If you’re looking for some intellectual stimulation with your entertainment during this brief time before the onslaught of new shows hits, several networks are airing and re-airing compelling documentaries about real people and their fascinating lives.
Tonight, PBS’ Independent Lens debuts Operation Filmmaker (check local listings for PBS), which follows a 25-year-old Iraqi film student, Muthana Mohmed, who joins the production for Liev Schreiber’s Everything is Illuminated in Prague after Schreiber saw him on an MTV documentary. Another documentary filmmaker, Nina Davenport, followed him to the set, and the result is this film, which follows the cultural and other clashes with the fictional film’s crew and even the documentary filmmaker.
Last week, Independent Lens debuted Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, which explores the creation of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical based on the lives of Edith and Eddie Beale, who are the subjects of the famous 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens. The new documentary “[weaves] together clips from the Maysles brothers’  film with insightful interviews featuring Albert Maysles, societal and cultural commentators and the creators of the Broadway show.”
Meanwhile, HBO is broadcasting Cat Dancers (schedule), which explores the lives of “Ron Holiday, his co-star and wife, Joy Holiday, and their lover/fellow performer, Chuck Lizza,” “a team of animal trainers who earned fame and fortune as one of the world’s first exotic-tiger entertainment acts,” according to HBO. They trained lions and tigers and lived and performed together until Chuck and Joy were both ultimately killed in separate incidents by the same tiger.
HBO also recently debuted Breaking The Huddle: The Integration of College Football (schedule), which HBO says “tells the personal stories of some of those who helped achieve equality on the field, looks at the impact of segregation on black high-school stars forced to travel to integrated schools, and culminates with the September 1970 game between the University of Southern California, featuring star running back Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham, and the University of Alabama team led by legendary head coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.”
The network also broadcast Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven (schedule), which follows well-known New York restaurant Le Cirque’s owner, Sirio Maccion, and his wife and three sons as they reopen the restaurant.
Finally, HBO is also airing Jacques d’Amboise in China: The Other Side of the World (schedule), which follows the National Dance Institute founder as he “takes his vision — and his dancers — on an unforgettable journey to China, where a cross-cultural ensemble under his direction will end up delivering a magical joint performance in Shanghai,” according to HBO.