‘American Experience: The Riot Report’ Premieres May 21 on PBS, PBS.org and PBS App

“American Experience: The Riot Report,” about the 1960s commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to explore the cause of riots in cities across the country, will debut May 21 on PBS (9 p.m. EST), PBS.org and the PBS app.

The program will stream for free simultaneously with broadcast through June 20 on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS App.

When Black neighborhoods in scores of cities erupted in violence during the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — informally known as the Kerner Commission — to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? And what could be done to prevent it from happening again? The bipartisan commission’s final report, issued in March of 1968, would offer a shockingly unvarnished assessment of American race relations — a verdict so politically explosive that Johnson not only refused to acknowledge it publicly, but even to thank the commissioners for their service. “The Riot Report” explores this pivotal moment in the nation’s history and the fraught social dynamics that simultaneously spurred the commission’s investigation and doomed its findings to political oblivion.

The program was directed by Michelle Ferrari, co-written by Ferrari and New Yorker journalist Jelani Cobb, and executive produced by Cameo George.

“The simple fact is this: We are in the worst crisis we have known since the Civil War,” said a television journalist in September 1967. Several weeks before, a police raid on an after-hours club in a predominantly Black section of Detroit had sparked racial unrest unlike anything Americans had ever seen: a furious uprising that paralyzed the city, left 43 people dead and burned hundreds of buildings to the ground. Nor was it an isolated incident. The disturbance in Detroit had been preceded that summer by violence in Newark, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Rochester, Toledo, and scores of other cities, mainly in the North and Midwest.

Few contemporary observers expected the bipartisan Kerner Commission (named after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner Jr. of Illinois) to deliver meaningful answers. Only two members of the commission were Black and both, like the nine white members, had been chosen by Johnson on the strength of their allegiance to him. Adding to the skepticism was the widespread perception that such commissions were typically convened as a gesture without commitment to any particular course. Johnson, for his part, hoped the commissioners would find evidence of outside agitation — ideally, by Communist-aligned advocates of Black Power — and would draw conclusions that both acknowledged his significant Civil Rights achievements and shored up support for his ambitious social agenda.

But the Kerner Commission defied expectations. In addition to holding pro forma hearings with experts, the commissioners toured many of the afflicted cities, an experience that moved Tex Thornton, arguably the commission’s most conservative member, “about ninety degrees to the left,” he said. Those visits were followed by thorough field investigations conducted in 23 cities by teams of social scientists. In the end, although the commissioners split over many issues, there was unanimous consensus for the report’s central conclusion: the cause of urban disorder was white racism — and the spark that set it off was almost invariably police brutality.

Hurried into print, the 708-page report instantly became a New York Times bestseller, with more than 700,000 copies sold in two weeks. CBS and NBC aired documentaries inspired by the book, and millions watched as Marlon Brando read excerpts aloud on the late-night talk show circuit. The urgency of the report’s message was further underscored mere weeks after its publication when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the nation’s inner cities erupted once more. Yet, according to a poll later that same month, a majority of white Americans rejected the commission’s conclusions and its recommendations. By the time Richard Nixon’s law-and-order campaign won him the presidency that fall, the Kerner Commission had been swept from national consciousness. In diagnosing a crisis that Americans then elected to ignore, however, the so-called “Riot Report” was destined to endure.

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“The Kerner Commission’s unanimous and blistering report put a spotlight on what was at the heart of structural racism and inequality in America,” “American Experience” executive producer Cameo George said in a statement. “The findings of this dedicated and bipartisan group remain relevant in today’s America, and we hope our film adds some much-needed context to the ongoing national conversation.”

Gravitas Ventures Acquires Doc ‘Stylebender’ About UFC Star Israel Adesanja

Gravitas Ventures has acquired the documentary Stylebender, about UFC middleweight star Israel Adesanya, for North American distribution. 

Directed by Zoë McIntosh, the film premiered in the documentary competition at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. The film is an examination of the complex and sometimes controversial figure known as “The Last Stylebender.” It is an intimate look at Adesanya, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based MMA champion, that goes beyond the ring and delves deep into an unlikely fighter’s journey, exploring Adesanya’s experiences of masculinity, bullying, mental health and the healing power of dance. 

