TV documentaries: Alzheimer’s effects, girls competing against boys in soccer, and an affair born during the Holocaust

Three–actually six–televised documentaries are airing this week and month, all of which examine serious topics through stories about individual people.

First is a remarkable story of a more than 60-year-old relationship that was born in a horrifying circumstances. “I was in a [concentration] camp with my wife and my girlfriend, and believe me, that was not easy,” Jack Polak says in the documentary Steal a Pencil For Me, which airs tonight as part of PBS’ Independent Lens. The entire film is on YouTube and on DVD.

As his statement suggests, it’s a documentary about a love affair between a man and a woman that began in 1943 during the Holocaust and developed during the time they spent–along with the man’s wife–at a concentration camp. PBS says director Michè le Ohayon’s film “chronicles Ina and Jack’s improbable love story, weaving their past and present lives with the bitter sweetness of decades-old love letters written in concentration camps with stolen pencil stubs,” and is a “daring tale of unusual love, war and the human condition.” Here’s its trailer:

On Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, HBO will debut Kick Like a Girl, a film produced by Jenny Mackenzie, the coach of an undefeated all-girl third-grade soccer team, the Mighty Cheetahs, that takes on teams of boys–which didn’t go over well with the boys who lost to the girls, nor to their parents. The network says the documentary “chronicles the adventures of these third-grade underdogs as they set out to prove their game skills and overcome the skepticism of opponents and parents,” and “examines the origin of gender stereotypes.” Nigel Lythgoe needs to watch this. Here’s its trailer:

Finally, HBO is currently airing a series of four films collectively called The Alzheimer’s Project that are about, of course, Alzheimer’s, which the network notes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those four films are on HBO OnDemand through June 8 and also re-air frequently. This summer, all four films will be released in a single DVD collection.

The Memory Loss Tapes “profiles seven people living with the disease, each in an advancing state of dementia, from its earliest detectable changes through death,” according to HBO. Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am? is hosted by Maria Shriver and “tells five stories of children, ages 6-15, who are coping with grandfathers or grandmothers suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.” Caregivers “is a collection of five portraits, each of which highlights the sacrifices and successes made by people experiencing their loved one’s gradual descent into dementia.” As HBO’s descriptions make them sound, the films are both illuminating and rather difficult to watch.

The two-part Momentum in Science offers hope by going “inside the laboratories and clinics of 25 leading scientists and physicians, who seek to discover what can be done to better detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s, delay the onset of memory loss, affect the brain changes associated with the disease, and ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s disease altogether.”

Here’s an extended preview of all four films:

Independent Lens: Steal a Pencil for Me [PBS]
Steal a Pencil for Me [YouTube]
Kick Like a Girl and The Alzheimer’s Project [HBO]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.