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In the blink of an eye, Billie Eilish has gone from being an aspiring musician to a five-time Grammy Award winner and global superstar with a multimillion-fan following on social media. Brilliantly capturing this incredible journey in his new documentary, award-winning director RJ Cutler returns to the podcast to discuss Billie Eilish: The World’s …
 
Rural Appalachia is a part of America that’s vanishing before our eyes. With the loss of the coal industry, the future for the people of eastern Kentucky is uncertain. However, this is what inspires the self-proclaimed "last hillbilly" Brian Ritchie. French directors and writers, Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkoe, join us to discuss their awa…
 
The HBO documentary miniseries McMillion$ tells the gripping tale behind the McDonald's Monopoly promotion scam. Between 1989 and 2001 a criminal ring defrauded more than $24 million in prizes from McDonald's. If not for a tipoff to a backwater FBI office, McDonald's never would have found out about the fraud. The ensuing investigation resulted in …
 
Steve McQueen, the Hollywood icon, had a passion for car racing. However, his long lost Formula 1 film project never saw the light of day – until now. Joining us to talk about this incredible story are the filmmakers behind Steve McQueen: The Lost Movie (2021), director, writer and producer Alex Rodger, and archivist Richard Wiseman. The film elega…
 
Miles Davis was among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. An iconic trumpeter and composer, Miles changed the genre of jazz more times than anyone before him or anyone since. He invented what we today call cool jazz, hard bop, and jazz fusion. His album Kind of Blue is one of the greatest pieces…
 
Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers, and the National Lampoon — John Belushi was an iconic figure of the 1970s comedy scene. But he was more than just a comic genius. At one moment, Belushi had the number one show on television, the number one film at the box office, and the number one record on the charts. Just three years later he died from a…
 
For years Martin Luther King Jr, the leader and hero of the civil rights movement, faced constant surveillance and harassment by the US government. Helping us to learn more about this dark chapter in America's history is award-winning director, editor and producer, Sam Pollard, whose latest film MLK/FBI premieres on January 15th 2021, ahead of Mart…
 
Abraham Lincoln may have been America's greatest leader. The 16th president ended slavery and led the nation out of one of its darkest periods. However, Lincoln's life and legacy were cut short that fateful night in 1865, when the actor John Wilkes Booth entered Ford's Theatre and killed the president with an assassin's bullet. Today, only 130 phot…
 
We live under the spell of big data. We give the big tech firms access to our personal data and they shape our lives without us even knowing it. This includes how we choose our leaders. Award-winning directors and producers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer join us to discuss their film The Great Hack, released by Netflix last year. The Great Hack obse…
 
Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins is a documentary that chronicles the career of the acclaimed Texas columnist and journalist. Molly was nominated multiple times for the Pulitzer Prize for her commentary, and her Texas twang became an unlikely voice of liberal America. Now 13 years after Molly’s untimely death, award-winning director and …
 
Today we're talking about Horton Foote (1916-2009), the award-winning playwright and screenwriter. In the recently released documentary Horton Foote: The Road to Home, the celebrated screenwriter Anne Rapp helps us to learn more about this unsung Texas and American legend. Foote was born and raised in Wharton, Texas, and he went on to become a Puli…
 
Chuck Berry (1926-2017) was the original King of Rock and Roll. That is according to Jon Brewer, and being referred to as 'God of rock docs,' he should know. Jon discusses Chuck Berry and the making of his documentary about the American icon. The film tells the story of Chuck’s life through the lens of his relatives and friends, and also uses drama…
 
On a daily basis, we are inundated with more bad news about the environmental catastrophe caused by climate change, unfolding in front of our very eyes. But is it too late? Can anything really be done? It's enough to make us give up. Many of us have. But a simple solution may be literally underneath our feet, according to the Netflix documentary Ki…
 
On August 11th 2014, the world was shocked to find out that Robin Williams had died by suicide. For someone who brought so much humour to the world, it was a tragic, traumatic end. But no one knew how much more there was to the story. Left to speculate on Robin’s motives, the media circus spun out of control, leaving the public in the dark about a …
 
