3 and 1/2 Minutes (2015)

Directed by Marc Silver. In US Documentary Competition, 2015 Sundance Film Festival. On Black Friday 2012 at a Florida gas station, Michael Dunn, a white middle-aged male, exchanged angry words with Jordan Davis, a suburban black teenager, over the volume of the music in the boy's car. Dunn fired 10 bullets at Davis' car and then fled, leaving Jordan Davis to die at the scene. Arrested the next day, Dunn claimed he shot in self defense. Thus began a long journey of unraveling the truth and understanding the difference between an actual threat and a perceived threat. 3 and 1/2 Minutes follows that journey, interweaving the night of the murder, Jordan's devastated parents, and what became known as the "loud music trial." The film is a powerful plea for understanding and tolerance in an increasingly diverse and tense America, while recent events have made the film urgently relevant. The music is an unusual blend: standup bass, hip-hop beats, piano, vibes, orchestral strings, and muted trumpet.

Marmato (2014)

Directed by Mark Grieco. Marmato is a town on a mountain in Columbia. The mountain happens to contain about 20 billion dollars in gold, which the townspeople have been mining using traditional methods for 500 years. But since 2006, a Canadian conglomerate has been buying up the mines, and with support from the government wants to move the people somewhere else and then level the mountain to get the gold using modern strip-mining methods. What they didn't expect is resistance from the people of Marmato. Thus what could have been a typical story of aggressors and victims has become a much more interesting struggle for a way of life. Mark spent 6 years making this film, and has been rewarded with a berth at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The music is for two guitars, marimba, strings, percussion and choir.

Paper Tigers (2014)

Directed by James Redford. This feature documentary follows six kids for a year at an "alternative" high school (allegedly too rough for the main public high school) in eastern Washington state. A few years ago, a new principal arrived to find unprecedented chaos and vowed to improve the situation -- in an unexpected way. He had learned about some new research on the effects of "ACEs" (adverse childhood experiences) on developing brains, and came up with a completely new discipline model for the school. As a result, the school was transformed: much less fighting, a huge increase in graduation rates and the number of kids going on to college. It's a genuinely inspiring look at how we can make a better society. For this score I had the luxury of being able to put together an all-star rock band: Will Bernard and Joe Gore on guitars, Reed Mathis on bass, and Matt Chamberlain on drums.

The Ends of the Earth (2013)

Directed by John Grabowska. This stunningly beautiful one-hour film gives us a glimpse into a world few humans have seen. The Alaska Peninsula is accessible only by water or air, and possesses a "notoriously miserable" climate. Yet its richness of landscape and wildlife is nothing short of spectacular: the Aleutian Range, with 20 active volcanoes; the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the result of the 20th century's largest volcanic eruption in 1912; glaciers, fjords, cloud niagaras, brown bears, sockeye salmon... and climate change, which is hitting Alaska and the arctic much harder and faster than most areas of the earth. The music is for chamber orchestra.

F-R-E-E (2013)

Directed by Suzanne LaFetra and David Collier. This film chronicles a year in the lives of five Oakland teenagers who audition for and are accepted into the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company. Only twenty teens are accepted into the program each year, and over the course of the year they collaboratively create a dance/theater performance. These kids have serious challenges in their lives, but they bring tremendous honesty and courage to the work, and the results are beautiful and very moving. The music is scored for beats, synthesizers, vocal trio and jazz string trio.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia (2012)

Directed by James Redford. In this eye-opening HBO documentary, we learn not only about some of the difficulties inherent in being dyslexic, but also some unexpected strengths. Through interviews with various people with dyslexia, including some very prominent folks such as David Boies, Richard Branson, and Gavin Newsom, a picture emerges of what it's like to perceive the world in a slightly different way, and how seeing things differently might lead to a fuller picture of the world. The film is scored with guitars, viola, cello, drums and synthesizers.

Rebels With a Cause (2012)

Produced and edited by Kenji Yamamoto, produced and directed by Nancy Kelly. This beautiful, inspiring film demonstrates that persistent, committed, caring people can indeed change the world. In the 1950s, unconvinced by land developers who invariably promoted residential construction as the only proper use of undeveloped land, citizens began banding together to preserve open space near urban areas for parks and farms. Beginning in Marin County in California, they managed to create a system of National Seashores, as well as the concept of agricultural land trusts. The fight was often touch and go and took a long time, but the results are spectacular. The music is for the Turtle Island String Quartet and bluegrass group, and includes some original compositions by David Balakrishnan.

