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Even a doc about Arabian horses can be controversial.

Even a doc about Arabian horses can be controversial. (photo)

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Some documentarians specialize in controversy, so much so that news of them can start to seem a little routine. (Michael Moore made someone angry? Do tell!) Then there are other filmmakers, less well-known, who just can’t catch a break even when they’re trying to keep their heads down.

Such is the case with Jo Franklin, who’s been making documentaries for 30 years and is now encountering her latest stumbling block: the Saudi Arabian government wants to destroy all copies of her documentary about Arabian horses. No, really.

The movie in question is “A Gift From The Desert: The Arabian Horse,” an hour-long doc that’s about pretty much what it sounds like. Franklin filmed in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kentucky. According to Franklin, there’s two main reasons for the Saudi government’s displeasure. First, the movie shows female horse riders, a hot-button issue as the kingdom continues to internally hash out its stance on women’s rights. Second: King Abdullah’s stable has an Irish vet and a head trainer who’s British, and foreign workers are problematic.

The real surprise here, though, is that the Saudi government really doesn’t trust Franklin, who’s in way done as much for the Arab world as any TV documentarian. In 1980, Franklin was working on her three-part documentary for PBS “Saudi Arabia” when all diplomatic hell broke loose over “Death of a Princess,” a doc about the execution of an adulterous woman, in which interview transcripts were filmed.

06172010_death.jpgThe political consequences were off the charts: amongst other fall-out, restrictions were placed on visas for British businessman, Concorde flights were blocked from Saudi airspace, and Mobil placed a hilariously disingenuous ad in the New York Times claiming that the company cared just because they were interested in the moral issues at stake (“We believe that if a free society is to survive, we must openly and candidly discuss these issue”) — not because they were, like, worried about access to oil.

Franklin, though, went ahead and finished her film, which the AP deemed “a fascinating look at an ancient and, until recently, closed [country], hurtled within the last half-century into a modern world.”

She went on to make a series on “The Oil Countries” and then — most controversially — another PBS doc called “Days of Rage,” about the Palestinian intifada uprising that began in 1987 that, among other things, was called “orchestrated Palestinian propaganda.” (That link contains more acid political flashbacks than you can handle.)

So what does Franklin do? She makes a documentary about horses — and now she’s an enemy of Saudi Arabia! Some people just can’t win. It’s a hard-knock life for documentarians, but come on. Equestrian fans just don’t care and no one else will pick up on this as a talking point besides the usual Breitbart folks. And this time they’ll have a real point.

[Photos: “A Gift From The Desert: The Arabian Horse,” SeaCastle, 2010; “Death of a Princess,” ITV, 1980]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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