HBO announced its documentary slate for the first half of 2020 at TCA today, including films about three-time Oscar nominee Natalie Wood, Muhammad Ali’s relationship with talk show host Dick Cavett, “fake news,” Roy Cohn, cyberwarfare, autism, LGTBQ issues and more. Read details about all of the projects below.
The premium cabler also set premieres for the previously announced Atlanta Child Murders (working title), Welcome to Chechnya and others.
Here is the list of upcoming HBO docus and their premiere dates ranging from February to June, with synopses provided by HBO:
McMILLION$ (Feb. 3)
The six-part documentary series, is the incredible true story of how $24 million-dollars was stolen from the McDonald’s Monopoly game of the 1990s, the mystery mastermind behind the scam and the intrepid FBI agents on his trail. For over a decade, McDonald’s fast-food empire awarded prizes in its Monopoly promotional game tie-in, unaware that the biggest winning tickets were being stolen and sold to undeserving winners through a complex web of family and friends who became co-conspirators. An anonymous tip to the FBI in 2001 triggers a far-reaching chain of events that will come to include dogged and unorthodox investigative work, undercover sting operations and dirty dealings by shifty ex-cons with ties to the mafia. The series unfolds with suspense and improbable hijinks as it unravels the twisted threads of the fast-food fraud and reveals the real-life characters for whom a winning ticket was too good to turn down, and who hoped they could get away with stealing from Ronald McDonald. Directed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte and executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Archie Gips.
ALI & CAVETT: THE TALE OF THE TAPES (Feb. 11)
This documentary offers a unique look at boxing legend Muhammad Ali by chronicling his life and career through the lens of his relationship with television talk show host Dick Cavett. Ali appeared on Cavett’s three-time Emmy-winning late-night show fourteen times. The unlikely duo became known for their provocative primetime debates on race relations, which blossomed into a 50-plus year friendship. The film focuses on Ali’s rise to greatness during the mid-60s, his draft evasion controversy, and how he, as the first boxer to truly be a product of the television age, leveraged his media influence to advocate for racial justice. Directed by Robert S. Bader.
WE ARE THE DREAM: THE KIDS OF THE OAKLAND MLK ORATORICAL FEST (Feb. 18)
Every year in Oakland, CA, hundreds of pre-K through 12th grade students compete in the Martin Luther King Oratorical Festival, performing a mix of published and original poetry and speeches. This documentary chronicles the months leading up to the 40th annual festival, as schools across the city send their top-placing students to compete. It is a portrait of passionate young people raising their voices about issues they care about – racial injustice, immigration and more – and of a community that celebrates them. Directed by Emmy winner Amy Schatz and executive produced by Mahershala Ali.
AXIOS SEASON THREE (March & May)
The news-breaking documentary series will continue to work with Axios journalists to cover it all – politics, business, technology – and share insight on other big topics shaping the future. Cofounded in 2016 by Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei and Roy Schwartz, Axios is known for its headline-generating interviews, illuminating coverage and trustworthy insight delivered with “smart brevity.” Directed and produced by Emmy winner Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz.
AFTER TRUTH: DISINFORMATION AND THE COST OF FAKE NEWS (March)
In the age of social media, this eye-opening documentary examines the rising phenomenon of “fake news” in the U.S. and the impact that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen. The film focuses on several high-profile made-up news stories in recent years with real world consequences, including the infamous “Pizzagate” case, the disinformation campaigns that influenced the 2016 presidential election, the Jade Helm conspiracy, and others. Drawing from exclusive verite access and interviews with a variety of experts, as well as purveyors and targets of misinformation, the documentary sheds light on how post-truth culture has become an increasingly dangerous part of the global information environment. Directed by Andrew Rossi and executive produced by Brian Stelter.