Symphony of the Soil (2012)

Directed by Deborah Koons Garcia. Alive with countless complex processes and interdependencies, soil makes everything on this planet work. This film explores not only its ancient origins, but also the latest cutting-edge science that can show us the way to heal an ailing planet. Beautifully shot, exhaustively researched, Deborah has made a passionate film that can truly make a difference. The music is for chamber symphony and world music elements.

The Silence (2011)

Directed by Tom Curran. In this Frontline documentary, a little-known chapter of the Catholic Church sex abuse story is revealed: decades of abuse of Native Americans by priests and other church workers in Alaska. The film focuses on one village, St. Michael, where in the late 1960s and 1970s an appalling number of boys and girls were abused. The children had nowhere to turn: in that time abuse by priests was unthinkable, and generally the parents believed the priests' denials rather than their kids' accusations. The result: decades of pain and anger, inevitably passed along to the next generations. But the film offers something unique: as a result of pressure from one brave victim and a dogged pursuit of justice by an Achorage attorney, the Bishop of Fairbanks is forced to personally apologize to all the victims, affording some of them a modicum of relief. The film documents this process, to moving effect. The music is for bassoon, clarinet and synth textures.

Tokyo Waka (2011)

Directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson. This is a spare, beautiful poem of a film about Tokyo, its people, and the 20,000 crows that also make it their home. The crows amount to an often unwelcome reminder of a rowdy, chaotic natural world that seems at odds with a carefully ordered civilization. Yet somehow we gradually come to see a necessary, if uneasy, balance. Beautifully photographed, impeccably edited and sparsely scored, the film is unusual, rigorous, and very satisfying. The score is realized with synthesizers and percussion.

The Welcome (2011)

Directed by Kim Shelton. Dismayed by the perennial gulf between returning veterans and the communities they rejoin after the traumas of war, Kim Shelton and her husband Bill McMillan started The Welcome Home Project. This film shows the process they organized in their home city of Ashland, Oregon to try to make a difference. A group of veterans was invited to join a five-day healing retreat to face, share and attempt to transform their psychic wounds into poetry and songs. They then held an evening at a local theater at which each of them gave a brave, deeply moving performance, inviting the audience to begin to understand their pain and finally welcome them home. The music is for guitar and string quintet.

Have You Heard From Johannesburg? (2010)

Directed by Connie Field. This is a seven-part series chronicling the worldwide struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Comprehensive, multi-faceted, fascinating and inspiring, it offers proof that change is possible, if the cause is just and sufficient pressure is applied. In my opinion, it should be required viewing in schools, union halls and living rooms all over the world. Fortunately, it's slated to air on PBS' Independent Lens series during the 2011-12 season. I wrote the series theme and scored two of the seven films, which also feature South African and international pop songs.

In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee (2010)

Directed by Deann Borshay Liem. This intense, personal film unfolds like a mystery story. The filmmaker is a Korean adoptee who came to the US as an eight-year-old girl in 1966. She knew her name was not Cha Jung Hee, but she was told to keep her true identity a secret from her new American family, and soon she began to forget who she had been. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? About ten years ago those questions began to gnaw at her, and she decided to go back to Korea to try to answer them. The result is this moving, searching film that satisfies and provokes on many levels. The music is a true East-West marriage, with seed material both Korean and American. I had the pleasure of working again with Jiebing Chen on erhu, as well as Dohee Lee on percussion and vocals. Strings, harp, and kayagum (a Korean zither) are also featured.

Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives (2010)

Directed by Nancy Kelly. Co-produced and edited by Kenji Yamamoto. This feature documentary profiles Chicago's Albany Park Theater Project. APTP works with young teens, each season developing and performing a play based on the life story of one of the kids. In this film we meet 17-year-old Marlin, haunted by rape, drug addiction and attempted suicide. We follow the staff and young members of APTP as they turn her story into a searing, beautiful play, and in the process Marlin finds a way to a healthy life. It's a wonderful, moving film that memorably demonstrates the transformative power of art. The music features voice, guitar, percussion and strings.

