our national conversation about gun violence tends to take place after horrific acts of mass murder: Columbine, Newtown. The South Carolina church massacre that happened only last week.
These tragedies result in spasms of media outrage, followed by long periods of indifference. Until the next nightmare unfolds. Directed by Emmy winners, Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, “Requiem for the dead: American spring 2014 (8 PM, HBO) looks at gun violence from another perspective. Using local news footage, police 911 call audio, personal photographs and intimate postings from social media, “Requiem“ examines and celebrates the lives of a handful of some of the 8000 victims, who were murdered or killed themselves in just a three-month period -- the spring of 2014.
We see clips from the wedding video of a veteran and his bride, and then birthday parties for their three children. Then, we hear audio from the wife’s anguished mother reporting her son-in-law had started shooting, followed by the sound of the police entering the home to witness the husband turning the gun on himself -- all within earshot of the three children. It goes without saying “Requiem“ is almost too grim to watch. But it takes even more effort to ignore it’s powerful and insistent message about the cost of our national indifference.
The Rock Island Argus
22 Jun 2015, Mon · Page 12
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson
Story for a lot of us: Paycheck to Paycheck 3/17/2014 (Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert)
Story for a lot of us: “paycheck to paycheck”
Documentary hits home in these times
By Mike Hughes
For the Lansing State Journal
Like many people, Katrina Gilbert finds herself occupying the wrong life.
She’s 30 now, a milestone of sorts. By now, she said, “I was going to have a college degree and a really good job and do a little traveling.”
Instead, she’s been supporting three kids,( ages 7, 5 and 3) with a $9.49-an-hour job at a nursing home. She gets by … unless anything happens, like “having a flat tire, or the car breaks down or one of the kids gets sick, and I have to miss a day of work … There are a lot of surprises. You say, ‘no, not this!’”
For a compelling HBO documentary, filmmakers stepped inside her life, off and on, for nine months. Shari Cookson recalls one cold day in a house trailer in Chattanooga, Tenn. “She didn’t want the kids to go outside, because she was afraid they’d catch a cold … I felt the claustrophobia.“
This is a life many people know, the film says; 42 million American women and the 28 million children who depend on them live near or below the poverty line. It’s some thing Gilbert struggles with filmmaker Nick Doob said. “She’s really trying to break out of it, trying to get a better deal.“ Then fresh obstacles appear. When she moved a few miles, she crossed into a new state and lost (for now) food-stamp eligibility. When she missed some college classes, because the kids were sick, she (for now) her financial aid. “My mom said, you’ll figure it out,” Gilbert said. “And I will”
That’s part of what drew the filmmakers, Cookson said. “She’s such a vibrant person.“
Their film is part of Maria Shriver‘s project to focus on American women. At the Chambliss Center, which provides subsidize daycare in Chattanooga, they noticed Gilbert, who resists any stereotypes of the working poor. “She’s personable, she’s young, she’s funny.“ Cookson said.
Nursing-home residence seem to savor her; friends joke with her about having the same name ( Katrina) as a fierce storm. “Sometimes they just call me Hurricane,“ Gilbert said. “I’ll answer to that.“
Gilbert did well in high school, academically and socially, she said “I was friends with everybody.“
She married at 19 and still speaks well of her ex-husband, Jeremy Gilbert: “He’s really caring. He’s a great dad … Sometimes, we’ll take the kids together somewhere, like the county fair.“
But his pill addiction ended their marriage, she said, and drained their bank account. He recovered and was happy to watch the kids … but until recently had no job and lived with his mother, two hours away.
in some ways, Gilbert is luckier than most people. She has help from her mother, (who watched the kids when she trained as a certified nursing assistant) … And Jeremy (now living closer and working) … And a new boyfriend (with four kids of his own, to worry about)… And the Chambliss Center.
“I didn’t even know it existed until someone told me about it,” Gilbert said. “They do an amazing job: my son was saying the ABC’s when he was two years old.“ Her pay finally went up to $9.63 an hour, the first raise in 2 years; she expects to get by. “Katrina has a real sense of living in the moment,” Doob said. “She just takes things as they come.“
Lansing State Journal
17 Mar 2014, Mon · Page D3
Dictated Transcription: S Cookson