(Pictured above: Members of the Pussy Riot band with interpreter Irina Barskova during Q&A at last night's premiere of HBO Documentaries' Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer in New York City.)
HBO Documentary Films kicks off its highly anticipated Summer Series with the film, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. The film, which airs on HBO June 10 at 9 p.m. ET, dives into the story of the young female punk rock band, Pussy Riot, and their recent legal battles with the Russian government over one of their protest performance pieces at the altar of one of Moscow’s largest Cathedrals.
We wanted take a closer look into how HBO execs choose documentaries for their summer series and more specifically Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. We were fortunate to speak with Sara Bernstein, the VP of Programming for HBO Documentary Films.
What originally interested you in the story?
Sheila Nevins and I were following the story as it was unraveling. HBO Docs was able to view some footage from the film early on and I think it was a combination of the access the filmmakers had to the story and what the story itself represented that was so interesting to us. These women in Russia were on trial for basically a performance piece. We recognized that the freedom of speech issue was under a microscope, which is something that we in the United States take very seriously. The Pussy Riot documentary conveys a rich freedom of expression story. These women are in prison, living in dire situations for the expression of their political views. The filmmakers had unique access and were able to deliver a fresh and new perspective other than what was delivered in the media.
What’s the producing process like for an HBO documentary?
The majority of our films are commissioned works where HBO is involved from the beginning of the project. Sometimes stories are pitched to us and some stories we assign producers to explore. And some films we acquire at a rough cut or finished stage. As for Pussy Riot we tracked the film and acquired at the Sundance Film Festival. We did do some reediting and post production work once we acquired it, so that it had the final HBO stamp on it.
What do you think viewers will take away from the band’s story?
The Pussy Riot film presents a human side to a headline. Hopefully, the film will make people aware of the Pussy Riot case and think about our own rights as Americans, which we sometimes take for granted.
Was there anything surprising you learned about the band’s experience?
What was surprising to me was how young these women were and what they were willing to endure for their convictions. At their core they are artists who are to some degree political, but are essentially striving to express themselves in a highly political environment. These women had to have a tremendous amount of courage to put their views forward. By expressing their beliefs they were putting their personal safety on the line, which is incredibly brave. These women are truly punk rock.
Any final thoughts?
I really hope the viewers’ enjoy the film and return each week for our HBO Docs: Summer Series. We believe Pussy Riot is a strong kick off to a summer full of exceptional documentary films. I hope the audience finds themselves exposed to a story that they might not have been aware of otherwise, which is what we try to do with all of our HBO documentaries.
Be sure to catch Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer on HBO this coming Monday, June 10 at 9 p.m. ET. You can also watch the trailer below and see photos below from the film’s New York City premiere last night.
Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin (Directors of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer), Sheila Nevins (President, HBO Documentary Films) and Sarah Bernstein (VP of Programming, HBO Documentary Films).
Maxim Pozdorovkin and Mike Lerner with singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist Patti Smith.
Patti Smith, Sheila Nevins and Sarah Bernstein.
Pussy Riot members with interpreter Irina Barskova during Q&A session.
Pussy Riot member via Skype.