The Insular Empire (2009)

Directed by Vanessa Warheit. This film tells the story of the Mariana Islands, which include the U.S. Territory of Guam and the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Through archival footage and interviews with four residents of the Marianas who have very different views of their relationship to the US, we begin to see that America has a long way to go to live up to its ideals as a democracy. My co-composer Alex Lu and I worked with a wonderful singer and ukulele player from Saipan, Gus Kaipat, on the score.

Mine (2009)

Directed by Geralyn Pezanoski. This feature documentary examines the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from a unique perspective: when the storm hit, most residents expected to be able to return home in a few days as usual. But circumstances conspired to make that impossible, and as a result many thousands of pets were left with insufficient food and water. Many were rescued, but then how to re-unite them with their owners, whose lives had been so devastated? The film follows a number of stories in which the results differ dramatically, from tearful reunions to recriminations and custody battles. The people in the film are wonderful, and the issues the film examines are fascinating. The film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival in 2009. Alex Lu and Mark Orton worked with me on this score, which features Mark's unique and beautiful guitar work prominently.

She is the Matador (2009)

Directed by Gemma Cubero and Celeste Carrasco. Eva Florencia, from Florence, has been struck with a passionate desire to bullfight since early childhood, and runs away to Spain at age sixteen. Maripaz Vega is well-established as a bullfighter in Spain, but still finds it hard to make a living in a sport that for centuries has been associated with masculinity. In this one-hour documentary, we follow their lives against a backdrop of the history of women bullfighters. The footage is beautiful and dramatic, the women are brave, and their lives take some suprising turns in this wonderful film. It will show in the US on POV on September 1, 2009. The music is for string quartet with bass, piano, and percussion.

The Alzheimers Project: Caregivers (2009)

Directed by Bill Couturié. This is the fourth film in HBO's massive effort, "The Alzheimer's Project", focusing on the people who take care of their loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. As usual with Bill's films, the people in teh film are wonderful, candid, and unusually giving of themselves on camera, making for an affecting portrait of some brave folks facing great difficulty. HBO took the unusual step of making the series available to everyone, not just subscribers, when it was aired in May of 2009. The music is scored for guitars and synthesizers.

Blessed is the Match (2008)

Directed by Roberta Grossman. This feature documentary tells the story of Hannah Senesh. Hannah was a Hungarian Jew who, discriminated against in school and inspired by the idea of Zionism, emigrated to Palestine in 1939 at the age of 17. Her mother remained in Budapest. In 1944, as the Nazis were about to invade Hungary, she joined a group of Palestinians who parachuted behind enemy lines to try to help Eastern European Jews escape. She was caught, tortured by the Gestapo, imprisoned with her mother in Budapest, and eventually executed. She leaves behind a rich body of poetry and a diary, and is a famed and beloved figure in Isarael. The score is for full orchestra, performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

Butte America (2008)

Directed by Pamela Roberts. This is a history of copper mining in Butte, Montana, and a fascinating history it is. Taking us from the discovery of copper in the "richest hill on earth" to the present day, it's a history of the American industrial revolution and the labor movement in microcosm. At its peak as a mining town, Butte was a thriving metropolis of 90,000, and now it's a ghost town with North America's largest toxic lake. It would be a sad story but for the wonderful cast of characters we meet, who really loved the mining life despite its myriad dangers. The score is for guitars, hammer dulcimer, accordion, percussion, string quartet and bass.

Heroes and History (2008)

Directed by Steven Schecter. Featuring James March. This film takes a detailed look at Leo Tolstoy's novel "War and Peace" as a source of ideas for modern leaders. The main argument of the film is that "War and Peace" was an extended rhetorical refutation of the Great Man theory of history -- the idea that history is really made by extraordinary men, and the "little people" just ride helplessly along. Instead we are given examples of the ways in which Tolstoy shows that leaders merely take credit for the collective actions of common men, as a result of managing to be in the right place at the right time. The score is for chamber orchestra.

Angel of Ahlem (2007)

Directed by Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts. This feature documentary tells the story of Vernon Tott, who, on April 10, 1945 as a member of the 84th Infantry, chanced upon the Ahlem slave labor camp outside Hanover, Germany. Overwhelmed, horrified, and with very little sense of the scope of the Holocaust, Vernon snapped pictures of the starving, emaciated survivors of the camp with a second-hand camera he had with him. Those pictures remained in his basement in a shoebox until, 50 years later, one of the survivors of the camp put a notice in a newsletter asking after the man who took them. Vernon saw the posting, responded, and was soon on a journey to find the other survivors and offer them his photographic proof of where they had been so long ago. the music is for clarinet, violin, harp, and strings.