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“After screening Stylebender in Tribeca, I could feel in my bones there was something supremely special about this film, and about Adesanya’s story,” Danielle Gasher, VP of acquisitions and international sales at Gravitas Ventures, said in a statement. “There is a vulnerable and deeply human quality to the film, which I believe will be felt far and large by audiences across North America.”

‘Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants’ Headed to HBO, Max July 2

HBO, NFL Films, Skydance Sports and the New York Giants are joining forces for “Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants,” a new iteration of the franchise that will document the NFL offseason for the first time. The series was announced May 15 by Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and Max content, during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront presentation.

The five-part original series debuts July 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and on Max, with new episodes debuting subsequent Tuesdays through July 30.
 
“Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants” will bring viewers inside the New York Giants organization as the team prepares for their 100th season. Camera crews will chronicle the team’s every move as general manager Joe Schoen and other members of the team’s front office and staff navigate the critical offseason period from January to July 2024, from the NFL Scouting Combine to free agency, to the NFL Draft, and team minicamps.

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“We are incredibly proud that ‘Hard Knocks’ is widely thought of as one of the most successful and entertaining unscripted sports franchises ever produced,” Ross Ketover, senior executive at NFL Films, said in a statement. “To be able to expand on the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe, and with an elite franchise in the Giants while they celebrate their 100th season, is a privilege for all of us at NFL Films.”
 
“We are beyond thrilled that the New York Giants have opened their doors to the Hard Knocks cameras for the first time ever,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, EVPs of HBO documentaries, and Bentley Weiner, VP of HBO sports documentaries, said in a statement. “The NFL offseason is a fascinating period that we’ve always wanted to explore and we can’t wait to show football fans everywhere what NFL Films has been capturing behind the scenes at the team’s headquarters.”
 
“As we enter our 100th season, we look forward to providing our fans with the opportunity to see what it takes to build an NFL roster,” Nilay Shah, SVP of marketing and brand strategy for the New York Giants, said in a statement. “Beginning the moment the previous season ended, we gave NFL Films unprecedented access to this critical time of the year. We know viewers will gain insight from moments that have never been captured before and are excited for them to learn more about our Giants history.”
 
“Hard Knocks,” the recipient of 18 Sports Emmy Awards, has previously documented NFL training camps and the regular season. The longtime series is produced by the team at NFL Films, a division of NFL Media owned and operated by the National Football League. Skydance Sports will be co-producing this all-new iteration with Liev Schreiber narrating.

‘Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution’ Debuting Early June 1 on PBS.org, PBS App Before Broadcast

The three-part series “Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” will debut early on PBS.org and the PBS App June 1 before its June 18 broadcast on PBS.

The BBC Studios docuseries captures the story of disco — its rise, its fall, and its legacy — from the basement bars of ’70s New York City to the peak of the global charts, told by the original musicians, promoters, and innovators as well as modern-day musical icons.

Disco embodied the height of 1970s glamour: a dance floor culture born in New York City that went on to take over the world. But its success also obscured its wider significance. Inextricably bound up with the major liberation movements of the 1970s, disco speaks to some of the biggest issues of today: LGBTQ+ identity and female empowerment. 

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” also underscores disco’s survival. Co-opted by the commercial mainstream, the genre dominated and flooded the market — the airwaves and record shops — leading to a subsequent hate-fueled backlash. As a result, the music and its ethos went back underground, where it evolved into an electronic dance sound that laid the foundations for contemporary dance culture.

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Episodes include:

Episode 1: “Rock the Boat” (June 18)

The opening episode of the series looks at the roots of disco — how it emerged from a basic desire for inclusion, visibility, and freedom among persecuted Black, gay, and minority ethnic communities of New York City. It tells the remarkable story of how a global phenomenon began in the loft apartments and basement bars of New York City, where a new generation of DJs and musicians, such as David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Francis Grasso, and Earl Young (The Trammps), pioneered a distinct sound and a new way of spinning records. 

