[02/08/19 - 12:47 PM]
HBO Announces Documentary Lineup for Early 2019
Highlights include "Leaving Neverland," "Running with Beto," and "What's My Name - Muhammad Ali."

[via press release from HBO]


The two-part documentary LEAVING NEVERLAND explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James "Jimmy" Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. They and their families were invited into his wondrous world, entranced by the singer's fairy-tale existence as his career reached its peak.

Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, LEAVING NEVERLAND crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own.

Produced and directed by Dan Reed (HBO's Emmy(R)-nominated "Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks" and "Terror at the Mall"), the first part of LEAVING NEVERLAND debuts SUNDAY, MARCH 3 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), followed by the second part the following night, MONDAY, MARCH 4 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners' streaming platforms.

James Safechuck was a child actor from Simi Valley, Calif. In 1986, when he was eight years old, he landed a role in a Pepsi commercial alongside Jackson. Immediately taken by Safechuck, Jackson became a cherished family friend within months.

Wade Robson was an amateur child dancer from Brisbane, Australia. In 1987, the five-year-old was granted the opportunity to meet Jackson backstage at his Brisbane show after winning a dance-alike contest. In 1990, Robson's mother, Joy, followed up with Jackson, who invited the whole family to his home for the weekend, where their friendship was formed.

Jackson inserted himself into the families' lives in separate but similar ways. His approach was gentle but deliberate, often manifesting as nothing but affection for the child. He became their most trusted friend, mentor and confidante, separately expressing his love for both boys, while slowly isolating them from their families.

Many of their most salient memories during this time involved visits to Jackson's Neverland Ranch, just north of Santa Barbara. Both men describe how it was a child's dreamland filled with games, amusement park rides, exotic animals and an endless supply of candy and junk food.

These visits soon began to include overnight stays, where Jackson would sleep in the same bedroom as his young guests, away from their parents. Both Robson and Safechuck describe how what began as innocent sleepovers led to intimate contact. Robson was seven years old when the abuse started; Safechuck was ten. Soon, as Safechuck recalls painfully, nearly every "special" place at Neverland was marked by a sexual encounter.

In 1991, with Jackson's encouragement, Robson's mother moved her son and daughter Chantal to Los Angeles to help advance her son's career as an entertainer. This decision pulled the family apart, leaving Robson's father, older brother and grandmother behind in Australia. In the film, Robson's siblings speak about how distant they became as Jackson grew closer to Robson and their mother.

From the beginning, Jackson impressed upon Robson and Safechuck that they had to keep their sexual contact a secret. Robson recalls believing Jackson when he told him they would both "go to jail for the rest of our lives" if anyone found out.

As both boys reached adolescence, they found they were no longer in the same "privileged" position, no longer the object of Jackson's seemingly undivided attention. However, they kept their secrets and their loyalty to him, bound by the complicated emotional attachments forged in abuse. In the 1990s, when others accused Jackson of abuse, Safechuck and Robson were urged by Jackson to defend him. Both vehemently denied to their parents and to the public that Jackson had ever been inappropriate with them.

Robson became one of the most successful young choreographers of his generation, working with *NSYNC and Britney Spears at the height of their careers. But his success was tinged with sadness and depression. Safechuck, an aspiring film director and rock musician, also faced bouts of depression and addiction.

Both eventually married and had sons of their own. As their infant sons grew, their emotional turmoil mounted as they struggled to make sense of the past, revealing how the ripples of sexual abuse can manifest themselves decades later.

Finally, facing emotional crises, both men reached a point where they were willing to speak the truth to their family members. In the film, their families describe when Robson and Safechuck opened up for the first time, as they understood the damage that remained long after the physical abuse stopped. Then, they began to confront their trauma, trying to understand their complex memories and heal the fractured relationships within their families. Now, after years of therapy, both men have decided to speak out and tell their stories.

The documentary recently had its world premiere in the Special Events section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Among the early critical raves for the documentary, Rolling Stone described it as "hard to watch, tougher to ignore, impossible to forget... a portrait of bravery," and the Hollywood Reporter called it "harrowing, complicated and heartbreaking," while Variety hailed the documentary's "devastatingly powerful and convincing testimony."