Beautiful Son (2007)

Directed by Don and Julianne King. Don and Julianne's son Beau was a happy, healthy boy until nearly the age of 3, at which time he began to avoid eye contact and withdraw. The increasingly frantic parents began a now-familiar journey in search of a diagnosis, and finally were told Beau has autism. Desperate to help Beau and understand his condition, they began to reach out to the parents of other autistic children and found a large, vital community struggling to help their kids and find answers to what causes the condition. There is an epidemic of autism in the United States, but the answers as to what causes it and how to avoid it remain both elusive and fiercely contentious. Fortunately it is possible to help the kids with a lot of hard work and dedication, and Beau is doing better and better. The film first aired in April of 2008 on PBS. The music is for guitar, violin, cello, and synthesizers.

Hard Problems (2007)

Directed by George Csicsery. Every year, 250,000 of the best high school math students in America compete in a series of gruelling tests in the hopes of becoming members of a U.S. team of six that will go to the International Math Olympiad. This feature documentary follows the 2006 U.S. team to the contest in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at which they capture a number of medals. The kids are quirky, fun, obviously brilliant, and infectiously in love with the beauty they see in mathematics. The music is for string quartet, bass and piano, and features some old friends: members of the Turtle Island String Quartet. My assistant, Alex Lu, composed half the score and shares credit with me.

Soldiers of Conscience (2007)

Directed by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan. Narrated by Peter Coyote. This feature documentary puts before us, in a fair-minded and compelling manner, the issue of killing in war. Primarily five soldiers are profiled: two are on active duty in Iraq when they decide to apply for Conscientious Objector status. One applies for CO status while on duty in the US. Another goes AWOL because he feels the war is illegal and unjust. Another teaches at West Point, serving a personal mission to try to give soldiers enough basis to believe that if they must kill in war, that it is justified. Everyone is thoughtful, well-spoken, and clear in their reasons for their beliefs, and the result is fascinating and illuminating. The music is for chamber orchestra with brass, and mixed choir.

Boffo! Tinseltown's Bombs and Blockbusters (2006)

Directed by Bill Couturié. Premiered on HBO in June 2006, this is a highly entertaining romp through the ups and downs of Hollywood filmmaking history, as told by the likes of Robert Evans, Peter Bogdanovich, Jodie Foster, George Clooney, Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman. Made in commemoration of the trade paper Variety's 100th anniversary, we learn yet again that there is no formula for success, and movie magic is as real and unpredictable as ever. The music is scored for small orchestra, with brass featured prominently in a number of chapter headings that play over montages of printing presses and flying headlines. The score was nominated for an Emmy.

Into the Fire (2006)

Directed by Bill Couturié. This film premiered on the History Channel in October of 2006. In it, we meet a wide variety of firefighters from urban, rural, and wildfire units, both professional and volunteer. They tell stories of their work lives, from humorous to grim and harrowing. As the portraits of these brave men and women accumulate, we begin to get a sense of what motivates them to so selflessly serve their communities: a sense of true belonging in those communities, and a wish that if it were their life that needed saving, there would be someone there to save it. The music is scored for a variety of plucked instruments including oud and guitar, mallet instruments, and a small string group.

Remaking American Medicine (2006)

Directed by Frank Christopher, Marc Shaffer and Matthew Eisen. Hosted by John Hockenberry. Shown on PBS in October of 2006. This series of four one-hour shows give an in-depth view of the current state of the American medical system. Focusing on serious problems that are being actively addressed by committed people, it's quite an eye-opener. The overall thrust is that medical errors that needlessly kill around 100,000 patients per year can be prevented, and existing resources can be used much more intelligently to create a more effective overall system. The music is for piano, guitar, and synthesizers.

Three Women and a Chateau (2006)

Directed by Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg. This feature-length documentary tells the story of the Carolands Mansion, one of the largest private residences in the United States. Designed by Ernest Sanson, it's a 98-room gem of the Beaux-Arts school, but in this day and age it's no longer practical as a single-family home. Unfortunately that's the only use for the building allowed by the town charter of Hillsborough, California, where it stands. Thus the dilemma for the present owners, Ann and Charles Johnson. The history of the house since its construction in 1910 has been a series of such dilemmas, brought to life in this lively, entertaining documentary. The music is scored for chamber orchestra and piano solo.

