Multi-episode doc set for PBS

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Gita Saedi

During her six year journey to discover “The New Americans,” Gita Saedi has crossed paths with some remarkable families who have made the most wrenching journey of all: leaving their native countries for the myriad opportunities and perils that make up life in the United States.?Some left by choice, others by force of unhappy fate.?And all reflect the complex face of contemporary immigration.

Saedi is the series producer for “The New Americans,” a multi-episode documentary?by Kartemquin Films, soon to be a PBS release. Budget was “well over a million dollars,” she says.

PBS is currently reviewing the mini-series rough cut. Their feedback, says Saedi, will have an impact on final length, number of installments and air dates.

The show is like “Hoop Dreams” in that it follows a story for many years, Saedi notes. “Only we tracked families from five different locations, for six years.”

Even more remarkable than the sheer scope, complexity and expense of the project is the fact that the Kartemquin team began their relationships with the families before they arrived in America.?Five separate directorial groups captured the decision-making process, preparation, heartbreaking departures and great expectations of these families who left loved ones and all sense of stability behind.

The families — from Nigeria, India, the West Bank of Israel, Dominican Republic and Mexico — were chosen after consultation with advisors and a lot of brainstorming.?

Instead of featuring one family’s story or one native location per episode, “The New Americans” takes a less conventional route by interweaving all stories in every installment. The goal is to illustrate the differences and commonalties of each family’s experiences over the years.?

“There are definitely some universal challenges and hopes,” says Saedi.?”And you definitely develop relationships,” says Saedi.?She cites Kartemquin principal and “New Americans” executive producer/director Steve James as “a genius” when it comes to balancing objectivity with involvement, as he did with “Stevie,” a doc recounting his 1980s Advocate Big Brother stint with an abused, troubled teenaged boy.?

The series has already penetrated the academic world.?Two years ago, PBS selected “The New Americans” to be the first non-science program in its “Online Learning Adventure” program for children in grades 7-12.?A nationwide webcast brought chapters of immigrant stories into the classroom via live feeds from the Kartemquin crews in Nigeria, the Dominican Republic and other stops along the journey.

Executive producer/director credits are also shared by fellow Kartemquinites Gordon Quinn and Peter Gilbert.

“The New Americans” was shot on tape (various formats) and edited at Kartemquin.?Major funding has come through the MacArthur Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. They are hoping to raise more money than the initial budget.

Saedi graduated the University of Illinois in 1991 and spent the following year in Ireland producing a mini-series.?She then moved to New York where she coordinated short firms for the JFK Museum, projects for CBS Entertainment, and was a production office manager on Ken Burns’ “The West.”?She moved back to her native Chicago but spent much of her time on the road shooting for PBS, UK’s Ch. 4 and Disney.?She currently works out of her Montana home.

Contact Gita Saedi at gita@kartemquin.com.?Kartemquin Films’ Web site, http://www.kartemquin.com, includes links to “The New Americans” and other projects in the works. – Joan Tortorici Ruppert

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