HBO has dropped a hefty load of news as of late due to the latest Television Critics Association event. One such report was on the documentary front as the network listed the upcoming films that will be on the schedule for the first half of 2016. We speculated to a small degree on potential offerings but now there is no question. What follows is a press release showcasing the documentaries to appear from now through June. We are sure those interested in non-fiction films will find something worth watching. As for HBOWatch, we will watch and review them all.
HBO has confirmed a diverse array of timely and thought-provoking documentaries for the first half of 2016, including: MAVIS!, a celebration of music legend Mavis Staples; EVERYTHING IS COPY, a candid portrait of writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron; MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s study of the controversial artist; and NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT & ANDERSON COOPER, revealing a mother and son’s extraordinary family history.
Upcoming HBO documentaries include (in chronological order):
JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY (debuting February 06) is a powerful documentary about American photojournalist James “Jim” Foley (pictured), who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012 and went missing for two years before the infamous video of his public execution produced shockwaves and introduced much of the world to ISIS. From Foley’s close childhood friend Brian Oakes, the film explores Foley’s life through intimate interviews with his family, friends and fellow journalists, while fellow hostages reveal never-before-heard details of his captivity with chilling immediacy.
HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA (February 08) explores one of today’s most divisive and pressing issues, spotlighting the threat posed by homegrown Islamic extremism. Emmy-winning director Greg Barker (HBO’s MANHUNT) offers a gripping insider’s account from the perspectives of those who helped construct America’s counter-terrorism machine, as well as those who are its targets.
BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS (February 22) paints an intimate portrait of the director, producer and improvisational comedy icon through a set of final, historic interviews with friend and fellow director Jack O’Brien, filmed four months before his death. Nichols recalls his landmark comedy work with Elaine May, his direction of two Neil Simon stage classics (“Barefoot in the Park” and “The Odd Couple”) and his highly acclaimed first two films (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Graduate”). Executive produced by Frank Rich and Jack O’Brien; directed by Douglas McGrath (HBO’s HIS WAY).
MAVIS! (February 29) chronicles the ascension of gospel and soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples (pictured) and her family group, The Staple Singers. An intimate look at a tight-knit family, the film reveals their struggles and successes, featuring dynamic live performances and rarely-seen archival footage, as well as modern-day interviews with Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy and Chuck D. Directed by Jessica Edwards.
A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (March 07) is the story of Saba, a courageous 18-year-old Pakistani woman who is condemned to death for falling in love, but lives to tell the tale. Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (HBO’s SAVING FACE) follows this gripping tale as it unfolds, revealing some of the complex forces at work in a country where more than 1000 women are killed in the name of “honor” every year.
EBOLA: THE DOCTORS’ STORY, BODY TEAM 12 and ORPHANS OF EBOLA (March 14) is a series of three short films on the Ebola epidemic. EBOLA: THE DOCTORS’ STORY follows a British emergency response doctor inside a Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center at the height of the epidemic in Sierra Leone. BODY TEAM 12 highlights the heroic and heartbreaking work of a female Liberian Red Cross worker tasked with collecting the dead from homes and villages, removing the bodies to halt transmission of the disease. ORPHANS OF EBOLA follows Abu, a 12-year-old boy from a village in Sierra Leone, who loses eight members of his family and must restart his life elsewhere.
EVERYTHING IS COPY (March 21) is an illuminating, candid portrait of Nora Ephron (pictured), the writer and screenwriter-director known for her biting honesty and intelligent humor. Written and directed by her son, Jacob Bernstein, the documentary explores the line between professional ambition and personal loyalties, and features intimate interviews with some of those closest to her, including her three sisters, as well as Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep. Co-directed by Nick Hooker; executive produced by Graydon Carter.
ONLY THE DEAD SEE THE END OF WAR (March 28) documents the encounter of a veteran battlefield journalist and the world’s most feared terrorist leader. After receiving a horrifying video from Abu Mousab al Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the progenitor of ISIS, Michael Ware embarks on an epic journey through the major battles of the Iraq war, into the darkest recesses of the human heart, filming as he goes. Directed by two-time Oscar® winner Bill Guttentag (HBO’s YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIE) and Michael Ware.