Ballets Russes (2005)

Directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine. This feature-length documentary traces the history of the Ballets Russes in its post-Diaghilev era. The tale is told by a stellar cast of the company's former dancers, impressively vivacious in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. Dame Alicia Markova, Frederick Franklin, Maria Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau, and Marc Platt are just a sampling of the raconteurs. This two-hour film flies by, is hilariously funny, and provides fantastic examples of lives supremely well-lived. We went to Sundance 2005 with the film, which was received extremely well. Plans for domestic and international distribution are in the works. The music was scored for chamber orchestra, and my friend David Conte was co-composer on the score.

Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action (2005)

Directed by Roberta Grossman. This feature-length film profiles the work of four Native American activists who are working hard to try to prevent or reverse environmental destruction on their respective reservations. These are the New Indian Wars, in which multinational corporations are trying to extract resources from the land with little or no regard for the health or culture of the people living there. Oil drilling in ANWR, dioxin pollution in the Penobscot river, uranium mining in New Mexico, and coal-bed methane drilling in Montana are shown to be dangerous and irresponsible, and the four activists profiled are seen fighting effectively to stop this encroachment on their tribes' sovereignty. The music is scored for strings, guitar, drums, flute, and electronics.

Smitten (2005)

Directed by Nancy Kelly. This half-hour documentary profiles eighty-five-year-old Rene di Rosa. Originally a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rene moved to the Napa Valley and grew grapes to feed the burgeoning wine industry, but didn't truly come into his own until he began collecting California art. His passion soon became an obsession, necessitating the selloff of his vineyards in order to buy and house the art he couldn't live without. Now with 2,000 pieces, he has the most important collection of California art anywhere, and the film culminates in the first traveling exhibition taken from his collection. The music has jazz and tango elements, and features accordion, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and my old friends the Turtle Island String Quartet.

Freedom Machines (2004)

Directed by Jamie Stobie. This one-hour documentary was first broadcast nationally on PBS in October 2004. The film profiles a number of people who use various technologies to mitigate their physical disabilities. High-tech wheelchairs, custom keyboards, computer screen-reading programs, and other aids are shown to be highly enabling, allowing people to live independent, full lives. But more awareness is needed to ensure that access to these technologies is available to those who need them. The score features marimba, piano, and synthesizers. Evelyn Glennie contributed some music to the score as well.

The Future of Food (2004)

Directed by Deborah Koons Garcia. This feature-length documentary argues passionately for caution in the use of biotech methods in agriculture. Step by step, the film details the dangers inherent in unleashing the seeds of what citizens in the European Union and other countries have dubbed "frankenfoods." We learn about the increasing power of multinational corporations, the rampant patenting of seeds and other life forms, and the squelching of research that suggests that genetically modified foods may not be safe. Finally, we explore the benefits and growing popularity of a movement toward sustainable agriculture. The music is highly varied, with orchestral, industrial, and folk elements.

Last Letters Home (2004)

Directed by Bill Couturié. A co-production of HBO and The New York Times in association with Life Books, this film will premiere on HBO on Veteran's Day, November 11, 2004. In it, we visit the families and loved ones of ten soldiers who have died in the Iraq war. The families read excerpts from letters written home from the battlefield. The letters are thoughtful, loving, and heartbreaking, and the film gives us a much-needed opportunity to grieve. The score features Paul McCandless on soprano saxophone and clarinet, Rufus Olivier III on bassoon, and local musicians on piano, harp and strings.

Alice Waters and her Delicious Revolution (2003)

Directed by Doug Hamilton. Alice Waters started a revolution in American food, by emphasizing fresh, local, organic ingredients at her world-famous Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse. This has led to an explosion of farmer's markets, organic produce in supermarkets, and a newfound awareness of the role of the farmer in our daily lives. This film, part of the American Masters series on PBS, aired in March 2003. The music is scored for piano, strings, acoustic guitars, and "bal musette" band: accordion, bass, guitar and clarinet.

