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Monday, November 12, 2007

Ah, so ... 'This Is Atlanta'?

(Photo by Jack Walsh, PBA)

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For someone who does his fair share of whining about the search for community in a city of 5 million, I’d done a pretty impressive job of ignoring “This Is Atlanta,” the 30-minute TV show produced by Public Broadcasting Atlanta (WPBA-TV/channel 30) and hosted by Alicia Steele. I guess the cynical hipster in me had too many memories of the locally produced fluff in my previous stops.

My mistake. Faced with a weekend alone and in complete command of the remote control, I popped in one of the countless screener DVDs I’d been sent and was pleasantly surprised not only in the range of stories covered but also the production quality of what is in fact a Telly Award-winning program.

This month’s program profiles five groups at a breezy, crisply edited pace: the breakdance group Burn Unit (pictured above), therapeutic horseback trainers at Chastain Horse Park, Atlanta Sacred Harp, Atlanta Junior Bridge, and the cooks and volunteers for Café 458.

Admittedly, some of this is bit on the fluffy side — I’ll leave the choices to your imagination — but the show nevertheless remains a nice guide for those of us who sometimes still feel alien to the city. Who knew breakdancing would remain so popular?

One of the best aspects of the show is what it doesn't do: overlap the images with that overly cheery host dialog that is the bane of most local public-TV shows you see. Steele sets up the segments at the beginning of the show and then, for the most part, lets the subjects perform the heavy narrative lifting. That often presents a balance challenge because the subjects have to both describe and characterize their group, but again the editing keeps the voice-overs from bogging down the piece.

The star of the show, though, is the production value, thanks to Jack Walsh and Gordon Ray. Instead of the usual static shots and amateurish visual effects, the production team blends extreme and mid-range close-ups with steady pans and crisp editing to involve every segment’s characters. And during the Atlanta Sacred Harp piece, there’s a nice effect where sheet music for a particular song overlaps a shot of the group performing that very song. And the lighting — usually the weak link on shows like these — is almost uniformly bright.

The November segment premiered over the weekend, but there are still three chances to see the show: 11:30 p.m. tonight and Friday, Nov. 16, and 10:30 p.m. Nov. 19.

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