Writer Nora Ephron, filmmaker Laurie Anderson, singer Mavis Staples, heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, Cuban LGBT activist Mariela Castro (Fidel’s niece) and a 18-year-old Pakistani woman who defied her society by falling in love are some of the subjects in HBO’s nonfiction Spring 2016 schedule.
The premium cable network has announced a slate of 17 documentary features and one trio of shorts, many of them the most anticipated nonfic films of the year. Unfortunately, only four women directors — Jessica Edwards ("Mavis!"), Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy ("A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness"), Laurie Anderson ("Heart of a Dog") and Liz Garbus ("Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper") — are represented in the bunch.
Below are HBO’s descriptions of the features and shorts by and/or about women. Women directors’ names are bolded.
MAVIS! (Feb. 29) chronicles the ascension of gospel and soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. An intimate look at a tight-knit family, the film reveals their struggles and successes, featuring dynamic live performances and rarely-seen archival footage, as well as modern-day interviews with Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy and Chuck D. Directed by Jessica Edwards.
A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (March 7) is the story of Saba, a courageous 18-year-old Pakistani woman who is condemned to death for falling in love, but lives to tell the tale. Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (HBO’s “Saving Face”) follows this gripping tale as it unfolds, revealing some of the complex forces at work in a country where more than 1000 women are killed in the name of “honor” every year.
EBOLA: THE DOCTORS’ STORY, BODY TEAM 12 and ORPHANS OF EBOLA (March 14) is a series of three short films on the Ebola epidemic. EBOLA: THE DOCTORS’ STORY follows a British emergency response doctor inside a Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center at the height of the epidemic in Sierra Leone. BODY TEAM 12 highlights the heroic and heartbreaking work of a female Liberian Red Cross worker tasked with collecting the dead from homes and villages, removing the bodies to halt transmission of the disease. ORPHANS OF EBOLA follows Abu, a 12-year-old boy from a village in Sierra Leone, who loses eight members of his family and must restart his life elsewhere.
EVERYTHING IS COPY (March 21) is an illuminating, candid portrait of Nora Ephron, the writer and screenwriter-director known for her biting honesty and intelligent humor. Written and directed by her son, Jacob Bernstein, the documentary explores the line between professional ambition and personal loyalties, and features intimate interviews with some of those closest to her, including her three sisters, as well as Mike Nichols, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Steven Spielberg and Meryl Streep. Co-directed by Nick Hooker; executive produced by Graydon Carter.
NOTHING LEFT UNSAID: GLORIA VANDERBILT & ANDERSON COOPER (April 9) spotlights mother and son incandid reflections on their extraordinary family history. Born to wealth and New York royalty, Vanderbilt has lived in the public eye for more than 90 years, experiencing extreme tragedy and tremendous success side by side. Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (HBO’s “A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY”) captures Vanderbilt as she’s never been seen before, as she and her son discover how family stories of loss and survival repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.
HEART OF A DOG (April 25) joins creative pioneer Laurie Anderson on a wry and wondrous journey through love, death and language, centering on her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, who died in 2011. Mixing childhood memories, video diaries and philosophical musings on data collection, surveillance culture and the Buddhist conception of the afterlife, the critically acclaimed film offers heartfelt tributes to the artists and thinkers who inspire her.
MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH: CUBA’S LGBT REVOLUTION (June) follows the crusade of Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter (and Fidel Castro’s niece) to establish equal rights for LGBT Cubans, and examines the cultural and institutional homophobia that gay men faced throughout much of the Cuban Revolution, when they were often put into work camps. Emmy winner Jon Alpert (HBO’s “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq”) directs.
SUITED (June) tells the story of Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn tailoring company that makes custom suits for gender-nonconforming and transgender clients, following a range of people on the gender spectrum. Among those sharing their unique stories are a trans Bar Mitzvah boy, a New York City cab driver, a young southern law student and a transgender man preparing for his wedding. The film spotlights the intimate journey of coming into a new identity, accepting difference and living bravely in one’s own skin. Produced by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (HBO’s “Girls”); directed by Jason Benjamin.