Bloodlines: Technology Hits Home (2003)

Directed by Noel Schwerin. A woman, carrying twins for a couple as a surrogate, is abandoned by the couple two weeks before giving birth and doesn't even have custody of the twins she's carrying. A developmental biologist wants to patent a human-chimpanzee combination animal, or chimera, to force the Supreme Court to draw the line on what can be patented. A man is secretly subjected to genetic testing by his employer, who wants to escape responsibility for workplace injuries. The upshot is that medical technologies are raising urgent ethical and legal issues that have not been addressed. The music is for acoustic guitar, strings and synthesizer.

A Great Wonder (2003)

Directed by Kim Shelton. Some seventeen thousand children fled southern Sudan in 1989 when their parents were killed in the civil war. For eleven years they walked, and lived in refugee camps. They've come to be known as the "Lost Boys of Sudan". Some 4000 of them have now been resettled in the United States. In this film, we get to know three of these young people during their first 18 months in Seattle. Abraham, Santino, and Martha show extraordinary character and resources as they adjust to a reality that, on the surface at least, couldn't be more different from their early lives. The music features oud, accordion, guitar, strings and percussion.

Discovering Dominga (2002)

Directed by Patricia Flynn. This film tells the story of Denese Becker, nee Dominga Sic Ruiz. She grew up in a Mayan village in Guatemala until she was nine, when her parents were killed. Taken to an orphanage in Guatemala City, she was then adopted by a couple in Algona, Iowa, where she finished school, married, and had her own children. Haunted by memories of her early life, she eventually found her way back to her original extended family in Guatemala, and now is part of a movement seeking justice for the massacres that were so common in Guatemala's 36-year civil war. The music, for mixed chorus, percussion, guitar, marimba and fiddle, was performed primarily by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble.

Senorita Extraviada (2002)

Directed by Lourdes Portillo. This film delves into the mysteries of how over 200 young women could have been murdered in Juarez, Mexico since 1993, with not one of the cases solved. We were at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival with this film, where it won a Special Jury Prize. It went on to win awards at numerous other festivals, and was shown as part of PBS's POV series in August 2002. The music is scored for piano, string quartet with double bass, 2 marimbas, brass, percussion, and mixed choir.

Adrift (2001)

Directed by Tom Curran. Tom made this film partly to come to terms with grief he had been unable to feel since his father's early death when Tom was just 12. During the course of the film we learn about what held his feelings at bay, and how he was able to open to them. The film won a Special Jury Award at the Miami Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Anchorage Film Festival in 2002. The music features Kevin Burke on Irish fiddle, as well as a small orchestra.

Bellevue Inside Out (2001)

Directed by Maryann DeLeo. This film, for HBO's America Undercover series, marks the first time cameras were allowed to film inside Bellevue, probably America's most famous psychiatric hospital. We get a searing portrait of some very brave souls who live there, and doctors who are doing their best in a difficult world. The music is mostly electronic textures and rhythms.

Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians (2000)

Directed by Anne Makepeace. This is a beautiful portrait of an amazing man. Edward S. Curtis devoted his entire life to trying to photograph as many tribes of North American Indians as he possibly could before they disappeared. His portraits are justifiably famous and are well represented in the film, which aired on PBS in April 2001 as part of the American Masters series. We also went to the 2000 Sundance Film Festival with this film. The music is scored for piano, chamber strings, and percussion.

Old Enough to Know Better (2000)

Directed by Ron Levaco. The unusual story of the Fromm Institute in San Francisco, an institution of higher learning created by and for retired people, some in their 80s and 90s. Teachers and students are all learned, interesting people; this is a unique generation. The music features piano and string orchestra.

Teens (2000)

Directed by Gary Weimberg. This is the third in a series of documentaries about contemporary family sub-groups. Brave and honest interviews with teens who generously invite us into their lives. Aired as a special on the WB TV network. The music is in various contemporary styles, with synthesizers, electric instruments, and funk and hip hop influences.

The Story of Fathers and Sons (1999)

Directed by Gary Weimberg, Catherine Ryan, and Judith Leonard. Aired on ABC. The followup to "The Story of Mothers and Daughters", this continues in the same vein: variously humorous and heart-wrenching stories told honestly that illuminate the special relationships between fathers and sons. The music is quite varied, from strings and atmospherics to jazz and pop.