LEAVING NEVERLAND was produced and directed by Dan Reed; film editor, Jules Cornell; assistant producer, Marguerite Gaudin; cinematographer, Dan Reed; composer, Chad Hobson; music producer, Steve McLaughlin. For HBO Documentary Films: executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller. For Channel 4: commissioning editors, Daniel Pearl, Tom Porter and Dorothy Byrne.


David Modigliani's behind-the-scenes documentary RUNNING WITH BETO, following Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke's rise from virtual unknown to national political sensation, will debut exclusively on HBO. Modigliani embedded with the O'Rourke campaign for a year as O'Rourke staged a bold, grassroots attempt to unseat Ted Cruz and represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. The film draws on intimate access to O'Rourke, his tight-knit family and his team of political newcomers, who champion a new way of getting to know a candidate - one Texas county at a time.

As a Democrat in the historically Republican stronghold of Texas, the El Paso native's journey was unique, as he traveled to all 254 counties in Texas, using social media in unconventional ways to bring his message to the masses and refusing to accept PAC money or corporate contributions along the way. The result was the best-funded grassroots campaign in U.S. Senate history.

RUNNING WITH BETO will have its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March prior to its debut on HBO this spring.

RUNNING WITH BETO presents O'Rourke in a way that he has never been seen before. The film gives viewers unprecedented access into the personal and political toll that running for office can take on a candidate and a family, capturing revealing moments with his wife and three young kids throughout the grueling journey.

The film offers an inside look at his unorthodox staff and a number of passionate, diverse supporters helping to spread a new message in Texas. Revealing the challenges of the campaign trail, RUNNING WITH BETO documents Beto's battles with an onslaught of negative advertising, the inevitable strain on his family, and the pressure of delivering for those he inspires.

Director Modigliani notes, "Long before Beto burst onto the national scene, HBO believed in our vision for this project as both a human and political story, and we're thrilled to work with them to bring this special film into the world."

RUNNING WITH BETO is a Live Action Projects production in association with Crooked Media for HBO Documentary Films; produced and directed by David Modigliani; producers, Rebecca Feferman, Nancy Schafer, Rachel Ecklund, Greg Kwedar, Michelle Modigliani; executive producers, Alex Halbert, Heather Halbert, Jon Halbert, Linda Halbert, Andrew Gill, Lindsey Gill, Akbar Mohamed, Rishma Mohammed, Lias Jeff Steen; co-executive producers, LeeAn Behrens, David Montague, Meryl Metni, Barry Munger, Sarah O'Neil, Ashley Pettus, Annie Roney, Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor; For HBO: executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller; supervising producer, Sara Rodriguez.


Films Include Oscar(R) Winner Alex Gibney's THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY, THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED, Four-Part Series From Oscar(R) Nominee Amy Berg And Emmy(R) Winner Dan Reed's LEAVING NEVERLAND

HBO has confirmed a fresh array of thought-provoking documentaries for early 2019, including: Oscar(R) winner Alex Gibney's THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY, exploring the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, Oscar(R) nominee Amy Berg's THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED, a four-part series offering a fresh look at a story that received global attention, and Dan Reed's two-part LEAVING NEVERLAND, which explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys who were befriended by Michael Jackson, and crafts a portrait of sustained abuse.

Upcoming HBO documentaries include (in chronological order):

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (debuts Feb. 9). One of the most celebrated theatrical releases of 2018, this documentary takes an intimate look at America's favorite neighbor: Fred Rogers. It tells the story of a soft-spoken minister, puppeteer, writer and producer whose show was beamed into homes across America daily for more than 30 years. In his beloved television program, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Rogers and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of life's weightiest issues in a simple, direct fashion. Directed by Morgan Neville.

UNITED SKATES (Feb. 18). When America's last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, a community of thousands battles in a racially charged environment to save an underground African-American subculture. This documentary celebrates a phenomenon that has been overlooked by the mainstream for generations, yet has given rise to some of the world's greatest musical talents. Directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown.

