In our blog’s ongoing series of former EPs writing about POV’s 30th anniversary, Simon Kilmurry recalls how he first came across POV as a viewer. “Transported into worlds of which [he] was almost completely unaware,” some of POV’s earliest documentaries became Kilmurry’s own film school.
Read his full letter below:
I first became aware of POV as a viewer. I would watch the series on Channel Thirteen in New York in the late 1980s and early ’90s and be transported into worlds of which I was almost completely unaware, and be exposed to forms of documentary storytelling that were exciting, new, challenging, sometimes transgressive, but always deeply engaging.
I still recall watching Silverlake Life by Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin in 1993 and feeling like a guest into the Los Angeles home of two lovers caring for each other as they died of AIDS. I remember “meeting” Gary in Lisa Leeman’s groundbreaking and taboo-breaking story Metamorphoses: Man into Woman in 1990 at a time when transgender stories were broadcast nowhere on national television except POV.
Watching these and many other POV movies stayed with me and they changed me. It is that change that opened my eyes to the power of nonfiction storytelling in the hands of the independent filmmaker.
Life is full of fortunate serendipity, and I was luck enough to join the POV team in 1999 as managing director. I got to work under the tutelage of former executive producers Ellen Schneider and Lisa Heller. I got to know the man with the bold vision behind the series in the first place, Marc Weiss. And shortly thereafter I had the privilege of working with executive producer Cara Mertes. Meeting and working with these people, watching POV films—and subsequently films that were submitted for POV’s consideration—was my film school. It was and remains an immersive and rewarding dive into the human experience in all its illuminations and sometimes darkness.
I was lucky to be appointed executive producer in 2007. It was an exciting and daunting responsibility. By that time POV had expanded beyond a series that acquired finished films and was actively engaged in co-producing and working with filmmakers at many stages of production. But I had great teachers and wonderful colleagues, and it was POV’s collaborative, open and generous spirit that allowed us to build on the great work that had been done previously.
Independent documentary films are not a one-way street, and we embraced that at POV. We invested heavily in community engagement (once called “outreach” and long before it was called “impact”), with the knowledge that these stories sparked dialogue and perhaps opened hearts.
It is also not a static form. Filmmakers were restlessly searching for new ways to tell stories, to be more engaged, “interactive” and connected with audiences. And it is that work that was supported by POV Interactive—subsequently transformed in POV Digital—to explore new forms of nonfiction storytelling.
But my heart has always been with the people I got to know through the films and the bold filmmakers who dedicated years of their lives, and often life savings, to make our lives richer. I cannot imagine my life without the stories brought to us by Lourdes Portillo and Natalia Almada, without Marshall Curry and Stephanie Wang-Breal, without Pam Yates, Marco Williams and Lixin Fan and hundreds of others. Through them I have traveled the globe and am immensely richer for that.
It is POV’s enduring legacy and the one constant that will carry it into the future – that the vision of filmmakers will always be at its center. I always felt my role at POV was as something of a temporary caretakers, and sometimes fierce protector, of a vital part of our public square that would honor the stories of the afflicted and marginalized, celebrate the unfathomable strength of ordinary people, hold those in power to account.
POV has been and remains vital part of our collective story, and as long as there are brave filmmakers telling the stories of our world POV will continue to push boundaries and make the world a better place.