HBO’s summer documentary film series concludes Monday at 9 p.m. ET with The Black List: Volume One, which is described as “a new kind of living portraiture.” It features “a remarkable group of African-American notables [who] share candid stories and revealing insights into the struggles, triumphs and joys of black life in the U.S.,” according to its web site.
Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the film features interviews by Elvis Mitchell (who does not appear in the film in any way) with 22 people “from a diverse collection of disciplines from the worlds of the arts, sports, politics, business and government,” according to HBO. They include Sean Combs, Chris Rock, Serena Williams, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, Toni Morrison, and Al Sharpton. HBO has a number of video clips from those interviews on YouTube. The documentary is complimented by forthcoming book of portraits and interviews, a museum exhibition, and a web site that invites submissions.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, HBO debuted another notable documentary. Just as American Teen followed five high school seniors in Indiana during the 2005-2006 school year, Baghdad High follows four high school seniors in Iraq during the 2006-2007 school year. Ivan O’Mahoney and Laura Winter directed the film, which is largely filmed by the four boys, who are friends and who all have different religious backgrounds (they are a Christian, Kurd, Shia, and Sunni).
At once the film offers insight into perfectly ordinary teenage lives; the boys film themselves learning the lyrics to Britney Spears’ “slave,” wrestling, getting in trouble at school for lingering outside to call a girlfriend on a cell phone, joking that they’re Christian for the day to avoid a Muslim studies class, or arguing with parents. Title cards and on-screen events, like a family watching Saddam Hussein’s trial on TV, provide historical context, but mostly it takes place inside a news vacuum. That said, their daily lives are affected and interrupted–by gunfire, curfews, explosions, checkpoints, and the like.
While they remain teenagers–for example, when two friends are filming themselves, one pretends he’s producing a hostage video and jokes about killing the other with a knife–they also have more insight than you’d find on an any cable news network. On the day of Saddam’s execution, one says, “Saddam offered two things: security and killing.” Talking about the trial, but also hitting on a probably universal truth, he says, “if we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn’t believe it.”