Episode 2: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” (June 25)

Set against the backdrop of Black power and sexual liberation, the second episode takes viewers to the high watermark of disco in the mid ’70s. As disco conquered the mainstream, it turned Black women and gay men into superstars and icons. It was a world where the drag queen Sylvester was king, and Black women found a powerful new voice — one that fused Black Power with a call for sexual freedom. It was the birth of the “disco diva” from Gloria Gaynor and Candi Staton to Donna Summer and Thelma Houston. However, mainstream success by The Bee Gees’ soundtrack album “Saturday Night Fever,” The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” and Studio 54 took disco further and further from its roots of inclusivity and freedom, as straight, white men started to embrace and repackage the sound.

Episode 3: “Stayin’ Alive” (July 2)

The final episode documents the wellspring of resentment from white, straight, male-dominated, rock-loving middle Americans, as they targeted disco for its hedonism, femininity, and queerness. A vocal “Disco Sucks” movement began to gain momentum, culminating in the “Disco Demolition Derby” at Comiskey Park Stadium in Chicago, where organizers destroyed thousands of disco records in front of a baying audience of baseball fans. In addition, the hedonism and sexual liberation embodied by disco found itself stopped in its tracks by the AIDS crisis. Pushed out of the mainstream, the pioneers of disco retreated and regrouped. Cult disco DJ Frankie Knuckles left New York for Chicago, where he remixed disco breaks with R&B to produce a new genre of dance music — house. He and other disco pioneers kept disco alive as it evolved into world electronic dance music.

“Disco: Soundtrack of a Revolution” features some of disco’s originators, musicians, promoters, and innovators, as well as modern-day musical icons, such as: Vince Aletti, Steve Ashkinazy, Bill Bernstein, Joyce Bogart Trabulus, Jocelyn Brown, Carmen D’Alessio, David Depino, Lisa Farrington, Nona Hendryx, Thelma Houston, Marshall Jefferson, Francois Kevorkian, Tina Magennis, Ana Matronic, George McCrae, David Morales, Tom Moulton, Colleen Murphy, John Parikhal, Kim Petras, Mark Riley, Allen Roskoff, Alex Rosner, Michelle Saunders, Jake Shears, Nicky Siano, Candi Staton, Jeanie Tracy, Barry Walters, Dexter Wansel, Anita Ward, Jessie Ware, Sharon White, Victor Willis, Earl Young, Jamie Principle, Robert Williams, Ron Trent, DJ Hollywood, Honey Dijon, and MNEK.

‘Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story’ to Debut on PBS May 13 for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

The documentary Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story will debut on PBS May 13 and on PBS apps after a theatrical run for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

For 50 years, Chinese American photographer Corky Lee documented the celebrations, struggles, and daily lives of Asian American Pacific Islanders. Determined to push mainstream media to include AAPI culture in the visual record of American history, Lee produced an astonishing archive of nearly a million photographs. His work takes on new urgency with the alarming rise in anti-Asian attacks during the Covid pandemic. Jennifer Takaki’s intimate portrait reveals the triumphs and tragedies of the man behind the lens.

Corky Lee was born in 1947 in New York to Chinese immigrants who owned two laundries in Queens. He majored in history at Queens College and became a community organizer in Manhattan’s Chinatown in the 1970s. Over the next five decades he photographed countless protests and cultural events in the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Lee’s photographs documented the birth and growth of the Asian American movement for social justice and he became known as “The Undisputed, Unofficial, Asian American Photographer Laureate.” His death in 2021 at the age of 73 due to Covid was mourned in the press worldwide.

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Filmmaker Jennifer Takaki  is a fourth-generation Japanese American from Colorado. In New York, she produced and directed Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story, which premiered at DOC NYC and was supported by the Ford Foundation and The Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). She was awarded the prestigious Better Angels Lavine Fellowship in 2023.

Gravitas Picks Up Rights to Doc ‘Meet Me Where I Am’

Gravitas Ventures has secured the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the documentary film Meet Me Where I Am, available from digital retailers and cable VOD May 21.

