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SOCIAL-JUSTICE ADVOCATE. Wrestling with Angels follows Pulitzer and Tony-Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner as he searches for the great American play in the years following the September 11 attacks. Pictured are Tony Kushner (right) and director Freida Lee Mock. (Photo/Gary Leonard, courtesy of P.O.V.)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #49 (December 4, 2007), page 12.

Wrestling with crazy and cool coincidence

Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner

Directed by Freida Lee Mock

Produced for P.O.V. by the American Film Foundation

and Sanders & Mock Productions

By Ronault L.S. Catalani

The November 12 national broadcast of Wrestling with Angels concludes the 20th year of the walls-of-awards-winning Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) program, P.O.V.

Producers of the documentary series chose to anchor their second decade with Chinese-American filmmaker Freida Lee Mock’s portrait of extraordinary Jewish playwright and solid American citizen Tony Kushner. This guy is nonstop.

Tony Kushner has earned an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, and a Pulitzer for Angels in America, his epic Broadway production subsequently tailored into a hit TV miniseries, starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, among other Hollywood luminaries. But before and after and beyond all that, Mr. Kushner is all over the place. He’s a tireless writer and director, a talker to kids and community groups, a lecturer before white shirts and black ties. And all that’s about social justice.

Social justice, or more to the point: how Mr. Kushner gets us there, urges us there, is his genius. His enormous physical and ethical energies aside, he seems to have mastered mustering into drama a coincidence of playful and dead serious elements — gay Republican Mormons on American main streets (Angels in America); a middle-class Englishwoman in shorts and Walkman in Taliban Afghanistan (Homebody/Kabul); Jewish children earnestly acting their parts in a Nazi propaganda play a few weeks short of their extermination (the musical Brundibar). Audiences struggle between laughing and crying over his odd juxtapositions, between loathing and identifying with Mr. Kushner’s bad guys.

Big portrait, big painter

Director Freida Lee Mock snares these unsure moments, this remarkable blend of Mr. Kushner’s intelligence about our aching planet and his boyish openness over what just might happen next. He appears utterly immersed in every next instant, whether he’s focused on a smart kid or nodding along with a learned rabbi. His focus is frightening, his love is unavoidable.

In making Wrestling with Angels, Ms. Mock’s camera shadowed Tony Kushner from the September 11 disasters until the 2004 elections. Three years of film footage edited into a tight and frenetic portrait of an extraordinary human being. A big job. Other bigger-than-life people have preceded Mr. Kushner in films directed by Ms. Mock. Her 1994 documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision won the director an Oscar for Best Documentary, Features. Throughout her filmmaking career, Ms. Mock has received five Academy Award nominations, among them: Rose Kennedy: A Life to Remember (1990) and Never Give Up: The Twentieth Century Odyssey of Herbert Zipper (1993). She has also won two prime-time TV Emmy Awards and three Emmy nominations.

"I essentially stalked him all over the country," Ms. Mock said about filming Tony Kushner doing what he does. These times were "immensely active for Kushner, with the production of new plays, books, master classes, and community work." According to the director, "these activities are the building blocks" by which Tony Kushner not only engages people in his creative process and his artist’s mission, but are also a bold demonstration of how one dedicated individual can inspire "us to engage the moral and political issues of our times."

Since P.O.V. (a film industry abbreviation for point of view) began appearing on the PBS national lineup 20 years ago, the project’s parent organization, American Documentary, has further distinguished itself by offering additional educational programs to accompany its films. Today, P.O.V.’s web-based services include: P.O.V. Interactive, P.O.V. Borders, Talking Back, and Youth Views. Each stage provides extended coverage and conversation for schools and communities on the important and difficult issues often raised by P.O.V. documentary films. To learn more, visit <>.

Wrestling with Angels airs on Oregon Public Broadcasting Wednesday, December 12 at 10:00pm, with a repeat December 14 at 3:00am. To verify show times, call (503) 293-1982 or visit <>.