Forgotten Fires (1998)

Directed by Michael Chandler. This film explores the roots and consequences of the burning of two black churches in Clarendon County, South Carolina, in 1995. A young convert to the Ku Klux Klan who is in prison for the burning, other Klan members, and many others involved and affected are all interviewed, painting a very rich portrait of racism in the American South. The music is for strings, percussion, and electronic atmospheres.

Meltdown at Three Mile Island (1998)

Produced by Chana Gazit. Narrated by Liev Schreiber. This American Experience program tells the dramatic story of the week-long crisis at Three Mile Island in 1979 that turned the tide against nuclear power in the United States. The music is for chamber orchestra and electronics.

Regret to Inform (1998)

Directed by Barbara Sonneborn. In this film, nominated for an Academy Award, we follow Barbara's journey to Vietnam to try to come to terms with her husband's death in the war 20 years earlier. In the process, we hear the moving testimony of widows from both sides of the conflict. From the New York Times review: "unforgettable . . . so exquisitely filmed, edited and scored it is the documentary equivalent of a tragic epic poem." The music features numerous Vietnamese instruments, erhu (Chinese 2-string violin), cello, and chamber strings.

Kids of Survival: The Life and Art of Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (1997)

Directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine. Tim Rollins runs an extraordinary program in the South Bronx in which at-risk youths learn and practice art. The tough love is heartfelt and effective, the art is good (and has been exhibited in major museums) and the film is inspiring. Both the film and the score won Emmys. The music is highly varied, with sampled percussion, synthesizers, saxophone, bass, organ, and a bit of Chopin.

The Story of Mothers and Daughters (1997)

Directed by Gary Weimberg. Aired on ABC. The first in what would become a series of three, this film movingly explores what's unique about the mother-daughter relationship. Candid, tearful, joyful interviews with articulate and interesting women cover the cycle of life from birth to death. The music is varied, from chamber group to a version of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun".

Fear and Favor in the Newsroom (1996)

Directed by Beth Sanders. This film, narrated by Studs Terkel, sounds the alarm about a growing problem in our society: editorial choices by newpapers and other media outlets are increasingly influenced by business relationships, resulting in squelched or slanted stories. Chilling examples of recent problems at the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are recounted. The music is scored for piano and electronic textures and rhythms.

A Midwife's Tale (1996)

Directed by Richard P. Rogers. This film, for The American Experience, reconstructs the life of a midwife in Maine soon after the Revolutionary War. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote the book on which the film is based, describing in the book her work of deciphering the very matter-of-fact diary kept by Martha Ballard every day of her working life. The music is for baroque violin, harp, mountain dulcimer, guitar, flute, cello, bass, and percussion.

Street Soldiers (1996)

Directed by Avon Kirkland. Life is hard in San Francisco's Hunters Point neighborhood, but some very dedicated people are making a difference. The Omega Boys Club offers young African American men help in avoiding a life that can too often lead to incarceration and despair. The music, co-composed with Kevin Nash and rapper 3rd Rail, uses hip-hop rhythms and sounds and other electronic textures.

Chicago 1968 (1995)

Produced by Chana Gazit. The Democratic Convention in Chicago in August 1968 provided a nexus for enormous social and political upheaval. This American Experience program vividly tells the story of the convention, the Yippies, the riots, Mayor Daley's stronghand tactics, and the changes engendered by this turning point in American history. The music features processed electric guitar, natural and electronic textures, and chamber group.

Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom (1995)

Directed by Ron Levaco. Born in China, Ron left with his family as the revolution spread in 1949 when Ron was 10. In this film, he returns to China to try to understand the differences between his own life and the lives of the few foreigners who stayed, particularly his father's friend Israel Epstein. "Eppy" joined Mao's struggle, but then was jailed during the Cultural Revolution, yet persevered and stayed on as an honored foreign journalist. The music features the Chinese instruments erhu, pipa, and guzheng, along with piano and strings.

Violence: An American Tradition (1995)

Directed by Peter Kunhardt. This film, for HBO, traces the American propensity for violence, with a historical sweep ranging from the genocide against the native peoples all the way through to the problems in our cities today. The music ranges in style from fiddle music through brass bands to electronic textures and beats.