The film presents an intimate look at the experiences of individuals grappling with loss, offering viewers a glimpse into the complexities of grief and the possibilities of finding meaning amidst pain. Through personal narratives and expert insights, the film aims to normalize discussions around grief and inspire hope in viewers, guiding them through their own paths of healing.

In Meet Me Where I Am, director Grant Garry explores the intricacies of grief, dissecting its stages and offering profound insights into the dynamics of support during loss. The documentary presents a diverse array of perspectives, notably featuring actor Anthony Rapp (RENT, “Star Trek: Discovery”). Rapp provides an intimate glimpse into the real Jonathan Larson (RENT, Tick Tick … Boom!), the Tony Award-winning Broadway production RENT, and the profound impact of losing Larson and his own mother. As a personal touch, Garry wanted to include Anthony’s story from RENT, as a poignant “Easter egg” reflecting his own journey of healing through musical theater.

The film also features author and grief expert David Kessler (Finding Meaning, ABC’s “Good Morning America” contributor), and John Farley, brother of Chris Farley (“SNL,” Tommy Boy, Beverly Hills Ninja). John discusses being an actor, growing up with Chris Farley, and what it was like to lose him.

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“I am thrilled to collaborate with Gravitas Ventures for the release of Meet Me Where I Am,” director Grant Garry said in a statement. “This film is a testament to the power of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit. It was important for me to let people know that it’s perfectly normal to be sad, to be in pain, and it’s okay to not ‘get over it.’ My hope is that people can find new meaning in their lives as they move forward with their grief.”

“Gravitas is honored to be bringing the incredibly moving and impactful documentary Meet Me Where I Am to audiences this May,” Bill Guentzler, SVP of acquisitions and operations, said in a statement. “Through sincere interviews and personal stories, director Grant Garry presents a guide for humanity to come together and process grief.”

Meet Me Where I Am premiered at Dances with Films film festival in Los Angeles 2023, where it took home the Audience Award for Best Documentary. 

Q&A: ‘Stormy’ Editor Inbal B. Lessner Discusses Film Portrait of Trump Accuser Stormy Daniels Streaming on Peacock

The documentary Stormy, which debuted March 18 on the streaming service Peacock, pulls back the curtain on Stormy Daniels, following her as she navigates both motherhood and her personal life amidst the media circus surrounding her and the hush money offer from Donald Trump prior to his election as President of the United States. The film debuts as the so-called “hush money trial,” involving allegations Trump paid Daniels to cover up marital infidelity, is set to kick off in New York April 15.

Inbal B. Lessner (Courtesy of Inbal B. Lessner)

As lead editor on the project, Inbal B. Lessner combed through hundreds of hours of footage from 2018, helping to reframe the story from Stormy’s perspective. Executive-produced by Judd Apatow, Stormy introduces audiences to its title figure at a pivotal moment in her life. Still grappling with the scandal that made her an unlikely American icon, Stormy is now working to reinvent herself as an artist and activist more than five years later.

Media Play News asked Lessner — who is hot off her success as executive producer/showrunner/editor on Netflix’s 2023 award-winning cult expose docuseries Escaping Twin Flames — about the process of telling Daniels’ story. 

MPN: Describe your discussions with director Sarah Gibson about assembling/focusing Stormy. What was your guiding philosophy?

Lessner: Sarah was interested in going beyond the one-dimensional and all-too-prevalent “Porn Star Stormy Daniels” headlines and paint a multilayered picture of Stormy as a mother, wife, artist, activist … a fully-fleshed woman who pulled herself out of poverty and neglect to become a very successful writer/director in the adult film industry by the time she was 27, when she met then-60-year-old-reality-TV-host Trump at a 2006 golf tournament. Sarah was genuinely curious about how Stormy’s upbringing and youth shaped who she was when she entered his hotel room, how it informed her behavior, and how she dealt with the “hush payment” scandal over the last five years as a result of that encounter.

These questions guided our search for interview clips and for moments in the verité footage that would reveal her unique motivation, her childhood trauma, and her near-obsession with telling the truth, even at a cost to her own safety and peace. And, with Sarah having such unique access, Stormy could finally define herself in her own words, and tell the full story from her authentic perspective.

