The first episode of the three-part "Global Paper: The Fight for Food," on Channel 26 at 8 p.m. tomorrow, presents facts and opinions on the worldwide hunger crisis in PBS primer fashion. Seldom does it come close to engagin our hearts as well as our minds.
Most of the interviews on the show are with apparently well-educated and well-fed experts on the subject who coolly outline the dimensions of the problem and the options for dealing with it. The interviews are frequently interrupted by footage of starving masses or busy farm workers or family planning counselors, but few of these people are given a chance to speak for themselves. And we are not given a chance to know any of them as individuals.
The most gripping footage of the program was shot for another program, or British television, and shows a reporter following a doctor through a group of huddled Ethiopian children during a 1973 famine. The doctor picks up one of the pitifully malnourished youngsters to demonstrate specific symptioms of disease on the child's body. The reporter asks if this child will die, and the tone of the doctor's affirmative reply implies that the reporter is naive in the extreme even to ask the question. Of course the child will die.
Later we are shown a shot of some of the same children, apparently feeling better after assistance has arrived. But the fate of the child in the earlier scene isn't traced for us. That's the sort of human detail that is missing too often from this program.
Even the experts, who were carefully selected to present a spectrum of viewpoints, seem to be discussing academic abstractions rather than human needs. They are photographed completely in solo close-ups against neutral backgrounds.There is little interaction among them, and only near the end of the show does any passion seep into their disagreements.
Of course complex issues require rational discussion, and perhaps executive producer Alvin H. Perlmutter and producer-director Rober Bendick are wary of the tendency of some commercial television documentaries to apply layers of undue hope.
If it is true, as host Julian Bond tells us, that hunger kills 12,000 people every day, the situation seems urgent enough to call up some sense of urgency in the telling. PBS makes it far too easy to switch from the cosmic realities of hunger to the cosmic fantasies of "Battlestar: Galactica."
"The Fight for Food" will continue Monday with an examination of the American connections and responses to the hungry of other countries, and Thursday with a panel discussion recently held at the Capitol. PBS also has scheduled Satyajit Ray's "Distant Thunder" for Tuesday, and as it tells a personal story of famine in an Indian village during World War II, it will provide some of the human drama missing from "The Fight for Food" itself. The Los Angeles City Council presented a resolution commending the sch