The lineup of documentary films is in. HBO announced the forthcoming films at the Television Critic Association Winter Panel the other day and also put out the following press release:
HBO ANNOUNCES DOCUMENTARY LINEUP FOR THE FIRST HALF OF 2017
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 14, 2017 – HBO has confirmed a diverse array of timely and thought-provoking documentaries for the first half of 2017, including Peter Kunhardt’s BECOMING WARREN BUFFETT, a revealing portrait of the billionaire philanthropist; Evgeny Afineevsky’s CRIES FROM SYRIA, a searing look at the five-year conflict in Syria; Irene Taylor Brodsky’s chilling BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN, exploring how the dark corners of the Internet can influence society’s most impressionable young consumers of the media; and Erin Lee Carr’s MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST, the headline-grabbing story of Dee Dee Blanchard and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, touching on child abuse, mental illness and forbidden love.
2017 on the documentary front started with BRIGHT LIGHTS STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS (January 07). This documentary of what they meant to each other was received with great response. In its Saturday night premiere alone it held 1.556 million viewers. That is a healthy number for a documentary, so the year in non-fiction film started off right. What follows is a listing of the documentaries slated for the next few months. They are listed by debut dates.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN (January 23) tells the true story of 12-year-olds Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who lured their best friend into the woods, stabbed her 19 times and confessed they did it to appease a tall and faceless man known online as Slenderman. Featuring heart-wrenching access to the girls’ families, the haunting documentary plunges deep down the rabbit hole of their actions, exploring how the dark corners of the Internet can influence society’s most impressionable young consumers of media. This chilling film is directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s Oscar-nominated THE FINAL INCH).
BECOMING WARREN BUFFETT (January 30) is the improbable story of an ambitious, numbers-obsessed boy from Nebraska who became one of the richest, most respected men in the world. The definitive documentary on Buffett, this candid portrait sheds new light on a man who has helped shape how Americans view capitalism and, more recently, philanthropy. Told primarily in Buffett’s own words, the film features never-before-released home videos, family photographs, archival footage and interviews with family and friends. Produced by Teddy Kunhardt and George Kunhardt; directed by Peter Kunhardt (HBO’s Emmy-winning JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY).
SOLITARY: INSIDE RED ONION STATE PRISON (February 06) is an unflinching exploration of the lives of inmates and corrections officers in one of America’s most notorious “supermax” prisons, built to hold inmates in 8’x10’ cells 23 hours a day, for months, years and sometimes decades. With unprecedented access, the film paints a complex, unexpected and deeply moving portrait of life inside a world rarely seen. Directed by Kristi Jacobson.
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL: NOS AMIS (OUR FRIENDS) (February 13) spotlights the American rock band as they recount their experiences before and after the November 13, 2015 terrorist attack in Paris that claimed 89 lives at their Bataclan Theatre concert. The film spotlights the group’s deep bonds with each other and with their fans, which inspired them to return to Paris to perform once again in February 2016. Directed by Colin Hanks.
UNLOCKING THE CAGE (February 20) explores animal rights lawyer Steven Wise’s unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. After 30 years of struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws, Wise and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections. Directed by Chris Hegedus (HBO’s Emmy-winning ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY) and Academy Award winner D. A. Pennebaker.
TICKLED (February 27) follows journalist David Farrier, who stumbles upon a bizarre “competitive endurance tickling” video online, wherein young men are paid to be tied up and tickled. Delving deeper, he encounters fierce resistance, but eventually uncovers a shocking story stranger than fiction. Directed by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve.
CRIES FROM SYRIA (March 13) is a searing account of the Syrian civil war from the inside out. The film draws on hundreds of hours of war footage from Syrian activists and citizen journalists, as well as testimony from child protestors, revolution leaders, human rights defenders, ordinary citizens and high-ranking army generals who have defected from the government. Many of those who have suffered through the violence and deprivation of the escalating five-year conflict have ultimately made a desperate bid to escape. Their collective stories are a cry for attention and help from a world that little understands their reality or agrees on what to do about it. Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky (the Oscar-nominated Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom).
Other upcoming HBO documentaries include (in alphabetical order):
ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL presents a candid dialogue about one of the timeliest issues facing America today. The film sheds new light on the contentious subject, with a focus not on the debate, but rather on the women themselves: those struggling with unplanned pregnancies and the providers who show up at clinics to give medical care, as well as the activists on both sides of the issue, hoping to sway decisions and lives. Directed by Tracy Droz Tragos.
BRILLO BOX (3¢ OFF) tells a universal tale about navigating the ephemeral nature of art and value. Blending Pop Art history and personal narrative, the film follows the surprising trajectory of a beloved Andy Warhol Brillo Box sculpture, originally purchased for $1,000, as it makes its way from the filmmaker’s family living room to the global art market, selling for more than $3,000,000 at a Christie’s auction. Directed by Lisanne Skyler.
THE DEFIANT ONES This four-part documentary event tells the true story of music legends Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. In addition to extensive interviews with both men, the show includes interviews with such music icons as Bono, David Geffen, Eminem, Nas, Ice Cube, Gwen Stefani, Jon Landau, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Snoop Dogg, Bruce Springsteen and will.i.am. It also features never-before-seen footage from a multitude of recording and writing sessions with Eazy-E, JJ Fad, Stevie Nicks, N.W.A., Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and U2, among others. A Silverback 5150 Pictures Production in association with Alcon Television Group; executive producers, Allen Hughes, Doug Pray, Andrew Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Laura Lancaster, Jerry Longarzo, Michael Lombardo and Gene Kirkwood; directed by Allen Hughes. Debuts this spring.
