HBO has confirmed its slate of thought-provoking documentaries for the second half of 2019, including: Roger Ross Williams’ THE APOLLO, an insider’s look at the history and legacy of the legendary Apollo Theater; Susan Lacy’s VERY RALPH, the intimate story of fashion icon Ralph Lauren; Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Diane von Furstenberg’s LIBERTY: MOTHER OF EXILES, a revealing, up-close look at one of the most beloved icons in the world; and McMILLIONS, from executive producer Mark Wahlberg and directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, a documentary series chronicling the stranger-than-fiction story of how an ex-cop rigged McDonald’s Monopoly game promotion for over a decade and stole millions.
Upcoming HBO documentaries include:
UNMASKING JIHADI JOHN: ANATOMY OF A TERRORIST (debuts July 31) In 1995, Mohammed Emwazi was a grade school student in London with a promising future ahead of him. By 2015, he was better known as “Jihadi John,” a masked, ISIS terrorist in Syria, notorious across the globe for broadcasting his brutal executions of Western hostages. The revealing documentary examines what propelled Emwazi’s journey down a violent path, the points at which intelligence agencies were aware of his growing radicalization and attempted, unsuccessfully, to deter him, Emwazi’s use of social media as an ISIS recruitment tool and launchpad to notoriety, harrowing first-hand accounts from his surviving hostages, and the collaboration between the world’s leading intelligence agencies to track him down and bring him to justice. Directed by Anthony Wonke.
ALTERNATE ENDINGS: SIX NEW WAYS TO DIE IN AMERICA (Aug. 14) In 2018, for the first time, more Americans chose cremation than traditional funerals and burials. This film explores the changing attitudes, rituals and mechanics of death, including the ways it is recognized, and how the end of life is approached. Subjects include the choice to use medical assistance, unique celebrations of life and ways to honor loved ones as they die. Directed and produced by Emmy(R) winner Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE TOWERS: STUYVESANT HIGH ON 9/11 (Sept. 11) When the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001, students had just started their day at Stuyvesant High School, blocks away. Drawing on intimate access to eight student eyewitnesses, the documentary offers a unique perspective on this tragic day. Directed and produced by Emmy(R)-winner Amy Schatz, the documentary weaves footage of the attack with compelling interviews with the students, who, as young teenagers, found themselves fleeing debris in the heart of the danger zone and faced with a harrowing journey home. Now adults, many from immigrant families, they speak with feeling about the backlash against minority communities that followed the attack and the deep friendships with classmates that got them through. A story about how it felt to be a young person at ground zero, the film explores the ways in which September 11th shaped these students’ lives and continues to shape our world today.
BUZZ (Sept. 25) This revealing and personal documentary follows Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and author, Buzz Bissinger, as he experiences a sexual awakening while collaborating with Caitlyn Jenner on her tell-all memoir. A verité portrait of his transformative journey, the feature documentary is directed by his childhood friend Andrew Shea. As he works to perfect Jenner’s book, Bissinger simultaneously examines his own heteronormative constraints, exploring previously uncharted sexual desires in ways that test his marriage, family and sense of self. Interweaving editing sessions between Bissinger and Jenner with personal insights into Bissinger’s sexual evolution from his family, BUZZ is a deeply personal film that explores the pursuit of true freedom of expression.
AXIOS (Oct.) The headline-generating documentary news series will continue with four more episodes this fall. Directed and produced by Emmy(R) winner Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz, the series will continue to work with leading Axios journalists to highlight the week ahead in politics, business, and technology, and other big topics shaping the future. Co-founded in 2016 by Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz, Axios is known for its news-making interviews, illuminating coverage and trustworthy insight delivered with “smart brevity” and a distinctly shareable format.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR (Oct.) Composed entirely of newspaper photographs, this documentary is acclaimed filmmaker and Emmy(R) winner Alan Berliner’s personal journey through 40 years of pictorial history culled from daily printed editions of the New York Times. Part musings of a self-described news junkie, part heartfelt elegy for the death of the printed newspaper in the digital age, the film is filled with observations, stories, opinions, humor, and idiosyncratic reflections on the news, good, bad and fake, past, present, and future.
LIBERTY: MOTHER OF EXILES (Oct. 24) From Emmy(R) winners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and executive producer Diane von Furstenberg, this film explores the surprising past and the culturally relevant present of the iconic Statue of Liberty. The documentary follows the legendary fashion designer, “godmother” of the statue, in her quest to discover the little-known story of how French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi’s dream became a reality, the challenges the statue has faced over the decades, and what Lady Liberty means to people around the world as a symbol of freedom and a beacon of hope to immigrants. Jason Blum and Sheila Nevins also executive produce.
TORN APART: SEPARATED AT THE BORDER (Oct.) Directed by Oscar(R) and Emmy(R) winner Ellen Goosenberg Kent, this documentary follows the story of two mothers who were each separated from their children in the United States for months after fleeing from danger in their homelands to seek asylum. Both mothers work with pro-bono lawyers and volunteers to reunite with their kids who have been placed thousands of miles away from them with little access to communication. These stories illuminate the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border and reveal how separated families are forced to navigate a complex system while desperately attempting to reunite with their children. Executive produced by Elli Hakami and Julian P. Hobbs for Talos films.
