- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Hunger’ examined

Emmy-winning African journalist Sorious Samura weighed nearly 230 pounds when he decided to spend a month in Ethiopia to examine the nation’s ongoing hunger crisis.

Forty-two pounds later, Mr. Samura emerged a changed man, one with a new respect for the human spirit and the plight of his fellow Africans.

“Surviving Hunger,” debuting at 8 tonight on Discovery Times, chronicles his attempts to live alongside impoverished Ethiopian families.

Mr. Samura says he grew up poor himself but nothing in his upbringing could prepare him for days without nutritious food and meals consisting solely of a vile concoction of wild cabbage.

At one point, he tries to coax some food away from a child. Such is his growing delirium.

The hourlong special unflinchingly records children’s faces constantly bracketed by flies, their skin marked by infections. The images are unsettling and provocative, but Mr. Samura isn’t here to make grandiose political statements. He simply captures a way of life most viewers can’t imagine.

“I am here to simply try and tell your story,” he says upon his arrival. Initially, the villagers greet him with suspicion. They fear a man of his bulk must have great strength, though the filmmaker eventually is shown to have much less stamina while working in the fields than his starving colleagues.

Mr. Samura, a native of Sierra Leone, mercifully avoids agitprop. He mentions that the government claims to supply enough food for the people, but the grain shipments never arrive in the numbers necessary to deliver citizens from starvation.

“Surviving Hunger” lays blame on the land itself, which seems incapable of giving the Ethiopians enough on which to live. The hour offers no easy solutions, but viewers will be stunned by the strength of Ethiopia’s poorest citizens — and warmed by their capacity for friendship and affection.

Casting a ‘Spell’

Who knew a documentary about a spelling bee could be more compelling than half the films playing at the neighborhood cineplex?

The surprisingly tense “Spellbound,” making its pay-cable debut at 8 tonight on Cinemax, easily fits the bill.

The Oscar-nominated documentary follows eight students as they prepare for the grueling National Spelling Bee held each year in the District.

“Spellbound” captures the rigorous study habits each child endures for the contest, a nail-biter that packs plenty of emotion. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz, the film lets the children’s parents off the hook regarding their homework loads but otherwise illustrates a stirring part of the American dream: the notion that an education can lift people to higher ground.

‘Carnivale’ renewed

A band of Depression-era misfits has done what George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh couldn’t: earn a second season on HBO.

“Carnivale” will reopen its tent next year on the premium cable network, Reuters News Agency reports.

Mr. Soderbergh’s “K Street,” simultaneously introduced with “Carnivale,” isn’t returning despite the Oscar-winning director’s efforts and those of co-producer Mr. Clooney.

Sources said HBO has ordered 13 more episodes of “Carnivale” for round two. Production is expected to begin next spring, with the show set to begin airing again in late 2004. Its ensemble cast includes Nick Stahl, Clea Duvall, Amy Madigan, Adrienne Barbeau, Clancy Brown and Ralph Waite.

“Carnivale” completed its rookie season earlier this month.

The final episode drew 3.5 million viewers overall, just under its season average.

Though HBO’s more established series such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” attract much bigger audiences, “Carnivale” earned a respectable viewership on par with another of the network’s critically acclaimed dramas, “The Wire.”

The series, which chronicles a battle between good and evil forces within a traveling sideshow, appeared to hit a ratings block early on against stiff competition on broadcast networks.

However, during the latter half of its run, “Carnivale” surged, and the faux-reality series “K Street” faltered.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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