ELVIS PRESLEY: This untitled three-hour, two-film presentation takes the audience on a comprehensive journey from Elvis’ childhood through the final 1976 Jungle Room recording sessions. The films include stunning atmospherics shot inside Elvis’ iconic home and more than 20 new, primary source interviews with session players, producers, engineers, directors and others who knew him. The documentary also features never-before-seen photos and footage from private collections worldwide. An HBO Documentary Films Presentation in association with Sony Pictures Television; executive producers, Jon Landau, Glen Zipper, Priscilla Presley, Jerry Schilling, Andrew Solt, Alan Gasmer and Jamie Salter; directed and produced by Thom Zimny.
FOR THE LOVE OF BALTIMORE explores a city divided in the wake of the 2015 arrest of Freddie Gray and his subsequent death in police custody, which sparked weeks of protests and riots. Told through the journeys of local activists, police officers, community residents and gang affiliates, it shows a city grappling with its history of police brutality, as well as crime and decades of economic disenfranchisement, as six law enforcement officers are brought to trial, but none are convicted. This revealing behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to make change when change is hard shows a distraught and damaged community on an ever-elusive search for both justice and the common humanity of people who have previously seen each other only as adversaries. Directed by Sonja Sohn (HBO’s THE WIRE).
IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE OBIT, EAT BREAKFAST asks, “What’s the secret to living into your 90s – and loving every minute of it?” Irrepressible writer-comedian Carl Reiner, who shows no signs of slowing down at 94, tracks down celebrated nonagenarians, and a few others over 100, to show how the twilight years can truly be the happiest and most rewarding. Among those who share their insights into what it takes to be vital and productive in older age are Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, Kirk Douglas, Norman Lear, Betty White and Tony Bennett. Adding spice to this inspiring documentary are admirers from the younger set, including comedian Jerry Seinfeld (who’s already reserved the stage at Caesar’s Palace for his 100th birthday show), longevity expert Dan Buettner and Dick Van Dyke’s wife Arlene, who’s got all she can handle keeping up with her exuberant husband on the dance floor. Directed by Daniel Gold.
MOMMY DEAD AND DEAREST explores a headline-grabbing crime in the age of social media. Things are not always as they appear in the case of Dee Dee Blanchard and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, and what starts out as a grisly tale of matricide morphs into a rabbit hole of deception. Child abuse, mental illness, forbidden love and a bizarre case of Munchausen by proxy syndrome converge in this mystery of a mother and daughter who were thought to be living a fairytale life that turned out to be a living nightmare. Directed by Erin Lee Carr.
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE tells the extraordinary story of the renowned international musical collective created by legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. This group of diverse instrumentalists, vocalists, composers, arrangers, visual artists and storytellers explores the power of music to preserve tradition, shape cultural evolution and inspire hope. The Grammy-nominated film is directed by Morgan Neville (the Oscar-winning Twenty Feet from Stardom).
ROCK AND A HARD PLACE 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 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 special, appears in the film. Johnson and Dany Garcia executive produce for Seven Bucks Productions; Rasha Drachkovitch executive produces for 44 Blue Productions. Matthew O’Neill (HBO’s Oscar-nominated REDEMPTION) and Jon Alpert (HBO’s Emmy-winning BAGHDAD ER) direct.
This last portion of the post looks back at the 2016 slate and calls out our favorites of the year. The front half of the year, January through June gave us JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY, HOMEGROWN: THE COUNTER-TERROR DILEMMA, BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS, MAVIS!, A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS, THE EBOLA TRILOGY: THE DOCTOR’S STORY and BODY TEAM 12 and ORPHANS OF EBOLA, EVERYTHING IS COPY – NORA EPHRON: SCRIPTED & UNSCRIPTED, ONLY THE DEAD SEE THE END OF WAR, MAPPLETHORPE – LOOK AT THE PICTURES, NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT AND ANDERSON COOPER, HEART OF A DOG, CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH and SUITED.
The second half of the year (July – December) gave us HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THE THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE, OPEN YOUR EYES, MEET THE DONORS: DOES MONEY TALK?, 3 DAYS OF TERROR: THE CHARLIE HEBDO ATTACKS, CLASS DIVIDE, UNDERFIRE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF PFC. TONY VACCARO, MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING, PATRIA O MUERTE: CUBA and FATHERLAND OR DEATH and MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH: CUBA’S LGBT REVOLUTION, THE TRANS LIST, RISKY DRINKING and finally EVERY BRILLANT THING.
We had stories of Ebola and Cuba plus a good helping of artist/celebrity films in 2017, but none of them really captivated me. There were also some historical looks back at the Boston Marathon Bombing and the terrorist acts in Paris, France which captivated me more so, but the documentaries to join the following list…
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
2015 – THE JINX and CITIZENFOUR
…are UNDERFIRE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF PFC. TONY VACCARO, as my # 1 pick, for its heartfelt and impactful story of one soldier’s return to WWII haunts and my # 2 choice for JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY. It was gripping as it honored Jim Foley.
And we are underway for 2017. Enjoy!