Docs ‘Secrets of Highclere Castle,’ ‘Hudson River School’ Coming to PBS Living in July

The documentaries Secrets of Highclere Castle and The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers begin streaming on PBS Living in July from PBS Distribution.

The subscription rate for the PBS Living Channel is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. PBS Living is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at a subscription rate of $2.99 per month with no additional annual fees.

In Secrets of Highclere Castle, viewers get the insider story about the famous mansion from the multi Emmy award-winning series “Downton Abbey.” Viewers step inside one of Britain’s best-known manor houses. It may be more famous now than any time in its 1,300-year history as the setting of “Downton Abbey,” but England’s Highclere Castle has its own stories to tell. In its heyday, Highclere was the social epicenter of Edwardian England. Viewers see how all the inhabitants of Highclere lived, from the aristocrats who enjoyed a life of luxury to the army of servants toiling “below stairs.” They also find out how the current inhabitants, Lord and Lady Carnarvon, spend their $1 million in annual upkeep funds, and what life in the castle is like today.

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In The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers, viewers learn about a group of artists who captured images of 19th century America in their lifelike landscape paintings.

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In the vicinity of New York’s Hudson River Valley, the Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a group of American painters led by British born artist Thomas Cole forged an artistic vision of the American wilderness. This was the first American school of landscape painting that emerged between 1825 and 1880. In addition to Cole, men with the names of Asher Durand, Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Church would impress the world with their creative brilliance and wondrous vision. On canvas they would bring to life 19th century America through imagination, interpretation, color and conviction. The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers focuses on the story of these men and their message, its founder Cole, and other influential celebrants of this movement.

Imax Documentaries Headed to Hulu

With most movie theaters, including Imax screens, still shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, Imax has reportedly inked a deal with Disney-owned Hulu to stream a slate of 16 theatrical documentaries on the SVOD platform beginning this summer.

Titles include Pandas, Into the Deep, Space Station and A Beautiful Planet, Superpower Dogs, the Oscar-nominated Fires of Kuwait, Galapagos, Hail Columbia! and Journey to the South Pacific, among others.

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“With people at home there is an immense and growing desire for discovery, particularly for students, families and children. For years Imax has helped share the power of the natural world and the potential of human existence, and now, together with Hulu, we can bring those incredible, enlightening experiences to millions more,” Megan Colligan, president of Imax Entertainment, said in a statement.

Since the first Imax film, Tiger Child, debuted at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, Imax has helped transport audiences into realistic screen images across more than 75 documentaries using proprietary technology. Imax originals have been nominated for Academy Awards (Fires of Kuwait 1992), traveled to the depths of the sea (Journey to the South Pacific 2013), and ventured into space 24 times.

Hollywood’s stars lending their voices to Imax docs, include narrations from Tom Cruise (Space Station 2002), Jennifer Lawrence (A Beautiful Planet 2016), Kristen Bell (Pandas 2018), and more. The forthcoming Asteroid Hunters is narrated by Daisy Ridley.

Many of the Imax docs headed to Hulu have also been filmed or digitally remastered with brilliant, proprietary visual and audio technology.

Colligan says that despite Hulu featuring Imax’s coveted screen and sound features, it will still be able to convey to streamers specific world experiences and information about science and exploration, among other topics.

“[Hulu is] absolutely crafted for immersive sound and the immersive screen,” she said. “School has ended and many kids and families across the country are searching for co-viewing content.”

Doc ‘Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies’ Debuts on Digital HD July 7 From Virgil

The documentary Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is coming to Digital HD July 7 from Virgil Films.

It explores the career of Alan Ladd Jr. — known to friends and colleagues as Laddie — the understated studio chief and Oscar-winning producer behind the films Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, Police Academy, Braveheart, The Omen, Thelma and Louise, Young Frankenstein, Gone Baby Gone and a staggering 154 more. During his 50-plus year career, garnering more than 50 Academy Award wins and more then 150 nominations, he worked with world-famous filmmakers and actors — many of whom became household names on his watch — and brought to life some of the most influential films of our time.

In Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, Amanda Ladd-Jones endeavors to better understand her father — to see him not just as “Dad,” the man who spent the majority of her childhood at the office — but the way his collaborators do, as a doyen of modern American cinema.