MPN: What elements did you have to work with in assembling Stormy?

Lessner: We were fortunate to have a wealth of material. We had Sarah Gibson’s key interview, as well as beautiful footage she filmed with Stormy at home looking at photos and documents, with her daughter, her husband and her horses, and also her speaking engagements in Europe. We had of course a mountain of archival footage, national network and cable news, as well as local news stations reporting about Stormy’s strip club tour, plus clips from talk shows and from her ‘SNL’ appearance, and paparazzi videos and photos.

In addition to all this, Sarah received exclusive footage from three different people who had followed Stormy in the past, but never finished their projects. This provided us with a peek into who Stormy was in 2006, around the time she met Trump, as well as a behind-the-scenes view of the months right after the story broke in 2018.

Finally, our archival producer sourced more rare videos, photos, headlines and even text messages and tweets related to Stormy’s family and career, to Trump, and to the scandal, so that we can put together this rich visual tapestry of how it all played out in Stormy’s private life and in the American media, leading eventually to Trump’s historical indictment.

My partner-editor Ben Kaplan and I, along with our lead assistant editor Moriah Dobos, had to come up with strategies to organize all the footage in a way that would be easy to recall and find. It was not easy to keep track of everything!

MPN: Were there any elements that were hard to incorporate? Did anything have to be left on the “cutting room floor” that you would have liked to include?

Lessner: Everyone on the team had their favorite moments. I personally like to keep the films I edit tight, and at the end I was ready to let go of scenes that others on the team insisted on keeping, and so I must say there isn’t a whole lot that was left on the cutting room floor. The legal details were important to get right, and they are all intertwined and built on each other, so we couldn’t cut any corners there, but we tried to add humor and drama to the way the information was conveyed and give the larger context so that the viewers don’t drown in the details. There were a couple more scenes about specific strip club appearances, but those got collapsed into one montage, where you just get a sense that Stormy and her team are traveling around the country throughout 2018, and we focus on how that impacts Stormy’s family, and how the club patrons are changing as she becomes more politicized.

MPN: What was/were the most difficult sequence/s to edit?

Lessner: I think the opening of the film went through the most revisions, as is often the case with documentaries. We had so many things to set up and put in motion. Sarah Gibson was incredibly creative in how she kept rewriting and reimagining the opening with us. It was critical to meet Stormy in the present day to set the stakes of the indictment, but also let her character and humor shine through so that people would care enough to lean in and go on this journey with her.

The Lake Tahoe hotel room sequence where Stormy recalls the sexual encounter with Trump was also a tricky scene to craft. We always knew that it was a key piece and that we had to get there quickly, but there was so much information we had to establish about her childhood and her upbringing to make sense of the dynamic between Stormy and Trump. In the end we broke the scene into two parts. We let Stormy tell the story early in the film, in the chronological order of events, as if it’s 2006 and she’s recalling being 27 years old and her perspective about it at that time. About an hour later in the film, when we’re in 2018 and Stormy talks about writing her book and reliving everything that happened to her, she goes back in her memory to that hotel room and this time she has a different perspective of a mature woman and a mother living in today’s world, post #MeToo. By now we’ve all heard similar “casting couch” stories and I believe we can understand the power imbalance in that room and how her past played a role in her “fawning” response. It took us a while to find the right place for that second part and get it just right. I’m very happy with it. 

MPN: What do you hope viewers take away from Stormy?

Lessner: Sarah Gibson calls it “radical empathy.” When you realize that someone who was reduced to a clickbait headline is actually incredibly brave and resilient, and you can open your mind and heart to them — that type of empathy is what we need today, and what we hope people will take away that goes beyond learning about Stormy. 

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MPN: Congrats on the ACE Award for Escaping Twin Flames! What was most fulfilling and/or challenging about that project?

