HBO Documentaries kicked off their new summer series last night with Bobby Fischer Against the World, a documentary about the notorious, world-renowned chess champion and maniac, Bobby Fischer. I haven’t finished watching it yet, because life is what happens you’re busy making other huh? But I’ve watched half of it and it’s really good! Did you know that people used to actually care about chess? It’s true! I’m currently watching the segment about Bobby Fischer playing against Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972 for the World Championship title and it’s very riveting and compelling (who will win the chess fight?!) but it’s also just interesting to see what a cultural event it was. Late night talk shows about it! Nightly news reports! People crowding around department store television sets! It was a whole thing it turns out. Later, of course, Bobby Fischer would become an anti-Semitic lunatic who had his passport revoked and was detained by the Japanese for extradition and a whole bunch of other Classic Maniac Stuff. But the point is that it’s pretty good and there are going to be new documentaries each Monday throughout the summer and we should watch them. Here is the complete lineup:
A MATTER OF TASTE: SERVING UP PAUL LIEBRANDT (June 13) documents the career of the acclaimed chef – and the cutthroat world of haute cuisine – over eight years. The film follows Liebrandt as he matures from young renegade to one of New York City’s most celebrated chefs with the opening of his renowned Michelin two-star restaurant Corton in Tribeca. Directed by Sally Rowe in her documentary directorial debut. A selection of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
SEX CRIMES UNIT (June 20) takes an unprecedented look inside the Manhattan District Attorney’s famed Sex Crimes Unit, the first unit dedicated to the prosecution of sexual assault to be established in the U.S. The film follows the day-to-day work of prosecutors as they deal with investigations, trials and plea bargains. Among other cases, it tracks The People v. Kevin Rios, in which a prostitute makes an accusation of rape, and follows one woman’s experience with the Cold Case Unit when her accused assailant, originally indicted on the basis of his DNA profile, is finally identified and brought to justice 16 years after the crime. Directed by Emmy® winner Lisa F. Jackson (HBO’s “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo”).
HOT COFFEE (June 27) examines the dangers of so-called tort reform and its threat to the civil justice system. Using the now-infamous legal battle over a spilled cup of McDonald’s coffee as a springboard, the film follows four people, including McDonald’s plaintiff Stella Liebeck, whose lives have been affected by their inability to access the courts, as well as caps on punitive damages, and examines the role of corporations and a complicit media in promoting tort reform. Directed by former trial lawyer and first-time filmmaker Susan Saladoff. A selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
CITIZEN U.S.A.: A 50-STATE ROAD TRIP (July 4) follows director Alexandra Pelosi (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Journeys with George”) as she travels across the U.S. to attend naturalization ceremonies in all 50 states and meets brand-new citizens to find out why they chose America as their home. Commemorating the Fourth of July, the documentary intersperses stories of newly naturalized citizens and interviews with notable first-generation Americans, including Madeleine Albright, Arianna Huffington, Henry Kissinger and Gene Simmons.
THE PIRATE TAPES (July 11) tells the story of Canadian-Somali college student Mohammed Asherah, who returns to Somalia under the guise of a wealthy entrepreneur, hires a pirate cell and lives undercover with it for three months. Using a hidden camera to capture the pirates’ lives, he learns the jarring truth about piracy’s causes and effects on the world, and finds himself duped by the very people he thinks he’s deceiving. Directed by first-time documentary filmmakers Mohammed Asherah, Rock Baijnauth, Andrew Moniz, Roger Singh and Matvei Zhivov.
MANN V. FORD (July 18) follows members of the Ramapo Indian tribe in Upper Ringwood, NJ in their eight-year search for justice through a major class-action lawsuit. From the middle ‘50s through the late ‘70s, the Ford Motor Company operated an assembly plant in Mahwah, NJ that produced millions of cars each year, dumping what has been described as “thousands of tons of paint sludge and other waste” into abandoned mine shafts and residential land. Working-class residents of the area have been suffering from a range of ailments, including skin problems, bleeding disorders and increased rates of cancer and miscarriage, ever since. The film charts their uphill battle to secure a healthy future for their children. Directed by Maro Chermayeff (HBO’s “The Kindness of Strangers”) and Micah Fink (“Frontline”).
THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH AUNT DIANE (July 25) revisits the mysterious tragedy of Diane Schuler, who, on July 26, 2009, drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in New York for nearly two miles and then smashed into an oncoming SUV, killing herself, her daughter, her three nieces and all three people in the other car. Her autopsy revealed that Schuler had consumed the equivalent of ten shots of vodka and smoked marijuana shortly before the accident. The film investigates the circumstances behind the enduring mysteries of the incident in an effort to understand what went wrong. Directed by Liz Garbus (the Oscar®-nominated “The Farm: Angola, USA”; HBO’s “The Execution of Wanda Jean”).
KORAN BY HEART (Aug. 1) visits the world’s oldest Koran memorization contest, which takes place each year in Cairo, drawing Muslim children from as far as the Maldives and Tajikistan to perform before a panel of prominent judges. This inspirational film follows these talented youngsters from intense preparation through the rigorous rounds of the tournament, offering an engaging look at the unique experiences and aspirations of Muslim children throughout the world. Directed by Greg Barker (HBO’s “Sergio”). A selection of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
SUPERHEROES (Aug. goes inside the world of real-life caped crusaders. From all over America, these everyday citizens don masks, homemade costumes and elaborate utility belts in an attempt to bring justice to evildoers everywhere. Directed by first-time filmmaker Michael Barnett. A 2011 Slamdance Film Festival award winner.
GLORIA: IN HER OWN WORDS (Aug. 15) recounts how Gloria Steinem became one of the driving forces of feminism. Beginning as a reporter writing an exposé on the working conditions of Playboy Bunnies, she was transformed by learning about women’s horrifying experiences while covering a New York abortion hearing in 1969. The film includes archival footage and interviews showcasing Steinem’s sharp sense of humor, love of life and compassion for humankind. Today, she remains a feminist icon, ever-present on the frontlines of social and political activism. Filmmakers, Peter Kunhardt and Dyllan McGee (HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Teddy: In His Own Words”).
Right? They sound good. You know I’m right. Just tell your jock friends that you’re watching Christina Aguilera’s The Voice.