HBO has consistently put out some of the best documentaries for a long time now, and that trend continues throughout the rest of 2020 and in the coming years. The cable channel has just unveiled the upcoming roster of documentary movies and shows that will be premiering in the second half of the year, including plenty of true crime stories. HBO Documentary Films also announced two new documentary projects in the works from Insecure creator Issa Rae and Room 104 creators Mark & Jay Duplass. Get the lowdown on all the 2020 HBO documentaries and more below.
Seen & Heard from Issa Rae
First up, Issa Rae is enjoying several nominations for her HBO comedy series Insecure. But for her next HBO project, she’ll be digging into the history of television. More specifically, her new two-part documentary Seen & Heard will explore the many Black trailblazers who wrote, produced, created and starred in groundbreaking series that paved the way for her own television show.
Here’s the official synopsis for the movie:
“The documentary will offer cultural commentary about representation in black storytelling and feature interviews with actors, showrunners, writers, celebrities and other notable influencers as well as verité-driven segments and inventive use of archival material. The featured participants will reflect on their own experiences watching African Americans represented on television yesterday and today, while sharing insights into their current creative endeavors, personal experiences, and inspiration, providing a window into the larger evolution of Black storytellers across television history.”
Issa Rae said, “Black people have such a rich, but often unacknowledged history in Hollywood.” Due to the rampant racism that was present in the early days of television, recognition of the contribution of Black people to entertainment has gone largely unnoticed and isn’t celebrated nearly as much as milestones from the majority of white television creators. Rae continued:
“We have defined American culture and influenced generations time and time again across the globe. I’m honored to pair with Ark Media to center and celebrate the achievements of those who paved a way for so many of us to tell our stories on television.”
Seen & Heard will be produced and directed by Phil Bertelsen (Who Killed Malcolm X?), and executive produced by Issa Rae herself along with her production partner Montrel McKay, her Insecure producers Jonathan Berry and David Becky from 3 Arts Entertainment, and Rachel Dretzin and Esther Dere at Ark Media.
The Lady and the Dale from Mark & Jay Duplass
Also in production for HBO Documentary films, Mark and Jay Duplass are working on a documentary series called The Lady and the Dale. The film will focus on a massive auto scam in the 1970s involving an intriguing entrepreneur and a three-wheeled fuel efficient vehicle. Here’s how the movie is described in the official press release:
[The Lady and the Dale] traces the story of Elizabeth Carmichael, who rose to prominence when she released a fuel-efficient three-wheeled vehicle during the 1970s gas crisis. As she wins over major carmakers and investors, a web of mystery unfolds regarding the car’s technology and Carmichael’s surprising past. A portrait of an extraordinary entrepreneur’s rise and eventual fall, the series explores a one-of-a-kind story of fraud, family and identity.
Mark and Jay Duplass will be executive producing with Mel Eslyn through their own Duplass Brothers Productions, and Andre Gaines, Allen Bain, Nick Cammilleri, Alana Carithers and Zackary Drucker are also on board as executive producers. No director for the series was listed in the press release, but the project is expected to begin airing sometime in 2021.
2020 HBO Documentaries Line-Up
Finally, HBO released the upcoming roster of documentaries that will be airing on the cable channel throughout the rest of 2020. They include the documentary series The Vow, about the sex trafficking cult NXIVM, coming later this month, a documentary about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s politician father Luis A. Miranda Jr., the investigation of the only unsolved airplane hijacking in U.S. history, a series about what it’s like for transgender kids growing up, and much more.
The Vow – Debuting August 23, is an HBO documentary series from Academy Award-nominated, Emmy®-winning directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer that follows a range of people who joined the self-improvement group, NXIVM. The organization has been under siege, with various charges including sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy brought against its highest members – most notably founder Keith Raniere, who was convicted in June 2019 and is currently awaiting sentencing. The series takes a deep, nuanced look at the experiences of several people deeply involved in NXIVM over the course of several years. Amidst claims by NXIVM participants of both profound transformation and devastating abuse, the series, like Noujaim and Amer’s previous films, seeks to reveal the issues behind the headlines and explore the emotional toll of the unfolding events on these individuals.
Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn – Debuting August 12, directed by Muta’Ali, the film tells the story of Yusuf Hawkins, a black teenager who was murdered in 1989 by a group of young white men in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Yusuf Hawkins’ death and the official response to it sparked outrage in New York, unleashing a torrent of racial tension and spurring tireless civil rights activism that exposed deep racial prejudices and inequities which continue to plague the country today.
Siempre, Luis – From first-time filmmaker John James, this documentary is an inspiring portrait of Luis A. Miranda Jr., a Puerto Rican migrant who helped shape New York politics for over three decades. When Luis A. Miranda Jr. left Puerto Rico for New York City in the 1970s, he had big dreams, but little did he know how far he’d go. Over the course of a year, Luis Miranda’s devotion to family and country propelled him forward. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he helps plan relief efforts and manages the logistics behind bringing his son Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning production of Hamilton to the island. With humor and heart, SIEMPRE, LUIS tells the story of a proud American.
Transhood – Filmed over the course of five years in Kansas City, the series is an inspiring chronicle of the lives of four young people and their families as they navigate growing up transgender in America’s heartland. The documentary offers a multi-year, inside perspective on four transgender youths (aged 4, 7, 12, and 15 at the start of filming) as they redefine “coming of age” and share personal realities of how gender expression is reshaping their American families. Directed by Sharon Liese, produced by Sasha Alpert, executive produced by Kimberly Reed.
The Soul of America – A documentary film based on Jon Meacham’s 2018 bestseller, illuminates our present-day, fraught political reality by exploring historical challenges of the past such as the women’s suffrage movement, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, McCarthyism, and the struggle to pass Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. All were instances in which “our better angels” battled against the forces of hatred and division that are recurring themes in American life. Directed by Katie Davison, produced by George Kunhardt and Teddy Kunhardt, executive produced by Peter Kunhardt.
Starting in November, HBO will feature a weekly anthology of crime-focused documentary films including:
Crazy, Not Insane – Directed and produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (HBO’s “The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley”), the film profiles forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who has spent her life investigating the interior lives of violent people, working with numerous serial killers including Ted Bundy. Her controversial work with “multiples,” patients with Dissociative Identity Disorder, led her to develop a theory of what makes a killer and made her a polarizing expert witness. Her research videotapes, seen here for the first time, show eerie transformations in violent individuals as they move between the alter egos of their various personalities.
Baby God – Directed by Hannah Olson and executive produced by Academy Award nominees Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the film is a shocking examination of the dark legacy of a Las Vegas fertility specialist, the late Dr. Quincy Fortier, who assisted hundreds of couples struggling with difficulty conceiving. Decades later, many children born from his interventions discover through DNA and genealogical websites, that Dr. Fortier had used his own sperm to impregnate their mothers without their knowledge or consent, provoking a troubling reckoning with the nature of genetic inheritance, the meaning of family and the dilemma of revealing painful secrets.
The Mystery of DB Cooper – Directed by John Dower, the film brings to life the stories of four people believed by their family and friends to be “DB Cooper” a man who hijacked a 727 flying out of Seattle and jumped from the plane over the wilds of Washington State with a parachute and $200,000, never to be heard from again. The case continues to inspire wild speculation almost fifty years later, as it remains the only unsolved airplane hijacking in U.S. history.
Alabama Snake – Directed by Theo Love and produced by Bryan Storkel, the film explores the story of October 4, 1991, when a violent crime was reported in the sleepy town of Scottsboro, Alabama. Glenn Summerford, a Pentecostal minister, was accused of attempting to murder his wife with a rattlesnake. The details of the investigation and the trial that followed has haunted Southern Appalachia for decades. The documentary features local historian and folklorist, Dr. Thomas Burton, who has spent his life studying the culture, beliefs, and folklore of Pentecostal snake handlers. Alabama Snake paints a Southern Gothic portrait of Glenn Summerford and his tale of demon possession.
The Art of Political Murder – Directed by Paul Taylor, based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name, produced by Teddy Leifer and Regina K. Scully and executive produced by Academy Award winners George Clooney and Grant Heslov, 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. A team of young investigators take on the case and begin to unearth a web of conspiracy and corruption, entangling the highest levels of the government in their pursuit of the truth.
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