Lessner: Thank you! I created “Escaping Twin Flames” with my producing partner Cecilia Peck, who also directed the series. I am very proud of my role as a Showrunner in charge of post-production. It was a herculean effort by our edit team to distill over 1,000 hours of footage into a compelling narrative and a scathing profile of “Twin Flames Universe,” while honoring the former and current members, as well as the mothers who agreed to share their painful stories with us. If you’ve seen the show, you know that people were indoctrinated and then coerced to change their gender in this cult. We’ve had to walk a very fine line to show and explain how it happened, without feeding the dangerous right-wing narrative that transgenderism is a cult. We support trans rights, and we really hope that this abusive group will be stopped.

Doc ‘Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion’ Headed to HBO, Max April 9

The HBO original documentary Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion  debuts April 9 at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO and will be available to stream on Max.
 
Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Eva Orner and produced by double Emmy-winning Jonathan Chinn and double Academy Award-winning Simon Chinn of Lightbox (HBO’s “The Princess” and “Tina”), the documentary looks into the retailer Brandy Melville, which in the early Tumblr era of the 2010s became the must-have clothing brand for young girls across the world. Through a calculated social media presence and promoting an unattainable aesthetic, fueled by Instagram campaigns featuring its own employees and select “Brandy girls,” Brandy Melville conferred a sense of coolness to the teens who wore the tiny “one size fits most” clothes that quickly exploded and today has nearly 100 stores in more than 15 countries and more than 80 cities worldwide. However, candid interviews with former employees and fashion insiders, as well as troubling accounts from former executives, reveal a troubling toxic work environment and discriminatory recruiting methods at the company and shed light on the inner workings of a business that flourished by setting impossible beauty standards on social media and in real life for its customers and employees.

Behind the scenes, an environment of alleged discriminatory work practices thrived by preying on the desires of young girls to fit into the Brandy Melville aesthetic. Broadening its focus, the film examines the far-reaching reverberations of mass-produced fast fashion by Brandy Melville and other mainstream fashion brands, as well as the consequences of the collective increase in consumption and production of cheap clothing, traveling to Accra, Ghana, a destination for discarded textiles that end up polluting landfills and waters. From the microcosm of one cult-like brand to the universal detriments of disposable clothing, Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion exposes a wide system of exploitation within the global fashion industry.

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Featured participants include former Brandy Melville employees and former executives; investigative journalist Kate Taylor; former Teen Vogue fashion editor Alyssa Hardy; The Or Foundation’s Liz Ricketts, Sammy Oteng and Chloe Asaam; CEO of Remake Advocacy Group Ayesha Barenblat; Matteo Biffoni, mayor of Prato, Italy; CEO of Textile Exchange Claire Bergkamp; and Manteco s.p.a. executives Matteo Mantellassi, Marco Mantellassi, and Franco Mantellassi.

 

Documentary ‘Nova: A.I. Revolution’ Debuts on PBS March 27

The “Nova” program “A.I. Revolution” will debut on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS app March 27.

The documentary asks the question: Can we harness the power of artificial intelligence to solve the world’s most challenging problems without creating an uncontrollable force that ultimately destroys us? ChatGPT and other new A.I. tools can now answer complex questions, write essays, and generate realistic-looking images in a matter of seconds. They can even pass a lawyer’s bar exam. Should we celebrate? Or worry? Or both? Correspondent Miles O’Brien investigates how researchers are trying to transform the world using A.I., hunting for big solutions in fields from medicine to climate change.

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“There’s been a lot of media coverage of people’s fears of A.I. and the idea that it could one day turn against us,” Nova co-executive producer Julia Cort said in a statement. “At the same time, many scientists we’ve talked to are excited and optimistic, convinced that A.I. will help us build a substantially better, healthier future. We hope this film will provide audiences with a deeper understanding of the technology, so they can make informed decisions about the best path forward.”

“The conversation around A.I. in our world is changing rapidly every day,” O’Brien said in a statement. “‘A.I. Revolution’ aims to show people what this new technology is capable of, as well as some of the concerns that emerge when you are creating something that has the power to perceive things far beyond the scope of our own understanding of the world.”

The program dives into how scientists have modeled A.I. to mimic the human brain in so-called neural networks on powerful supercomputers. The film highlights the development of AlphaGo, software created to play the Chinese board game, Go — a notoriously complex strategy game. Tasked with beating reigning champion Lee Sedol, A.I. researcher Mustafa Suleyman details the strategies that the team at DeepMind employed to coach AlphaGo to victory — taking inspiration from the way human brains work. Researchers trained AlphaGo with a large data set of expert Go games so that it could learn how the game is played. Then, the software played against itself millions of times. Not only did AlphaGo beat Sedol, but the software made a completely novel move — so creative that some initially believed it to be a mistake.

The power of A.I. to recognize complex patterns and make predictions has already grown beyond the capacity of the human brain in several key areas, opening up major opportunities in many fields, including medicine. Using pattern recognition software similar to AlphaGo along with deep learning models, theoretical chemist Petrina Kamya and her team at biotech startup Insilico Medicine are developing new drugs by predicting protein structures significantly faster than human researchers were previously able to. Additionally, the film follows Miles — whose left arm was amputated after an accident a decade ago — as he visits a bioengineering company called CoApt. The company has developed a machine learning algorithm that can interpret faint electromyographic (EMG) signals from amputees to allow them more control of myoelectric limbs. CEO Blair Lock attached Miles to a virtual prosthetic depicted on a screen, in order to begin the process of training the AI model which will be in his new arm.

Beyond drug discovery and prosthetics, the film explores several other ways that A.I. is transforming science. Computer scientist Regina Barzilay at Massachusetts General Hospital has trained a neural network to detect breast cancer from mammograms years before they are detectable by human eyes with over 85% accuracy. A.I. is also being used to help detect lung cancer. Lives are even being saved from natural disasters, as A.I. is now being deployed in California to detect wildfires early before they rage out of control. 

In addition to these hopeful stories, “A.I. Revolution” also presents some of the threats that A.I. poses to our society. Miles speaks with Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at U.C. Berkeley, on the rise of A.I.-generated deep fake videos featuring false impersonations of any individual. To demonstrate, Hany creates two deep fake videos of Miles — one showing an exact replica of Miles speaking words that the real Miles never spoke, and another placing Miles’s face on “The Terminator” from the blockbuster science-fiction franchise. Hany shares his concern that A.I. generated photos and videos will lead people to distrust the world around them.

While deep fakes are already starting to fool people, some fear that A.I. could cause far greater harm. Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer of A.I., deep learning, and neural networks, says that he has now shifted his research to focus solely on the threat A.I. poses to humankind. He, along with many other experts, signed a public statement saying that mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority.

“This is the perfect time for Nova to lift the veil on A.I. and provide a clear picture of what this technology is, how it works, what it can — and cannot — do, and explore the key potential risks and benefits,” Nova co-executive producer Chris Schmidt said in a statement. “‘A.I. Revolution’ is the newest installment in a story Nova has been following over the last fifty years, at a moment where researchers are at a crossroads — confronting thorny issues around regulation and ethics.” 

Experts in the program include Inflection AI CEO Mustafa Suleyman, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) director Daniela Rus, MIT CSAIL computer science professor Manolis Kellis, CoApt CEO Blair Lock, MIT CSAIL professor for AI and health Regina Barzilay, MIT CSAIL researcher Alexander Amini, head of AI Platforms and president of Insilico Medicine Canada Petrina Kamya, U.C. Berkeley professor of computer science Hany Farid, Cal Fire’s staff chief for fire intelligence Phillip SeLegueg, and A.I.pioneer, founder, and scientific director of the Mila-Quebec AI Institute Yoshua Bengio.

Doc ‘In the Company of Kings’ Due for Digital Purchase and Rental April 30, on DVD May 27 From Virgil

Virgil Films will release the documentary In the Company of Kings for digital rental (VOD) and sale (EST) April 30, and on DVD May 27.

In the Company of Kings follows a fight fan’s journey into the dark heart of American boxing to talk to eight former World Champs and those closest to his hero Muhammad Ali about race, struggle, victory, defeat and picking yourself up off the canvas.

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The documentary features Larry Holmes, Bernard Hopkins, Tim Witherspoon, Earnie Shavers, the Spinks brothers, Bob Arum and more.