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The doc includes interviews with Ben Affleck, Mel Brooks, Richard Donner, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver.

Netflix Offers Free Documentary Streaming to Teachers on Its YouTube Channel

Netflix has expanded it free documentary screening program for teachers, offing a selection of titles on the Netflix U.S. YouTube channel.

“For many years, Netflix has allowed teachers to screen documentaries in their classrooms. However, this isn’t possible with schools closed,” read the Netflix blog post. “So at their request, we have made a selection of our documentary features and series available on the Netflix U.S. YouTube Channel.

“Each title also has educational resources available, which can be used by both students and teachers — and we’ll be doing Q&As with some of the creators behind these projects so that students can hear from them firsthand.

“We hope this will, in a small way, help teachers around the world.”

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The documentaries are currently available in English, but subtitles in more than a dozen languages will be available later this week, according to the post. “Please check the ratings so that you can make informed choices for your students and children,” the post requested.

Offered on the channel is the film 13th, Ava DuVernay’s documentary with a title that refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay, featuring a mixture of archival footage and testimony from a activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men. Educational resources are here.

Also available is season one of the series “Abstract.” “Abstract: The Art of Design” takes you beyond blueprints into the art, science, and philosophy of design. The series goes inside the minds of the world’s greatest designers, showcasing the most inspiring visionaries from a variety of disciplines whose work shapes our culture and future. Educational resources are here

Select episodes of the series “Babies” are available. Filmed over the course of three years, “Babies” explores the miracle of the first full year of life through the pioneering work of leading scientists from across the globe. The series examines the epic journey every person embarks on, from helpless newborn to independent toddler. The series follows the life-changing adventures of 15 international families and featuring the latest research from eminent scientists who share their personal journeys of discovery into the infant mind. Educational resources are here.

The film Chasing Coral  taps into the collective will and wisdom of an ad man, a self-proclaimed coral nerd, top-notch camera designers, and renowned marine biologists as they invent the first time-lapse camera to record bleaching events as they happen. Educational materials are here.

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Available are select episodes of the series “Explained.” In partnership with Vox Media Studios and Vox, this explainer series takes viewers deep inside a wide range of culturally relevant topics, questions and ideas. Each episode explores current events and social trends pulled from the zeitgeist, touching topics across politics, science, history and pop culture — featuring interviews with some of the most authoritative experts in their respective fields. Educational resources are coming soon.

The film Knock Down the House follows four women who mount grassroots campaigns against powerful incumbents in the 2018 midterm elections that tipped the balance of power. When tragedy struck her family in the middle of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts as a bartender to save her home from foreclosure. After losing a loved one to a preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn’t know what to do with the anger she felt about America’s broken health care system. Cori Bush, a registered nurse and pastor, was drawn to the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. A coal miner’s daughter, Paula Jean Swearengin was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer from the environmental effects of the coal industry. Educational resources are here.

The series “Our Planet”  is available. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the eight-part series explores the wonders of our natural world from the creators of the award-winning series “Planet Earth.” Educational materials are here.

The short Period. End of Sentence. is available. The documentary short directed by Rayka Zehtabchi tells the story of women in a rural village outside Delhi, India, who fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. Educational resources are here.

The short The White Helmets is available. The Netflix original short documentary, set in Aleppo, Syria and Turkey in early 2016 follows three volunteer rescue workers as they put everything on the line to save civilians affected by the war, all the while wracked with worry about the safety of their own loved ones. Educational materials are here

The short Zion is available. It’s the portrait of Zion Clark, a young wrestler born without legs who grew up in foster care. Educational materials are here.

 

Research: SVOD Wakes Up to Reality

Reality was the second-most commissioned genre for linear services and third-most commissioned genre for video on-demand (VOD) services, according to research from Ampere Analysis on commissions, renewals and cancellations in 2019.

Data from Ampere indicates that Netflix has ramped up production of reality content compared with previous years. While in January 2018 Netflix had four original reality TV shows available, by year-end 2019, the number had grown eightfold to 32 original reality titles, with dating show “Love Is Blind” among its top-performing shows in Q1 2020.