Loyalty and Betrayal: The Story of the American Mob (1994)

Directed by Bill Jersey and Gary Weimberg. This was a two-hour Fox Television history of the mob. Entertaining interviews abound; a former mob moll and a reformed drug dealer currently in Witness Protection are highlights. The music is multi-cultural (Irish, Jewish, and Italian mobs), loud, and violent.

Earth and the American Dream (1992)

Directed by Bill Couturié. This was a terrific, sweeping canvas for a score. The film begins with the arrival of Columbus on American shores and moves right up to present time, elucidating the environmental cost of the American Dream at all stages of our history. The score is for small orchestra and sampled and electronic textures, and was nominated for a CableAce Award.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

Directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper. Introducing Apocalypse Now at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola declared, "We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane". Using footage shot by Francis' wife Eleanor during the Apocalypse Now shoot, this documentary beautifully chronicles the whole insane process. The music uses percussion, strings, and brass, culminating in an obsessive waltz reminiscent of a Godfather theme gone mad.

Memorial: Letters From American Soldiers (1991)

Directed by Bill Couturié. This film was made as a kind of update and companion-piece for a re-airing of Couturié's much-lauded "Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam" on HBO. Nominated for an Academy Award, it consists of a series of short sections: one for each of the major wars of the 20th century. The music follows this scenario, taking one major theme and expressing it in a different arrangement for each era represented in the film.

Maria's Story (1990)

Directed by Monona Wali and Pamela Cohen. This passionate film, made during the Reagan era, follows Maria Serrano, a mother of three, who was a practical, charismatic leader in the guerilla movement fighting the US-supported government of El Salvador. The music features accordion, marimba, guitar and percussion.

Nixon (1990)

Executive produced by Elizabeth Deane. This is a 3-hour American Experience special on the one, the only, Richard Nixon. The last hour of the program is especially engaging, focussing on the downfall of his presidency. There's a lot of music, featuring processed bamboo flutes and pan pipes, electronic and natural textures, strings, processed piano, and synthesizers.

Waldo Salt: A Screenwriter's Journey (1990)

Directed by Eugene Corr and Robert Hillman. And what a journey it was! This American Masters program follows the extraordinary life of Waldo Salt. With some initial success in Hollywood, then blacklisted for 15 years, he came back to write the screenplays for Midnight Cowboy, Serpico, Day of the Locust, and Coming Home. The film was nominated for an Academy Award. The music features acoustic guitar along with a small chamber group.

Hearts and Hands (1988)

Directed by Pat Ferrero. This is a beautiful and uniquely-structured documentary following American history through the major changes of the 19th century from the perspective of women. There's a special emphasis on quilts, which illuminate the times in very interesting ways. The film was shown as part of the American Experience series on PBS. The majority of the music was composed by Janice Gitek; I composed some pieces that were primarily concerned with the Civil War era.

Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven (1988)

Directed by Jon Else. This exquisite documentary brings a very special poetic vision to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Narrated by Robert Redford, we are treated to a generous, humanistic portrait of a park being "loved to death". From the review in "Daily Variety: "...ace documentarian Jon Else and musician Todd Boekelheide create their own special mood...the film is simply gorgeous." The music is scored for bamboo flutes, strings, harp, horn, clarinet, and synthesizer.

Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (1987)

Directed by Bill Couturié. This is a very moving film. Adapted from the book by Bernard Edelman, it brings to life the everyday experiences of American grunts during the Vietnam war via letters written home, read by actors such as Harvey Keitel, Matt Dillon, Kathleen Turner, Ellen Burstyn, Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn...the list goes on. The original music is sparse, given the large number of pop songs in the film, but what's there features synthesizers and small chamber group.

Sheer Courage (1987)

Directed by Bob Elfstrom. This is a National Geographic portrait of an extraordinary young mountain climber who lost both his legs below the knee to frostbite, but engineered and built artificial replacements that allowed him to continue to pursue his passion. The music features piano in a minimalist style, accompanied by synthesizer and strings.

Contrary Warriors: A Story of the Crow Tribe (1985)

Directed by Pamela Roberts. This film illuminates the Crow Indians' continuing struggle to maintain their identity against all odds. The Crows' long-time leader Robert Yellowtail was a salty fighter who went to the U.S. Senate to save the Crows' land, and by the end of the film has brought a herd of buffalo back to roam the prairies again. The music consists of brass choir, fiddle, flutes, drums, and synthesizer textures.

A printer-friendly credits list can be found here.