IT'S A HARD TRUTH, AIN'T IT (Feb. 25). Filmed during the production of the HBO Films drama O.G. in Indiana's Pendleton Correctional Facility, an active maximum-security prison, this companion documentary is co-directed by Madeleine Sackler and 13 of its inmates, several of whom were also cast as first-time actors in O.G. These men study documentary filmmaking as a vehicle to explore their memories and examine how they ended up with decades-long sentences.

LEAVING NEVERLAND (March 3 and 4). This two-part documentary explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James Safechuck, at age ten, and Wade Robson, at age seven, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the film crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own. Directed by Dan Reed.

THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (March 10). This four-part documentary series explores the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Oscar(R) nominee Amy Berg casts a fresh eye on the case first brought to global attention by the hugely popular "Serial" podcast. Bringing the story to life visually, she revisits the crime and follows developments from 2014 to today. Presenting new information that questions the state's case and featuring exclusive access to essential characters, the series examines how Syed's trial and subsequent conviction in 2000 raised as many questions as they answered.

THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (March 18). Oscar(R)- and Emmy(R)-winning director/producer Alex Gibney's riveting documentary traces the meteoric rise and precipitous decline of Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos. With a new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing and provide low-cost early detection of diseases and infection, Holmes became the world's youngest self-made female billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. Within a few months, her $9-billion company was worthless. The documentary tells a Silicon Valley tale that was too good to be true.

ONE NATION UNDER STRESS (March 25). Stunned by reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that life expectancy in the United States is declining for the first time in more than a century, Dr. Sanjay Gupta sets out to see what's happening and why. While looking at society through the state of its health, he discovers an epidemic of self-inflicted deaths of despair (caused by drug overdoses, chronic liver disease and suicide) that are driven by an increasingly stressed America. Directed by Marc Levin.

ON TOUR WITH ASPERGER'S ARE US (April). Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, this six-part series follows the first all-autistic comedy troupe as it navigates its first cross-country tour. Crammed into a relic of an RV that's on the verge of explosion, the team of four hits the road for six weeks, testing their understanding of friendship, comedy and carburetors. Directed by Alex Lehmann.

ICE ON FIRE (April). This eye-opening film explains the present-day effects of excess carbon on planetary systems large and small, and explores the ways people can reduce carbon input to the atmosphere, as well as "draw down" the existing excess. Shot in nine countries around the world, the documentary visits visionaries and scientists young and old who are innovating cutting-edge efforts to mitigate climate change and minimize climate-related events, despite a rapidly warming planet. Directed by Leila Conners.

AT THE HEART OF GOLD: INSIDE THE USA GYMNASTICS SCANDAL (April). An inside look at the sexual abuse scandal that shook the sports world in 2017, this film examines how Dr. Larry Nassar, the osteopathic physician for the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team, went undeterred for so many years. Featuring exclusive interviews with survivors and offering insights going beyond the headlines, the documentary shines a light on the brave gymnasts who share their stories and whose courageous efforts reveal a dangerous system that prioritized winning over everything else. Directed by Erin Lee Carr.

FOSTER (May). Drawing on unprecedented access, this film traces a complex path through the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. Oscar(R) winners Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris upend some of the most enduring myths about foster care, going beyond the sensational headlines and stereotypes. Interweaving first-hand stories of those navigating the child protection system with insights from social workers, lawyers and other advocates, the film offers a realistic but hopeful perspective on a community that needs society's support.

RUNNING WITH BETO. This behind-the-scenes documentary follows Beto O'Rourke's rise from virtual unknown to national political sensation through his bold attempt to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Embedded with the campaign for a year, the film follows his journey through intimate access to O'Rourke, his family and a team of political newcomers who champion a new way of getting to know a candidate - one Texas county at a time. Directed by David Modigliani.


