P.O.V. presents smorgasbord of documentaries


IF IT weren't for the inventive PBS series P.O.V., it is doubtful that any of the three excellent films on tap tonight would be seen by anyone other than their makers, some close family members, perhaps a professor or two, and maybe the occasional sparse crowd sitting on folding chairs at a local library at some political meeting, cultural gathering or film festival.

For all three of the works that are featured on tonight's edition of P.O.V. -- that's movie-making lingo for "point of view" -- are about a half hour in length. But they are not sitcomes, they are documentaries. Even the trendiest, artiest and most conscientious local movie-house operators are not exactly clamoring for half-hour documentaries.

So, it's up to PBS and, more specifically, P.O.V. to give them a home. "Twinsburg, OH: Some Kind of Weird Twin Thing," "Marc and Ann" and "Plena" can be seen tonight at 10 on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67.

"Twinsburg" leads off. On one level, this is a look at the semi-sideshow atmosphere of a yearly convention of twins that seems to be an attempt by this Ohio burg to take advantage of its name and attract a few hundred people to town once a year to pump up the local economy.

On another level, it's a personal journey by student filmmaker Sue Marcoux to come to grips with the relationship she has with her twin sister, Michelle. During its 30 minutes you learn that the two have not seen each other in a year, and that they separated in anger.

Sue lives in San Francisco -- she's made this movie for her master's degree at Stanford -- Michelle lives in New York. Twinsburg was neutral ground for their reconciliation, where they would once again both celebrate and struggle against the bonds that irrevocably link them.

As you might expect at a twins convention, you find a lot of twins who are really into being twins. There are twins who married twins, teen-age twins who have agreed to have a double TC wedding and never separate, twins who became nuns together, elderly tandem-bike-riding twin men who just bought the old family home together and would only consider marrying twins because no one else would understand their relationship, and so on.

But, as Sue and Michelle talk to these people, eventually you realize that they are seeking to get beneath the voyeuristic, freak-show aspects of the venture, to get to the substance of what ties twins together so they can learn more about what ties them together. It's an interesting exploration.

"Marc and Ann" is a film by Les Blank about one of these too-good-to-be-true couples. The Savoys live on a rambling farm in Louisiana and have devoted their lives to raising three kids and preserving Cajun music and culture.

She's compiled a book on the subject. He makes Cajun-type accordions by hand. He also plays the instrument. She plays the guitar. They sing the old songs at friendly folk festivals. In fact, they met at the National Folk Festival on the mall in Washington when he said something to her in Cajun-style French about her freckles looking like a turkey's egg then took her dancing. They are both intelligent, articulate, attractive people. Stop me if this is getting to be too much.

Actually, they seem like awfully nice folks if a touch smug about the purity of the culture they are preserving, which, in fact, has picked up all sorts of influences everywhere the Cajuns went -- France, Canada and Louisiana.

And, though the Savoys might not like it -- and someone does need to fight against the possibly overwhelming invasion of the commercially successful -- Cajun culture continues to pick up new influences. Indeed, it will probably continue to evolve and thrive even as it encompasses what some, including the Savoys, would see as impurities. Meanwhile, enjoy the music and yearn for the lifestyle.

"Plena" is also about music and culture. Its title refers to a form of singing among Puerto Ricans that seems to have a role somewhere between rap music and the ballads of the wandering minstrels.

Filmmakers Pedro Rivera and Susan Zeig show Puerto Ricans in their native country and in New York singing out songs about local events and happenings -- the types of things often ignored by the major media -- in a style that at times puts sorrowful lyrics to this joyous, infectious beat.

While Rivera and Zeig work a bit too hard to give plena a consciously political meaning, they do effectively document this interesting niche in a sub-culture that, like so many such bits of the American perennial garden, flourishes right in front of us, yet goes unseen.

P.O.V. provides an interesting smorgasbord tonight, one that, unlike most 90 minutes of prime time, won't leave you feeling hungry for some substance.

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