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Public TV -- America's soapbox for individual opinion

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Ms. Mangan has nice things to say about PBS, where several of her documentaries have already appeared. ''PBS has always offered good opportunities for independent producers. If you treat your own work seriously and your product is decent, they are always willing to take a look . . . and, perhaps, find a place for it on the schedule.

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''Those of us who make our own documentaries are willing to scramble for money and then for exposure, as long as we can retain some sort of control of the imprint we make . . . so the magic is clearly ours.''

Meredith Monk

''Ellis Island'' is a lyrical film which can be called a documentary only because it chooses to illuminate a single subject - the island that processed more than 16 million immigrants between 1892 and 1927. The film, which has already won several Festival awards, is being presented on PBS under the auspices of the ?WGBH/Boston? New Television Workshop at WGBH, Boston, but it was originally funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and West German public TV.

Miss Monk, who has already made her mark in music, is comparatively new at documentary-making - this is her first lengthy film (half an hour). Conceived and directed by Miss Monk, who also did the music, it is filled with unforgettable images, flowing movement, evocative sounds, deja vum memories. Narrationless, it depends upon visuals and sounds to re-create the essence of Ellis Island, rather than the actuality of it. Determinedly avant-garde, it nevertheless is not cloyingly so. I am willing to guarantee that viewing ''Ellis Island'' will prove to be an unforgettable experience for just about everybody.

When I indicated to WGBH that I would like to talk to Miss Monk about the film, it was arranged that she would speak to me from Stuttgart, West Germany, where she was recording a new record.

''The film is not a documentary,'' she insisted by overseas phone. ''It is a poetic, atmospheric look at a place and a time. There is no narrative structure.

''Since my background is in music, dance, and theater, film is a logical direction for me. It utilizes the same sounds and images.

''Since the silent-film days, film people have not been working enough with images, the poetry of the image, the musicality of the image. . . .''

Miss Monk believes that film and music especially have a great deal in common. ''When I was editing the film, it was like writing music. You're dealing with the rhythm of imagery, just the way you do in music with the rhythm of sound. In film it is the essence and the rhythm of image and sound, working on counterpoint or whatever, that you are dealing with all the time. It is a very sensuous medium and that's why I love working in it.''

She is optimistic about the future of the avant-garde on TV. ''There is an audience for new work - it's just a matter of the people in charge taking a few risks.

''Certainly there is more of this risk-taking on PBS than anywhere else. The quality of such work on German television is very high.

''Wouldn't it be a terrible thing if there wasn't a public television system in America to do such things?''