Other findings include:

  • The most commissioned genre in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2019 was documentary, with one-off commissions a frequent occurrence. Documentary represented 31% of all first-run series ordered in 2019.
  • The second most commissioned and renewed genre was reality — at 14% of all commissions in 2019.
  • In total, 337 reality shows were commissioned in the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Comedy closely followed reality and was the third-most commissioned and renewed genre. Almost one quarter (23%) of shows are yet to begin series production, reflecting the longer production period required for scripted series. First-run commissions accounted for 67% of all series announced in 2019 — this means shows being ordered for a first season, including limited series.
  • Most renewals were reality (24%), with comedy (17%) and documentary (17%) following closely behind.

Linear versus VOD findings include:

  • Renewals in 2019 are skewed towards linear commissions, with linear series representing 85% of all U.K. and U.S. renewals in 2019.
  • High-profile unscripted linear renewals included 19th and 20th season order for MTV’s U.K. Reality series “Geordie Shore,” and a 17th season order for NBC’s music competition show “The Voice.”
  • In 2019, linear channels cancelled 515 shows while VOD services cancelled 151. However, this is slightly skewed by the cancellations of series with a predetermined limit on the number of episodes. Once these shows are removed from the analysis, data shows that linear channels cancelled 178 shows, while VOD services cancelled 66.
  • 65% of linear renewals were unscripted series, in comparison with just 25% of all VOD renewals, with streamers preferring to focus on higher-budget, scripted fare.
  • Reality was relatively safe from cancellation on both linear and VOD platforms — only 8% of all cancellations were reality.

“While reality has been a staple for linear TV due to lower per-hour production costs and continued popularity among consumers, VOD services have been increasingly investing in the genre,” said Ampere analyst Olivia Deane in a statement. “With Netflix already commissioning two more seasons of top performing title ‘Love is Blind,’ reality looks like it will be the next battleground for linear and VOD services.”

Doc ‘Refugee’ Coming to Digital April 14 From Virgil

Virgil Films will release the documentary Refugee April 14 on digital and VOD.

From the executive producer of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, Refugee is a harrowing account of Europe’s migrant crisis. It follows a family of Syrian refugees separated by the borders of Europe who fight to be reunited as they migrate from Syria to Germany.

In 2015, at the height of the Syrian war, Raf’aa, a Syrian mother, was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. With her husband Nazem in the hospital, and the bombs getting closer to Qamilshi, she fled Syria to find asylum for her family, leaving Nazem and their two children Ahmed and Hamoudi behind. They had hoped to reunite in Europe within a few weeks, but by the time Nazem and the children left, it was too late. The political climate had changed and the borders to Europe were closed. Safe in Germany, Raf’aa is traumatized by what she witnessed on her journey and prays her children have not endured the same. Meanwhile 2,000 miles away, Nazem and her children live through their own nightmare in one of the worst refugee camps in Europe. Over the next 18 months, viewers witness a testament to the human spirit as the family fights to be reunited and how a father shields his children from what it means to be a refugee.

Refugee from Virgil Films on Vimeo.

 

Disney+ to Stream ‘Elephant’ Nature Film Narrated by Meghan Markle for Earth Month

In recognition of Earth Month, Disney+ will stream the Disneynature film Elephant, narrated by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, beginning April 3 alongside previously announced Dolphin Reef, with narration by actress Natalie Portman.

Following its theatrical release last year, the Disneynature film Penguins will also make its Disney+ debut April 3.

The Earth Month collection on Disney+ will also contain additional Disneynature titles premiering on the service April 3, including In the Footsteps of Elephant, A Life on the Edge and Diving with Dolphins, which give viewers behind-the-scenes access into the unique filmmaking process of all three films.

The films will join a collection of animal and nature titles highlighted throughout the month including National Geographic’s America’s National Parks, Wild Yellowstone, The Flood, JANE, Before the Floods, Planet of the Birds, Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures, Kingdom of the White Wolf, Tree Climbing Lions, Hostile Planet and Wild Russia.

Elephant follows African elephant Shani and her spirited son Jomo as their herd make an epic journey hundreds of miles across the vast Kalahari Desert. Led by their great matriarch, Gaia, the family faces brutal heat, dwindling resources and persistent predators, as they follow in their ancestor’s footsteps on a quest to reach a lush, green paradise.