KILL CHAIN: THE CYBER WAR ON AMERICA’S ELECTIONS (March)
Takes a chilling look into the security of election technology revealing how unprotected our voting systems really are. With the integrity of 2016’s election in question, 2020 is also at risk as malware may already be in place to disrupt aspects of the multi-faceted election system – from voter registration rolls to ballots. As more precincts rely on electronic voting machines, seemingly unrelated attacks over the past few years can be seen as part of a “kill chain,” in which state sponsored hackers employ cyber weapons instead of military force to undermine faith in the democratic process and the freedoms that many Americans assume are protected. Following Harri Hursti, the legendary Finnish hacker turned election expert, as he investigates election-related hacks, the film also features candid interviews with key figures in the election security community as well as U.S. Senators from both parties who are fighting to protect the sanctity of the votes of U.S. citizens. A film by Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale.
ATLANTA CHILD MURDERS (working title, April)
Offers a never-before-seen look at the abduction and murder of at least 30 African American children and young adults that occurred over a two-year period in Atlanta in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s, from the initial disappearance and discovery of two murdered teenage boys and the fear that gripped the city, to the prosecution and indictment of 23-year-old Atlanta native Wayne Williams and the rush to officially shut down the case. With unprecedented access and a treasure trove of archival material, this timely documentary series brings new evidence to light as the cases are reopened, providing a powerful window into one of America’s darkest chapters. The series is produced and directed by the Emmy-winning team at Show of Force, including Joshua Bennett, Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre, and Oscar nominee Sam Pollard and executive produced by Patrick Reardon of Roc Nation and by the Emmy-winning team at Get Lifted Film Co., Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and John Legend.
AUTISM: THE SEQUEL (April)
This film follows five young adults on the spectrum as they navigate their early 20’s. Intercut with present day interviews is footage of the same youth and their families shot 12 years ago for the Emmy-winning film “AUTISM: The Musical.” The new film answers the prevailing question all of the families struggled with: what will happen when my kid grows up? Directed by Sasha Alpert.
THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER (April)
Based on Francisco Goldman’s book of the same name and executive produced by Oscar 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 and produced by Teddy Leifer.
NATALIE WOOD: WHAT REMAINS BEHIND (May)
Natalie Wood’s remarkable life and career are often overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding her tragic death at age 43. Guided by her daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, as well as her extensive circle of family and close friends, the film intimately explores Wood’s personal life and illustrious career that spanned nearly five decades. The film chronicles her triumphs and challenges, featuring previously unseen home movies, photographs, diaries and letters, as well as interviews with those that knew her best. Directed by Laurent Bouzereau. Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey executive produce for Amblin Television.
WELCOME TO CHECHNYA (June)
In the present-day Russian republic of Chechnya, gay and transgender citizens are targeted as part of a deadly “cleansing” campaign. This searing documentary shadows a group of brave LGBTQ activists risking their lives to confront the ongoing persecution, working undercover to rescue the victims of this aggression. Through a succession of safe houses and a global underground network of collaborators, the LGBTQ advocates provide victims temporary safety and urgent visa assistance, because fleeing Russia is their only chance for survival. Directed by David France.
Filmed over five years in Kansas City, this documentary follows four transgender kids – beginning at ages 4, 7, 12, and 15 – as they redefine “coming of age.” These kids and their families show us the intimate realities of how gender is re-shaping the family next door in a unique and unprecedented chronicle of growing up transgender in the heartland. The film is a nuanced story of how parents and children are challenged, transform, and sometimes find unexpected purpose in their identities as transgender families. Moving, surprising and inspiring, this story teaches us something new about being human. Directed and produced by Sharon Liese.
BULLY. COWARD. VICTIM. THE STORY OF ROY COHN (June)
This film offers an unflinching look at the infamous attorney who prosecuted Ivy Meeropol’s grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and later argued persuasively for their execution in what became known as the “atomic spies” case. The film examines Cohn’s life as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the late 1950s, through the 1980s when he became a darling of the Reagan White House, a rabid anti-homosexuality activist and political mentor to Donald J. Trump before meeting his death from AIDS in 1986. The film draws from extensive, newly unearthed archival material, recorded at the height of Cohn’s career as a power broker in the rough and tumble world of New York City business and politics. Directed by Ivy Meeropol.
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