THREE DAYS OF TERROR: THE CHARLIE HEBDO ATTACKS (April), from Emmy-nominated director Dan Reed (HBO’s TERROR AT THE MALL), is the definitive documentary on France’s first homegrown Islamic terrorist attack. On Jan. 7, 2015, gunmen claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda in Yemen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, sparking a 54-hour siege that ultimately left 17 dead across the city. This chilling account of the precursor to last November’s deadly attack in Paris features exclusive access to hostages, survivors, police, paramilitaries and detectives, as well as exclusive previously unseen footage and photographs.
MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES (April 04) takes an unflinching, unprecedented look at Robert Mapplethorpe’s controversial photography, which pushed boundaries with its frank depiction of nudity, sexuality and fetishism, igniting a culture war that rages to this day. Drawing upon archival materials and featuring never-before-seen photographs and footage, Emmy winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (HBO’’s WISHFUL DRINKING) offer a revealing portrait of one of the most important artists of the 20th century in the first feature-length documentary about the artist since his death, and the most comprehensive film on Mapplethorpe ever.
NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT & ANDERSON COOPER (April 09) spotlights mother and son in candid reflections on their extraordinary family history. Born to wealth and New York royalty, Vanderbilt has lived in the public eye for more than 90 years, experiencing extreme tragedy and tremendous success side by side. Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (HBO’s A GOOD JOB: STORIES OF THE FDNY captures Vanderbilt as she’s never been seen before, as she and her son discover how family stories of loss and survival repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.
CLASS DIVIDE (April 18) highlights the recent effects of hyper-gentrification in New York City’s West Chelsea neighborhood, focusing on an intersection where an elite private school sits directly across the street from public housing projects. The final film in a trilogy about economic forces affecting ordinary people from director Marc Levin and producing partner Daphne Pinkerson (HBO’s SCHMATTA: RAGS TO RICHES TO RAGS and HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND) this moving chronicle bears witness to the effects of rising inequality and stagnant class mobility.
HEART OF A DOG (April 25) joins creative pioneer Laurie Anderson on a wry and wondrous journey through love, death and language, centering on her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who died in 2011. Mixing childhood memories, video diaries and philosophical musings on data collection, surveillance culture and the Buddhist conception of the afterlife, the critically acclaimed film offers heartfelt tributes to the artists and thinkers who inspire her.
ROCK AND A HARD PLACE (May) looks at incarcerated young people who are granted a second chance: the opportunity to trade an extensive prison sentence for a fresh start by completing the famed Miami-Dade County Corrections & Rehabilitation Boot Camp, a one-of-a-kind, six-month program in which drill sergeants push inmates to their limit, encouraging them to learn from their past mistakes and become constructive members of society who are substantially less likely to return to prison. Dwayne Johnson, whose own experiences with the law as a youth inspired the film, appears in the documentary. Johnson and Dany Garcia executive produce for Seven Bucks Productions; Rasha Drachkovitch executive produces for 44 Blue Productions. Oscar nominees Matthew O’Neill and Jon Alpert direct.
CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH (May 02) explores the arduous 12-year journey that led to the creation of the French iconoclast’s “Shoah,” a nine-hour-plus examination of the Holocaust. Marking the 30th anniversary of the landmark documentary, the film features previously unseen outtakes and reflects on key moments in the 89-year-old auteur’s life, revealing his hopes and expectations for the future. Directed by Adam Benzine.
EVERY BRILLIANT THING (May 09) is a filmed version of Jonny Donahoe’s acclaimed one-man show about depression, suicide and the lengths to which people go for those they love. Poignant and humorous, it follows a young boy who attempts to ease his mother’s depression by starting an enormous running list of everything worth living for, from ice cream and water fights to things with stripes and Christopher Walken’s voice. As Donahoe’s list grows in adulthood, he discovers its deep significance in his own life. Written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Emmy winners Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (HBO’s WISHFUL DRINKING).
MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH: CUBA’S LGBT REVOLUTION (June) follows the crusade of Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter (and Fidel Castro’s niece) to establish equal rights for LGBT Cubans, and examines the cultural and institutional homophobia that gay men faced throughout much of the Cuban Revolution, when they were often put into work camps. Emmy winner Jon Alpert (HBO’s ALIVE DAY MEMORIES: HOME FROM IRAQ directs.
SUITED (June) tells the story of Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company that makes custom suits for gender-nonconforming and transgender clients, following a range of people on the gender spectrum. Among those sharing their unique stories are a trans Bar Mitzvah boy, a New York City cab driver, a young southern law student and a transgender man preparing for his wedding. The film spotlights the intimate journey of coming into a new identity, accepting difference and living bravely in one’s own skin. Produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (HBO’s “Girls”); directed by Jason Benjamin.
Upcoming family presentations include: SAVING MY TOMORROW (February 25) is a new installment in the family series about the environment, produced in association with the American Museum of Natural History. The program features kids from around the world who address today’s biggest environmental challenges, from endangered animals to climate change, alongside portraits of animals and plants being affected by a changing earth. A mix of songs, science and heartfelt tips, it shows how everyone can protect the planet and everything on it, and includes performances and appearances by Laura Dern, Stephin Merritt, They Might Be Giants and others.
Note that the majority of the documentaries listed will debut on a Monday, but a few do not. So once again, we are hit with some interesting and noted biographies and some searing intense examinations of social and political issues and we are looking forward to the gut reactions we will get from each and every one of them.
The last portion of this post focuses on the HBO Documentary Films that aired in 2015 and our favorites from that lot. The complete list of films are as follows: NIGHT WILL FALL, THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST, ROSIE ODONNELL: A HEARTFELT STAND UP, CITIZENFOUR, ITS ME HILARY: THE MAN WHO DREW ELOISE, GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, SINATRA: ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL, LIVING WITH LINCOLN, TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER, SAVING OUR TOMORROW PART 3, KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK, THOUGHT CRIMES: THE CASE OF THE CANNIBAL COP, SOUTHERN RITES, THE LION’S MOUTH OPENS, REQUIEM FOR THE DEAD: AMERICAN SPRING 2014 and LARRY KRAMER IN LOVE AND ANGER made up the slate for the front half of the year.
The back half of 2015 offered MY DEPRESSION (THE UP AND DOWN AND UP OF IT), PACKED IN A TRUNK: THE LOST ART OF EDITH LAKE WILKINSON, TOE TOG PAROLE: TO LIVE AND DIE ON YARD A, TASHI AND THE MONK, SAN FRANCISCO 2.0, HOW TO DANCE IN OHIO, THE DIPLOMAT, THE TIES THAT BIND, THE LATIN AMERICAN EXPLOSION: A NEW AMERICA, 3 ½ MINUTES, TEN BULLETS, VERY SEMI-SERIOUS: A PARTIALLY THROUGH PORTRAIT OF NEW YORKER CARTOONISTS, BOLSHOI BABYLON and HEROIN: CAPE COD, USA.
There were a number of great documentaries this last year like the big headliners -Edward Snowden in CITIZENFOUR and Alex Gibney’s GOING CLEAR. What will join the past winners?
2012 – MARINA ABRAMOVICH: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT and PROJECT NIM
2013 – HOW FAR IS IT TO THE FRONT FROM HERE? and LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM
2014 – TERROR AT THE MALL and THE NEWBURGH STING
Though CITIZENFOUR and GOING CLEAR were awesome the only work that we talked about for months was THE JINX. Wow, that is clearly the number one choice!
That being a documentary series technically, the single film that stood out taking second place is a harder choice. The Cannibal Cop was unbelievable, Bolshoi Ballet was a great inside look and the tale of Tashi was touching but in the end we pick the wake-up call that was CITIZENFOUR as our # 2 pick.
We can’t wait for the journey through 2016. Join us.