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In recognition of Elephant, Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund are supporting Elephants Without Borders, an organization working in Botswana to ensure people and elephants thrive, according to the Disney release.  Elephants Without Borders is working on strategies to protect Botswana’s elephant haven, helping to reduce human-wildlife conflict through education, economic development, and solutions that either redirect elephant migration away from people, or provide communities with tools that help to protect themselves and their properties when elephants are nearby.

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Dolphin Reef introduces Echo, a young Pacific bottlenose dolphin who can’t quite decide if it’s time to grow up and take on new responsibilities. Dolphin society is tricky, and the coral reef that Echo and his family call home depends on all of its inhabitants to keep it healthy.

Netflix Announces Doc Slate Including Films on Jeffrey Epstein, David Attenborough

Netflix announced its upcoming slate of documentaries, including Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, a contemplation of the state of the planet with David Attenborough and a Sundance Award winner.

More than 147 million households have chosen to watch at least one documentary on Netflix in the last year, according to the service. 

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, a limited series due March 20, is about big cat owner Joe Exotic, a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo. Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, con-men and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner. But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot, and reveals a twisted tale where the only thing more dangerous than a big cat is its owner.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story, a feature coming March 20, is based on a study conducted in 2016 by the University of Sheffield that determined that Juan Manuel Fangio is the best F1 driver in history. The film seeks to get inside the mind of the legend throughout his career and personal life to understand what led him and other drivers to risk their lives racing in cars that flew at the same speeds as today, but with minimal safety precautions and where many do not make it to the end of the season.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, a film due March 25, is about a revolution that blossomed in a ramshackle summer camp down the road from Woodstock. The camp for teenagers with disabilities transformed their lives and igniting a landmark movement. The film is co-directed by Emmy Award winner Nicole Newnham and film mixer and former camper Jim LeBrecht. Executive producers include President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Tonia Davis and Priya Swaminathan, and Oscar nominee Howard Gertler.

How to Fix a Drug Scandal, a limited series hitting screens April 1, is about a disgraced lab chemist. In 2013, Massachusetts State Police arrested 35-year-old crime drug lab chemist Sonja Farak for tampering with evidence: and that was only the beginning. Over time, details emerged that Farak had been in fact using the drugs that she was tasked with testing. The scope of Farak’s addiction — and the number of people convicted as a result of her drug testing — comes to light, despite repeated efforts to suppress evidence in the case.

The Innocence Files, a limited series coming out April 15, shines a light on the untold personal stories behind eight cases of wrongful conviction that the nonprofit organization the Innocence Project and organizations within the Innocence Network have uncovered and worked tirelessly to overturn. The nine-episode series is composed of three parts — The Evidence, The Witness and The Prosecution. These stories expose difficult truths about the state of America’s deeply flawed criminal justice system, while showing when the innocent are convicted, it is not just one life that is irreparably damaged forever: families, victims of crime and trust in the system are also broken in the process.

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Circus of Books, a feature due April 22, is about the gay porn shop Circus of Books. For 35-plus years, the shop gave Los Angeles’ LGBT+ community a space to socialize and celebrate themselves without judgment. Unbeknownst to many customers, the store was cultivated by owners Karen and Barry Mason, a straight, mainstream couple with three children who went to religious school and were unaware of their parents’ business. The Masons long refused to disclose the nature of their business to friends or family. While maintaining the secret, they witnessed the dawn of the HIV/AIDS epidemic firsthand, losing a generation of treasured employees. Still, during that time, they never identified as activists — just everyday entrepreneurs catering to a market, until the Internet destroyed it.

A Secret Love, a film hitting screens April 29, tells a love story between Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, whose relationship spans nearly seven decades. Terry played in the women’s professional baseball league, inspiring the hit movie A League of Their Own, but the film did not tell the real-life story of the women who remained closeted for most of their lives. This documentary follows Terry and Pat back to when they met for the first time, through their professional lives in Chicago, coming out to their conservative families and grappling with whether or not to get married.

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story, a feature due April 29, is about the clemency of a young murderer. In 2004, 16-year-old Cyntoia Denise Brown was arrested in Nashville, for murdering a 43-year-old man who picked her up for sex. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. The film shows the complexity of a child who was the product of three generations of violence against women in her biological family and how in 2019, after nearly 10 years of legal challenges, Governor Bill Haslam granted her request for clemency. He did so following a slow shift in the state for legislative change in juvenile sentencing laws and having seen evidence of her maturity, education, and good behavior as a prisoner.

