HBO has revealed a slate of upcoming diverse, timely and thought-provoking documentary films that will debut on the network in the coming months, including Happy Birthday Beautiful Girl – a documentary short that celebrates Sandra Bush, mother and long-time muse of Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas.
In the film, which I saw last year at the Brooklyn Museum, where the artist’s work was in exhibition, Thomas presents an emotional portrait of her mother, who is also portrayed in Sandra: She’s a Beauty, one of the paintings in Thomas’ traveling exhibition. The film presents former fashion model Bush’s personal and physical struggles, including kidney disease, revealing a different side of herself.
As Thomas explained, “One of the reasons I used my mother is because of her charisma, her beauty…and I thought about how I wasn’t [using her] because she was sick, and how a different type of beauty, a different type of aging, a different type of portraiture could come across on film.”
Happy Birthday Beautiful Girl will air on HBO on February 24.
Check out the full lineup of upcoming HBO documentaries below (in chronological order):
HERBLOCK – THE BLACK & THE WHITE (Jan. 27) traces the life of Herbert L. Block, who started cartooning in his teens in Chicago and went on to win four Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom during his 55 years at the Washington Post. For the better part of the 20th century, his cartoons were a must-read for those in Washington and syndicated across the country. Jon Stewart, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Lewis Black and Tom Brokaw are among those providing insight into Block’s life and career in the documentary, from multiple Emmy(R) winners Michael Stevens and George Stevens, Jr.
QUESTIONING DARWIN (Feb. 10) takes an in-depth look at modern-day creationist theory embraced by those who reject evolution, and also examines how Charles Darwin’s findings and theory of natural selection affected his own conception of God in the mid-1800s. Director Antony Thomas (HBO’s “For Neda”) offers a fascinating and thought-provoking examination of a 150-year debate that has only intensified with the rise of evangelical Christianity in the United States.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN (Feb. 24) celebrates Sandra Bush, the mother and longtime muse of the film’s director, New York-based artist Mickalene Thomas. Featuring intimate interviews with “Mama Bush,” as well as personal and archival photos, this is an emotional portrait of mother-daughter reconciliation as Sandra Bush achieves a measure of celebrity posing for her daughter’s most famous paintings.
PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KATRINA GILBERT (March 17), executive produced by Maria Shriver, explores complex issues of women and poverty in the United States today through the story of Katrina Gilbert. A single mother from Chattanooga, Tenn., she raises three children, works a full-time job and lives below the poverty line. Produced and directed by Nick Doob and Shari Cookson (HBO’s “The Memory Loss Tapes” and “The Weight of the Nation for Kids”), the film is part of the series “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.”
PRISON TERMINAL: THE LAST DAYS OF PRIVATE JACK HALL (March 31) goes inside the walls of the Iowa State Penitentiary, one of America’s oldest maximum security prisons, to tell the poignant story of terminally ill prisoner Hall. Filmed over the course of six months, the documentary explores the prison’s hospice system, and the volunteer care that Hall receives from other prisoners, who touch the lives of fellow inmates during their final days. Directed by Edgar A. Barens.
THE UNIVERSITY OF SING SING (March 31) follows several inmates at the infamous maximum-security Sing Sing Correctional Facility as they pursue their education through Hudson Link, a rigorous college program that yields impressive results. Directed by Tim Skousen.
ONE LAST HUG: THREE DAYS AT GRIEF CAMP (April) visits Camp Erin, one of 41 camps across the United States where children experiencing the death of a loved one can go to deal with their pain. At the camp, founded by baseball star Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen, kids learn that by talking about their feelings, they can begin to heal. The documentary testifies to the power of friendship and support. Directed by Oscar(R) nominee Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s “The Final Inch”) and produced by Emmy(R) nominees Greg DeHart and Paul Freedman.
ALL ABOUT ANN: GOVERNOR RICHARDS OF THE LONE STAR STATE (April) chronicles the political life of former Texas Democratic governor Ann Richards, who rose to power in a conservative state and effected sweeping reforms in gun control and women’s rights laws, as well as the state prison system. Featuring interviews with notables such as Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Michael Dukakis, the film is directed by Keith Patterson.
THE DEAD MOTHERS’ CLUB (May 5), inspired by Hope Edelman’s New York Times bestselling book, “Motherless Daughters,” shares the stories of three women who lost their mothers during childhood and are now navigating their way through motherhood themselves. Jane Fonda, Rosie O’Donnell and Molly Shannon speak candidly to directors Carlye Rubin and Katie Green about their own experiences growing up without mothers and reflect on the complicated nature of the mother-daughter relationship.
LARRY KRAMER (working title) (May), coinciding with the debut of the HBO Films drama “The Normal Heart,” is an intimate look at the life and work of the acclaimed playwright, novelist and essayist. The film spotlights Kramer’s work as an iconic LGBT rights activist and co-founder of ACT UP, an advocacy group working to improve the lives of people with AIDS. Directed by Jean Carlomusto.
REMEMBERING THE ARTIST: ROBERT DE NIRO, SR. (June 9) is a portrait of the esteemed figurative painter by the man who knew him best: his son. In intimate interviews, Robert De Niro, Jr. profiles an artist whose talent went largely unrecognized as the pop art movement swept the nation, and looks at the relationship between a father and son. Directed by Perri Peltz (HBO’s “The Education of Dee Dee Ricks”) and Geeta Gandbhir (Emmy(R)-winning editor of HBO’s “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”).
112 WEDDINGS (June 16) follows director Doug Block (CINEMAX’s “51 Birch Street”), a part-time wedding photographer who has filmed more than a hundred weddings. Revisiting some of his favorite couples, he explores themes of love, commitment and life after the big day, juxtaposing present-day reality with wedding-day flashbacks.
THE CASE AGAINST 8 (June 23) takes an inside look at the groundbreaking Supreme Court case that overturned Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White follow four of the case’s plaintiffs over a five-year period, offering exclusive access to the work of the unlikely legal team of conservative Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, who previously faced off as opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore.
Upcoming HBO Family programming presentations include:
JOSH GROBAN: SING YOUR SONG: A YOUNGARTS MASTERCLASS (Jan. 21) and ANNA DEAVERE SMITH: A YOUNGARTS MASTERCLASS (Feb. 17), featuring Grammy-nominated musician Josh Groban and renowned actress, playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith, are the latest in the series of half-hour documentaries that follow gifted high-school students who are mentored by America’s greatest artists in an intimate, interactive classroom environment. Directed by Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman (HBO’s Oscar(R)-winning “Strangers No More”).