THE BRONX, USA (Oct.) From the filmmaking team behind “If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast”, this documentary features members of producer George Shapiro’s graduating class of 1949 from DeWitt Clinton High School, as well as students from 2017’s graduating class. Set against the socio-cultural history of the Bronx, the film interviews Robert Klein, Gen. Colin Powell, Melissa Manchester, Chazz Palminteri, Alan Alda, Melle Mel, Carl Reiner and Rob Reiner. Directed by Danny Gold.
THE APOLLO (Nov. 6) Directed by Oscar(R) and Emmy(R) winner Roger Ross Williams chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of New York City’s landmark Apollo Theater. Over the last 85 years, what began as a refuge for marginalized artists has emerged as a hallowed hall of black excellence and empowerment. The film weaves together archival clips of music, comedy and dance performances; behind-the-scenes verité footage of the team that makes the theater run; and interviews with such artists as Common, Jamie Foxx, Savion Glover, Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson and Pharrell Williams. In addition to the examination of its archives, the film offers an in-depth look at the present-day venue, spotlighting the 2018 multi-media stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ acclaimed book “Between the World and Me” as it comes together on the theater’s grand stage. In the film, Williams explores not only the struggle of black lives in America, but the role that art plays in that struggle, and the essential part the Apollo continues to play in the cultural conversation, lighting the path forward. Produced by Lisa Cortes, Jeanne Elfant Festa and Cassidy Hartmann. Executive produced by Nigel Sinclair, Dan Cogan, Nicholas Ferrall and Julie Goldman.
VERY RALPH (Nov. 12) Directed by Emmy(R) winner Susan Lacy, this portrait of Ralph Lauren explores the life and career of one of the most successful designers in American fashion and reveals the man behind the icon. With an uncanny ability to turn his dreams into reality, Lauren has cultivated the iconography of the American dream as a global lifestyle brand. Through extensive and candid conversations, Lauren reflects on his pioneering vision, his five-decades-long marriage and how a boy from the Bronx who knew nothing about designing fashion built a multi-billion-dollar global empire. The film also includes intimate interviews with family, colleagues, journalists and other notables.
ERNIE & JOE (Nov.) Texas police officers Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, part of the San Antonio Police Department’s ten-person mental health unit, are putting compassionate policing practices into action. This documentary chronicles their dramatic daily encounters with people in crisis, showing how their innovative approach to policing – which takes mental health into account – can diffuse dangerous situations and divert people from jail into mental health treatment. Directed by Jenifer McShane.
ART OF POLITICAL MURDER (Nov.) Based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name and executive produced by Oscar(R)-winner George Clooney and Grant Heslov, this film tells the story of the 1998 murder of Guatemalan human rights activist Bishop Juan Gerardi, which stunned a country ravaged by decades of political violence. Just two days after presenting a damning report blaming the atrocities of the civil war on the Guatemalan military, Bishop Gerardi was found dead in his home. Fearing a cover-up, the church assembles a team of young investigators to take on the case. They begin to unearth a web of conspiracy and murder, entangling the upper echelons of the government. Directed by Paul Taylor, Produced by Teddy Leifer.
MCMILLIONS (Nov.) This documentary series chronicles the stranger-than-fiction story of an ex-cop turned security auditor who rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game promotion for a decade, stealing millions of dollars and building a vast network of co-conspirators across the U.S. The series draws on exclusive firsthand accounts and archival footage, featuring: the FBI agents who brought down the gaming scam; McDonald’s corporate executives, who were themselves defrauded; the lawyers who tried the case; and the culprits and prizewinners who profited from the complicated scheme, as well as the individuals who were often unwittingly duped into being a part of the ruse. The series comes from Unrealistic Ideas, the non-scripted production company launched by Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, Archie Gips. Directed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte.
SAUDI WOMEN’S DRIVING SCHOOL (Dec.) In June 2018, women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to drive legally for the first time. Set at The Saudi Driving School in the capital city of Riyadh, which caters exclusively to women, this documentary follows Saudi women as they embrace a new way of life and the freedom that comes from being behind the wheel. Through intimate interviews and revealing verité footage, the eye-opening film captures how women’s lives are changing in Saudi Arabia, the hope that they have for greater gender equality and the challenges they face in a Kingdom that appears to be making strides forward but continues to silence and jail female activists. Directed by Erica Gornall and produced by Nick London.
MOONLIGHT SONATA (Dec.) Eleven-year-old Jonas, who has a cochlear implant, is struggling to learn the first movement of Beethoven’s anguished “Moonlight Sonata,” which the composer wrote as he began to go deaf. Jonas’ grandparents, Paul and Sally, have been deaf for nearly 80 years, but unlike Jonas, the majority of their lives were shaped by silence. As Jonas dives deeper into Beethoven’s music, his grandparents begin to feel the gulf that lies between them. The story becomes an intergenerational tale of deafness and a deeply personal portrait of three lives, and the discoveries that lie beyond loss. Directed by Emmy(R) winner Irene Taylor Brodsky.
FINDING THE WAY HOME (Dec.) J.K. Rowling’s LUMOS foundation highlights the distressing circumstances for the eight million children living in orphanages and other institutions around the world and focuses on reuniting them with extended family members or placing them into loving foster families. FINDING THE WAY HOME interweaves insights from families who have been torn apart, the social workers who have helped reunite them and the dedicated foster parents who have taken in children with stigmatizing disabilities, to illustrate what it truly means to be home. Directed by Emmy(R) winners Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill.