HBO has become an important showcase for long-form non-fiction programming on important social issues. As a cable programming service, HBO has offered television audiences a broader range of controversial subjects that are often more explicit than network broadcasts. This commitment was exemplified in two documentaries last year:
High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell, an hour-long cinema verite portrait of several crack-addicts in a declining Massachusetts neighborhood. The camera took viewers uncomfortably close to addiction, leaving no romance in this view of the drug culture.
The Celluloid Closet, an engaging documentary about the evolution of gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood films. Intercut with anecdotes and observations by many film industry professionals are historical film clips, funny and poignant, once obscure and now remarkably frank. Narrated by Lily Tomlin and based on a book of the same name, this program turned the best of Hollywood’s skills into a revealing self-portrait.
The Silver Baton was accepted by Sheila Nevins, senior vice president for documentary and family programming for HBO.
This three-hour special edition of Frontline was a first-person journey of history and remembrance of Europe before World War II. The filmmaker, Marian Marzynski, returned to his native Poland with a friend to rediscover the Jewish village, or Shtetl, of their past, to see how much had survived the Holocaust. They befriended a young Polish non-Jew and explored the shards of Jewish culture he collected in the shtetl called Bransk. Their visit is full of stories of warmth, betrayal, humor and reconciliation. It is as much a report on modern Poland as it is a healing journey of mutual understanding.
The Silver Baton was accepted by Marian Marzynski, producer and director.
Starting with a 1982 photograph of a fourth grade class in the poor Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant, Dateline did some empirical research by tracking down 21 of the 24 students, now in their 20s. The effort took nine months to complete, and the program devoted forty minutes to the significant results. A frightening number of the men were in prison or had been involved in crime; the women, for the most part, were successful. Their reunion was enlightening and powerful.
The Silver Baton was accepted by producer John Bloch.
This 90-minute biography of a fabulously quirky character aired on the PBS series American Masters. The producers found superb archival footage that demonstrated the genius and the iconoclast in Buckminster Fuller—architect, engineer, poet, inventor and philosopher, whose most memorable legacy is the geodesic dome. The interviews with many artists, cultural observers, and scholars, provide insight and light-hearted reflections on Fuller’s exceptional life.
The Silver Baton was accepted by independent producers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman.
In Punishing Saddam, produced by Catherine Olian, the 60 Minutes team reported on the impact of UN sanctions on civilians in Iraq. Focusing on shortages of food and medicine as well as the decline in sanitary conditions because of the embargo, Lesley Stahl demonstrated the moral dilemmas of foreign policy.
In Too Good to be True, produced by Suzanne St. Pierre, Morley Safer revisited graduates of West Side Prep, a private inner-city school in Chicago, the same group he had profiled 16 years before. The success of these students refuted charges by social scientist Charles Murray in his book The Bell Curve that the school could not have improved the prospects of its poor, deprived children.