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Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics, a film coming May 11, is a documentary featuring comedic tripping stories from actors, comedians and musicians. Star-studded reenactments and trippy animations bring their surreal hallucinations to life. Mixing comedy with a thorough investigation of psychedelics, the film explores the pros, cons, science, history, future, pop cultural impact and cosmic possibilities of hallucinogens. The film also tackles the big questions: Can psychedelics have a powerful role in treating depression, addiction and helping us confront our own mortality? Are we all made of the same stuff? Is love really all we need? Can trees talk? Cast members include Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, Ad-Rock, Rosie Perez, A$AP Rocky, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll and Rob Corddry.

“Trial by Media,” a series due May 11, reflects on some of the most dramatic and memorable trials in recent history. Since televised coverage introduced a new emphasis on creative storytelling and showmanship into the legal system, the courtroom has never been the same. Over six parts, the series explores the many ways in which the press have contributed to reshaping public perception about guilt or innocence before, during or after a trial. The series features cases reaching across different areas of the law including the Jenny Jones made-for-Court TV murder trials, the sensational story of Rod Blagojevich’s political fall, and the case of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was shot 41 times by police in New York City.

Spelling the Dream, a film coming May 23, is about Indian-American spelling contest competitors. An Indian-American competitor has won the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee for the past 12 years straight, making the trend one of the longest in sports history. The documentary chronicles the ups and downs of four Indian-American students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the iconic tournament. With perspectives from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi, 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee winner Nupur Lala, and others, the film explores the reasons behind this incredible winning streak and what it means for the community.

Lenox Hill, a series coming June 10, is an intimate look at the lives of four doctors — two brain surgeons, an emergency room physician, and a chief resident ob gyn — as they navigate the highs and lows of working at the renowned Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The series shows each physician’s struggle to balance their personal and professional lives, and delves into each patient’s personal journey. From birth to brain surgery, each case offers a rare inside look at the complex, fascinating and emotional world of medicine.

Father Soldier Son, a film coming June 19, is a documentary from The New York Times following one military family over the course of 10 years for an intergenerational exploration of the meaning of sacrifice, purpose and American manhood in the aftermath of war.

Athlete A, a film due June 24, is the story of the exposure of abuser Larry Nassar. In 2016, the Indianapolis Star broke the story that Larry Nassar had been systematically abusing the USA Gymnastics team’s young female athletes. This documentary follows the reporting team as they uncover more evidence of abuse and cover-ups.

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, a film coming July 8, is about the iconic, gender non-conforming astrologer who mesmerized 120 million Latino viewers with his extravagance and positivity. Then he vanished from the public eye.

“Street Food: Latin America,” a series coming in July, from the creators of “Chef’s Table,” returns for a new culinary adventure. The newest installment will travel to six countries in Latin America and explore the vibrant street food culture of Oaxaca, Mexico; Salvador, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; and La Paz, Bolivia. Each episode highlights the stories of perseverance and culture that bring life to each country’s cuisine.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, a feature coming in 2020, is produced by award-winning wildlife filmmakers Silverback Films and global environmental organization WWF. It follows the story of life on our planet told by the man who has seen more of the natural world than any other. In his 93 years, Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, exploring the wild places of our planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. Addressing the biggest challenges facing life on our planet, the film offers a powerful message of hope for future generations.

Dick Johnson Is Dead, a feature hitting screens in 2020, is about Dick Johnson, perhaps the most beloved grandpa in New York City. The retired psychiatrist is 86 and reaching his final years. As a catalyst to confront the inevitable, his daughter — award-winning documentarian Kirsten Johnson — devises an ingenious experiment: celebrate Dr. Johnson’s life by staging fantasies of death and beyond. Utilizing moviemaking magic and their family’s dark humor, dad and daughter confront the great inevitability awaiting us all. The film won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Unsolved Mysteries, a limited series hitting screens this year, is a reboot of the iconic series. Fusing signature elements from the original series with contemporary immersive, character-driven storytelling, the 12 new episodes are rooted in the experiences of ordinary people who have lived the unthinkable — from the trauma of a loved one’s unexplained disappearance or horrific death, to the shock of a bizarre paranormal encounter. Alongside detectives and journalists, family members offer clues, present theories, and identify suspects, hoping one viewer holds the key to solving the mystery. The series is from the creators of the original series, Cosgrove/Meurer Productions, and 21 Laps Entertainment, the producers of “Stranger Things.”

Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, a limited series coming later this year, explores the life of the infamous multi-millionaire. When Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in 2019, he had spent decades sexually abusing underage girls, using a deep network of powerful enablers to help cover up his crimes. The four-part documentary series exposes a horrifying story of relentless manipulation and sex trafficking. Epstein’s survivors serve as the series’ pre-eminent voices, providing powerful testimonials about their experiences. Director Lisa Bryant examines the failures in the justice system that allowed the serial sex abuser to evade justice for so long.

 

‘In the Age of AI,’ ‘Fire in Paradise’ and ‘Nature’s Biggest Beasts’ Among PBS Docs on DVD and Digital in January

In the Age of AI, Frontline: Fire in Paradise, Nature: Nature’s Biggest Beasts, American Masters — Rothko: Pictures Must be Miraculous and Nova: Why Bridges Collapse are among the documentaries on DVD and digital from PBS Distribution this January.

A year after the devastating Camp Fire, who’s to blame and why was it so catastrophic? Fire in Paradise explores this question with accounts from survivors and first responders, telling the inside story of the most destructive fire in California history, its causes and the impact of climate change.

In the Age of AI, due Jan. 14, takes a journey into how this new technology will transform our world — and some of the ways it already has. It’s been called “The New Space Race.” This time it’s China taking on the United States, and the race is to seize control of a technology with the potential to change everything — the way we work; how we play; how our democracy functions; how the world could be realigned. “Frontline” explores some of the ways in which our world is being re-shaped and reimagined by the technology of artificial intelligence, whose development has been compared to the industrial revolution and the discovery of electricity as an epochal event in human history. The film traces the battle between the U.S. and China to harness its power, examining fears about what AI advances mean for the future of work and revealing how AI algorithms are ushering in an age of both great problem-solving potential and of new and troubling threats to privacy and democracy.

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Okavango: River of Dreams, explores the Okavango River in Southern Africa, an unlikely oasis and lush paradise in the middle of a hostile desert that supports and feeds an incredible abundance of wildlife. Unlike most rivers that flow toward the shores of a nearby ocean, it instead runs inland through Botswana, creating a huge river delta before finally disappearing into the Kalahari Desert. An all-star cast of charismatic African wildlife lives and dies in the timeless drama of survival revealed in the program.

Nature’s Biggest Beasts, due Jan. 14, covers the ingenious strategies that nature’s biggest beasts employ to conquer their environments, from the Komodo dragon with a deadly bite to the tallest giraffe to the bird-eating Armored ground cricket. Being massive can have its advantages, but it brings equally immense challenges to survive. Big bodies need more fuel, more space and can attract unwanted attention.

Bears, due Jan. 28, covers animals from the mighty grizzly bear to the endearing spectacled bear (the real-life “Paddington Bear”), from the bamboo-eating panda to the bizarre-looking sloth bear. Among the biggest land mammals on the planet, bears need a lot of resources to survive and must use all of their skills, brawn and brains to get what they need — whether they’re foraging for honeycombs or tasty plants, standing up to their rivals or raising cubs.

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Available now is Why Bridges Collapse, which experts compare what happened to the Morandi Bridge in Genoa, Italy, with other deadly bridge collapses, including Minnesota’s I-35W bridge over the Mississippi and the ill-fated Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. Thousands of bridges across the United States and Europe that are listed as structurally deficient. How can new technologies and engineering improvements make bridges across the world safer and more durable than ever before?

Look Who’s Driving, coming Jan. 14, explores autonomous vehicles, which are now being tested on public roads around the world. Dozens of startups have sprung up alongside established auto and tech giants — which are also testing the waters — to form what many hope will be a transformative new industry. But as innovators rush to cash in on what they see as the next high-tech pot of gold, some experts warn there are still daunting challenges to overcome — like how to train computers to make life-and-death decisions as well as humans can. “Nova” peers under the hood of the autonomous vehicle industry to investigate how driverless cars work, how they may change the way we live, and whether we will ever be able to entrust them with our lives.

