Tonight marks the beginning of HBO's summer-long documentary series: "Life. Changing." A new film will premiere every Monday through August 25th. Inconveniently, I don't subscribe to HBO, but I'm still interested by the insane trailer (opens in a pop-up window) that's been playing before movies at Landmark Theatres over the last couple of months. Here's to hoping that a few of these filter out for public screenings at some point in the future, especially since a number of them have already played at 2008 film festivals like Tribeca and Sundance.
Although I'd probably watch all twelve, my primary interest is in these:
June 9 (tonight): Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
" On March 11, 1977, Roman Polanski was arrested in Los Angeles and charged with the following counts: furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child, unlawful sexual intercourse, rape by use of drugs, perversion and sodomy. Less than a year later, on February 1, 1978, Polanski drove to LAX, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and never came back. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired explores the implausible events that took place between these dates, along with details, before and after, that forever altered the life and career of Polanski, one of the world's most acclaimed directors."
June 23: Hard Times at Douglass High
"Alan and Susan Raymond spent one year filming in Frederick Douglass High School, which has a rich history of successful alumni, including Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. Shot in classic cinema verité style, the film captures the complex realities of life at Douglass, and provides a context for the national debate over the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, focusing on the brutal inequalities of American minority education, considered an American tragedy by many."
June 30: Ganja Queen
"Ganja Queen is the harrowing story of Schapelle Corby, a young Australian woman who is accused of international drug trafficking after ten pounds of marijuana are found in one of her bags while on holiday in Bali. Proclaiming her innocence, she finds herself locked in a life-and-death courtroom battle. The film is a chilling reminder of the risks all travelers take when visiting countries with vastly different criminal justice systems and cultural mores."
July 14: China's Stolen Children " Through the personal stories of several men, women and children whose lives are impacted by the stolen-child black market in China, China's Stolen Children brings viewers face-to-face with a crisis brought on by the controversial one-child policy, implemented in 1979 to slow the country's explosive population growth. As narrator Ben Kingsley explains, "The Chinese government doesn't want the outside world to know about the crisis facing China's children, so this film had to be made entirely undercover. The film crew posed as tourists, moved hotels every three days, and changed SIM cards after every phone call." Remarkably, the subjects all agreed to appear on-camera, although several interviews are held in darkened cars or out-of-the-way locations to avoid detection. The result is a harrowing look at an illegal but largely uncontrollable practice that has reached epidemic proportions."
August 4: Baghdad High
"Baghdad High views the current war in Iraq through the eyes of four Iraqi teens as they enter their senior year of high school. Filmed by the boys themselves, the documentary follows their friendships during the entire academic year and offers unique insight into ordinary adolescent Iraqi lives."
August 11: We Are Together
"We Are Together: The Children of the Agape Choir is the poignant story of 12-year-old Slindile Moya, her siblings and other residents of the Agape Orphanage in South Africa for children who've lost their parents to AIDS. Filmed over three years, the film celebrates the power of song and chronicles the children's remarkable life-changing odyssey as they overcome hardship and loss. Winner of multiple awards, including the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award."
August 25: The Black List, Vol. 1
"The Black List, Vol. 1 presents dramatic portraits of some of today's most fascinating and influential African-Americans, who share their stories and insights into the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in the U.S. The film is a collaboration between celebrated portrait photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who directs, and award-winning journalist Elvis Mitchell, who interviews such notables as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sean Combs, Thelma Golden, Lou Gossett, Jr., Bill T. Jones, Vernon Jordan, Toni Morrison, Suzanne-Lori Parks, Richard Parsons, Chris Rock, Al Sharpton, Slash, Faye Wattleton, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Zane."
For those of us who don't have HBO, well, at least there's always the Emmy-Award winning P.O.V. series on PBS, which kicks off on June 24. See the full schedule and check out the trailer on a website that's friendlier and not as flash-heavy and pop-uppy site as HBO's. I'll preview those docs in due time.