Film Is First Feature-Length HBO Production From SpringHill Entertainment; Antoine Fuqua Directs And Executive Produces Via Fuqua Films

The two-part HBO Sports documentary WHAT'S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI, chronicling the extraordinary life of one of the 20th century's most iconic figures, debuts TUESDAY, MAY 14 (8:00-10:40 p.m. ET/PT), with both chapters airing back-to-back in a special television event, it was announced today by Kary Antholis, president, HBO Miniseries and CINEMAX Programming, and Peter Nelson, executive vice president, HBO Sports.

The documentary will also be available on HBO GO, HBO NOW, HBO on Demand and partners' streaming platforms.

WHAT'S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI is the first feature-length HBO production from SpringHill Entertainment, with LeBron James and Maverick Carter serving as executive producers, and is directed and executive produced by acclaimed feature-film director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Southpaw," "The Magnificent Seven," "The Equalizer" franchise). Exploring Ali's challenges, confrontations, comebacks and triumphs through recordings of his own voice, it paints an intimate portrait of a man who was a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world and, in his later years, was recognized as a global citizen and a symbol of humanity and understanding.

In addition to relying on Ali himself to guide viewers through his remarkable journey, WHAT'S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI features archival footage, some of it previously unseen.

The production team features executive producer Bill Gerber, a producer of the current Best Picture Oscar(R) nominee "A Star Is Born," and executive producer Glen Zipper, creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed docu-series "Dogs," a producer of the Oscar(R)-winning documentary "Undefeated" and an executive producer of HBO's 2018 multi-part documentary "Elvis Presley: The Searcher." The film is produced by Sean Stuart, whose HBO and CINEMAX credits include "Eagle of Death Metal: Nos Amis" and "Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus." Paul Wachter and Jamie Salter are executive producers and Kat Samick of Fuqua Films is co-executive producer.

"Muhammad Ali transcended sports in a way the world had never seen before," says LeBron James. "It's an honor to have the opportunity to tell his incredible and important story for the coming generations. He showed us all the courage and conviction it takes to stand up for what you believe in. He changed forever what we expect a champion to be, and I'm grateful that SpringHill gets to be a part of continuing his legacy."

"Muhammad Ali had a deep impact on me from an early age," observes Antoine Fuqua. "Being given the opportunity to tell his story, both inside and outside the ring, is a privilege and a dream come true."

"Muhammad Ali is indisputably one of the most iconic and distinctive figures in the history of sports," says HBO's Kary Antholis. "His impact resonates far beyond the boxing ring and is woven deep into the cultural and social tapestry of the second half of the 20th century. His personality, his voice, his message and his legacy all endure as an important element of American history. From the moment LeBron James told us of his deep visceral connection to Ali's life and legacy, we were committed to helping him and Antoine Fuqua realize this film about one man's incredible journey and the impact he had upon the world."

Lonnie Ali, who was married to Muhammad Ali for the final 30 years of his life, adds, "We are at a time in American history when we look to a new generation of heroes like LeBron James to carry on Muhammad's legacy, not only by remembering Muhammad, as is done so eloquently in this documentary, but also through their own words and deeds. I'm grateful to LeBron, Maverick Carter, SpringHill Entertainment and HBO for advancing the ideals that Muhammad believed in and fought for throughout his life."

WHAT'S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI is produced with the cooperation of the Muhammad Ali family estate and Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and CEO of Authentic Brands Group, which has been active in preserving the Ali legacy and brand.

"As proud guardians of Muhammad Ali's legacy, we are dedicated to preserving and upholding his core principles, and HBO's production of WHAT'S MY NAME | MUHAMMAD ALI provides audiences around the world with an intimate connection to this global icon," says Jamie Salter.

The HBO Sports presentation is a Sutter Road Picture Company Production in association with Fuqua Films and SpringHill Entertainment; executive producers, LeBron James, Antoine Fuqua, Maverick Carter, Paul Wachter, Bill Gerber, Jamie Salter and Glen Zipper; directed by Antoine Fuqua; produced by Sean Stuart; co-executive producer, Kat Samick; written by Steven Leckart; edited by Jake Pushinsky.

  [february 2019]  


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