Rise of the Mammals, due Jan. 21, explores how the course of life on Earth changed radically on a single day 66 million years ago. Blasting our planet, an asteroid caused the extinction of three of every four kinds of living things. The impact ended the Age of Dinosaurs and launched our age, the Age of Mammals. But our understanding of the asteroid’s aftermath has been spotty. Who survived? How quickly did mammals and their habitats spring back? How did our planet recover from this global cataclysm? Now a remarkable find — a trove of exceptionally preserved fossils from the critical first million years after the catastrophe — shines a revelatory light on what followed Earth’s darkest hour. With exclusive access, viewers see the discovery from the first moments of the initial find in 2016. Providing a rare record that combines plants, animals, and precise dates, the discovery paints a vivid portrait of the emergence of a brand-new world.

Dead Sea Scroll Detectives, coming Jan. 21, explores one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time — the Dead Sea Scrolls — was made by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947. Since the 2,000-year-old scrolls were first taken from a cave, they’ve intrigued scholars, religious leaders and profiteers alike. These fragile parchment relics include the oldest known versions of the Hebrew Bible and hold vital clues about the birth of Christianity. While some scrolls have survived intact, others have been ravaged by time — burnt, decayed, or torn to pieces — and remain an enigma. Now, scientists are using new technologies to read the unreadable, solve mysteries that have endured for millennia, and even discover million-dollar fakes.

Rothko: Pictures Must be Miraculous is a portrait of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Mark Rothko, whose luminous canvasses now set records at international auctions. Rothko’s signature style helped define Abstract Expressionism, the movement that shifted the center of the art world from Paris to New York. Interviews with Rothko’s children, Kate and Christopher, as well as leading curators, art historians and conservators present a comprehensive look at the artist’s life and career, complemented by scenes with Alfred Molina in the role of Rothko. Molina performs segments from Rothko’s writings, and the documentary features clips from the six-time Tony-winning play Red.

HBO Max Orders CNN Content, Anthony Bourdain Doc and Floral Competition Series

WarnerMedia’s pending SVOD service HBO Max is ordering and partnering with CNN on documentaries and films for the service and has ordered a competition series, “Full Bloom,” about floral arranging.

HBO Max is sent to launch in spring 2020. WarnerMedia is the also the parent corporation of CNN.

HBO Max, CNN Films and Focus Features are partnering for a documentary film about celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, to be directed and produced by Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?).  Focus Features will first release the documentary exclusively in theaters worldwide before the film premieres on television on CNN and streams via HBO Max. CNN Films and HBO Max will executive produce the film. The late Bourdain worked for CNN for five years on his series “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” and at CNN Films on a theatrical documentary about a chef who inspired him, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, in 2016.

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“It requires a filmmaker as expert and prolific as Morgan Neville to capture the essence of a raconteur and world explorer like Anthony Bourdain,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content, HBO Max, in a statement.

HBO Max has also greenlit four original unscripted projects from CNN. The slate includes “Heaven’s Gate” and “Generation Hustle” (working title) from CNN Original Series and two feature-length documentaries, The Scoop and Persona (working title), from CNN Films. “Heaven’s Gate” is a four-part HBO Max original from CNN Original Series that explores the infamous religious movement that culminated in the biggest mass suicide to ever take place on U.S. soil. “Generation Hustle” (working titleis a 10-part HBO Max original from CNN Original Series about the lengths young people will go to for fame, fortune and power. The Scoop (working title) is a documentary feature produced by CNN Films and will following the lives of CNN’s female political reporters as they cover the most unpredictable presidential campaign in American history. Persona (working title) is a documentary feature produced by CNN Films that explores the unexpected origin story of America’s obsession with personality testing.

Finally, HBO Max has ordered “Full Bloom,” an eight-episode, hour-long competition series featuring 10 of America’s budding florists vying to be crowned America’s best. Contestants will design and execute elaborate floral creations. Each episode features themed challenges centered around a unique stem of the floristry world, including fashion, art, events and weddings. Contestants’ designs and creations will be mentored and judged by floristry artists Maurice Harris and Elizabeth Cronin with celebrity florist Simon Lycett serving as host. At the end of each episode, unsuspecting people will be surprised with a floral arrangement.