(Above: A scene from HBO Documentary Films' Valentine Road / Photo courtesy of HBO.)
For the first time ever, HBO debuts its documentary series for the fall season, kicking off tonight with Valentine Road. The fall series will follow the same format as HBO's Summer Documentary Series, with at least one film premiering each Monday night.
HBO's Lisa Heller, Senior Vice President of HBO Documentary Films, gives us an inside look at the making of Valentine Road and what viewers can expect.
Why did HBO decide to tell this story?
We thought Valentine Road would make a strong HBO documentary film because it dug deep beyond the headlines of a tragic case that deserved more rigorous examination. The filmmaking team - Director Marta Cunningam and Producers Sasha Alpert and Eddie Schmidt - worked on the film for years before HBO was involved and it was clear that they were determined to resist a simplistic treatment of this heartbreaking incident. They managed to unpack intricate details of the story and its complicated aftermath in a way that reveals the complexities while remaining very compelling for a broad audience.
What message can viewers expect to walk away with after watchingValentine Road?
It's always difficult to prescribe how viewers might respond because everyone sees these things through their own lens, but audiences may likely find themselves surprised by who and what moves them. The filmmakers worked diligently to present people's experiences on all sides of this tragedy in an effort to understand how and why something like this could happen. Ultimately, the film speaks to the need for us to do a better job at keeping all of our children safe - at school, at home and in our communities.
Did HBO go into the filming process with a plan to explore the tragedy's broader cultural implications?
Filmmakers were filming long before HBO got involved, but we were drawn to programming that is 'myopic' in this way. Well-crafted documentaries that move in tight on a single story to illuminate larger societal issues are often the most impactful. In this case, director Marta Cunningham, was sincerely confounded about how something like this could happen. She did not set out to demonize anyone involved in the case, but genuinely wanted to bear witness to a range of human experience on all sides of this tragedy. I know her hope is that the film will catalyze meaningful engagement around some of the systemic issues that need to be addressed in order to prevent tragedies like this in the future. To this end, the Corporate Social Responsibility division at HBO has forged a partnership with GLSEN- the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to use the film in their groundbreaking work with schools across the country.
Any final thoughts?
Valentine Road is a powerful launch to a season of unforgettable true stories…from heroic struggles for survival to the magic of Sondheim - there's a new world every week - and something along the way is guaranteed to move you.
Valentine Road premieres on HBO at 9 p.m. tonight. Learn more about the fall documentary series with the trailer and film descriptions below.
Valentine Road (debuting Oct. 7) unravels the school shooting of a young teenager who had begun exploring his gender identity, detailing the circumstances that led to his murder by a fellow student, as well as its complicated aftermath. Directed and produced by first-time filmmaker Marta Cunningham and produced by Sasha Alpert (HBO's Autism: The Musical) and Eddie Schmidt (HBO's Twist of Faith), the powerful and disturbing documentary raises questions about the safety of LGBT teens, while challenging the efficacy of the country's educational and juvenile justice systems to prevent these kinds of tragedies. An official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Mondays at Racine, Open Heart and Redemption (debuting back-to-back Oct. 14) were all nominated for a Documentary Short Subject Oscar® earlier this year. Marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, MONDAYS AT RACINE, directed by Cynthia Wade (the Oscar®-winning Freeheld), visits a Long Island beauty salon that opens its doors to women diagnosed with cancer. Open Heart, directed by Kief Davidson, follows an Italian cardiologist in Southern Sudan as he fights to save the lives of young patients who have traveled from Rwanda for high-risk heart surgery. Redemption, directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill (Emmy® winners for directing HBO's Baghdad ER), looks at the growing army of jobless New Yorkers whose treasures are found in trash through collecting five-cent bottles and cans.
Life According to Sam (debuting Oct. 21) explores the remarkable world of 16-year-old Sam Berns, spotlighting his family's courageous fight to save their son from the extremely rare and fatal disease Progeria, a progressive aging disorder. An official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it chronicles their inspiring, relentless pursuit of a treatment and cure as they empower Sam to enjoy the fullest life possible. Directed by Sean and Andrea Fine (Oscar® winners for Inocente).
Seduced and Abanonded (debuting Oct. 28) follows Alec Baldwin and James Toback as they attempt to make a deal to produce their version of Last Tango in Paris< at the Cannes Film Festival. From intimate chats with Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski, to the pursuit of high-profile names like Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, to an expose of backroom wheeling and dealing, this cinematic romp is a humorous ode to everything alluring about cinema. Directed by James Toback.
Tales from the Organ Trade (debuting Nov. 4) is an unflinching descent into the shadowy world of black-market organ trafficking: the brokers, the rogue surgeons, the impoverished men and women who are willing to sacrifice an organ for a quick payday and the desperate patients who face the agonizing choice of obeying the law or saving their lives. Directed by Ric Esther Bienstock (Emmy® winner for Frontline: Sex Slaves); narrated by David Cronenberg; produced by Ric Esther Bienstock, Felix Golubev and Simcha Jacobovici.
Dial One for Vets (debuting Nov. 11) explores the epidemic of suicide among American war veterans. According to the VA, one veteran dies by suicide in America every 80 minutes, and while only 1% of Americans has served in the military, former service members account for 20% of all suicides in the U.S. Since 2001, more veterans have died by their own hand than in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Directed by Ellen Goosenberg (HBO's Emmy®0winning I Have Tourette's But Tourette's Doesn't Have Me) and produced by Dana Perry.
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (debuting Nov. 18) celebrates the iconic African-American standup comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley, who broke racial and sexual boundaries. Recently unearthed photography, rediscovered performance footage and the words of numerous celebrated comedians, entertainers and historians underscore her profound influence. Directed by Whoopi Goldberg.
Toxic Hot Seat (debuting Nov. 25) follows a courageous group of firefighters, mothers, journalists, scientists, politicians and other activists as they fight to expose a shadowy campaign of deception that left a toxic legacy in America's homes and bodies, and has taken nearly 40 years to unravel. Directed by James Redford.
The Battle of Amfar (debuting Dec. 2) shows how Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor and research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim fought to create America's first national AIDS research foundation. An official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it chronicles the organization's history and continuing importance in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (HBO's Sundance award-winning The Celluloid Closet and Oscar®-winningCommon Threads: Stories from the Quilt).
Six by Sondheim (debuting Dec. 9) is an intimate look at the prolific career of renowned Broadway lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim (Company,Follies, Sweeney Todd). A story of both his life and work, the film highlights his experiences writing six of his most celebrated songs: Something's Coming,Opening Doors, Send in the Clowns, I'm Still Here, Being Alive and Sunday. Told primarily by Sondheim himself, it draws on his extensive personal archive and dozens of interviews from all stages of his career, underscoring his honesty and passion for his art. New performances by such stars as Audra McDonald, Jarvis Cocker, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, America Ferrera and Sondheim himself have been produced exclusively for the feature documentary. Directed by Tony winner James Lapine, with musical segments directed by Todd Haynes, Autumn de Wilde and James Lapine.