Today is a special US presidential election edition of Factual America. Americans are heading to the polls. Will they re-elect Donald Trump? Or will they opt for a change and vote for Joe Biden? We can’t say either way with any certainty. What we can say is that America is a polarised society. And whatever the result, the politics of division are h…
 
The singing career of Linda Ronstadt spanned five decades. A versatile and talented artist, she has won ten Grammys, three American Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards and an Emmy. Along the way, she recorded the biggest selling foreign language album of all time. Now retired from singing, Linda continues to give back to the community…
 
Sir David Attenborough is a broadcast legend. And probably no individual has seen more of the Earth’s wilderness in his illustrious nearly 70-year career. That makes him the perfect witness to the devastating changes afflicting our planet. In David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet (2020), which premiered on Netflix, co-director Keith Scholey of S…
 
America is a land of natural beauty and natural resources. Unfortunately, these too often come into conflict. Never was this more true when it comes to America’s 640 million acres of public lands. Filmmakers David Byars and Jeremy Rubingh document the fight to protect America’s public lands for future generations in their film Public Trust which re…
 
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, 2020. She had a long and illustrious career as an advocate for gender equality, a jurist and most famously as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Joining us to pay tribute to this true American icon is Julie Cohen, together with Betsy West, the co-director and co-producer…
 
Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey was straight out of a Gen X teenager’s dream. The R-rated version of a John Hughes film, or as Jason Bailey at the New York Times puts it, “a rule-free stew of dangerous rides, teen guests, teen employees, raging hormones, 80s-style machismo, and booze”. But for all the nostalgia, the place comes with bad memories …
 
When we think of Texas, we think of wide open spaces, ranches, rugged individualism, the Wild West, and invariably cowboys. But where do women fit into this mix? In their film Good Ol Girl, Sarah Brennan Kolb and Kyle Kelley put this question into the context of present-day Texas. The film tells the stories of three young modern-day Texan cowgirls,…
 
America is famous for its sports franchises and rabid fans. However, there is one group of Americans for whom sports raise painful memories. These are the Native Americans. At least some people are trying to put an end to racial stereotyping in US sports. And they have already succeeded in changing the name of the Washington Football Team. Aviva Ke…
 
Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. He may also be America’s first black cultural icon, blazing a trail for other African American athletes like LeBron James. Besides his performance on the court, Jordan rocketed to fame on the back of a clever and innovative marketing campaign to sell sneakers, and a shrewd business model…
 
In our final episode of Season One, we’re joined by John Lewis, aka Badass Vegan. John’s upcoming documentary, They’re Trying to Kill Us, touches on so many of the issues that we’ve looked at this year on the podcast – factory farming, race and Big Pharma, just to name a few – but this time through the unique lens of hip hop. They’re Trying to Kill…
 
The history of jazz dance is the history of America. That history is not well documented, however, especially when it comes to the leading role played by African Americans. In Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance, filmmakers Khadifa Wong and Zak Nemorin trace jazz dance back to its roots in Africa, and follow its evolution up to the present. Along t…
 
For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, the arcade was a home away from home. And most likely we were playing a video game that was the creative genius of a scrappy group of renegade designers in Chicago. In his film Insert Coin (2020), director Josh Tsui captures what it was like for the fellows at Midway Games to revolutionize the video…
 
What is it about old abandoned buildings that can be so compelling and alluring? We find out today as we welcome filmmakers Jake Williams and John Shaw to the podcast. Their film Closed For Storm is about a theme park left for ruin in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. Closed For Storm shows Six Flags New Orleans in its glory days and…
 
The US is a nation of immigrants. And there’s no better example of this than Hamtramck, Michigan, America’s first Muslim-majority city. No bigger than two square miles, Hamtramck is home to a myriad of nationalities and ethnic groups. Over 30 different languages can be heard on its streets. Using a city government election as a backdrop, producers …
 
In 1976, Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor with a big dream and the courage of his convictions. That dream became Rocky, one of the most iconic films of all time. Using home movies shot mostly by the director John Avildsen, director and producer Derek Wayne Johnson perfectly captures the moment when Sylvester Stallone became a superstar. 40…
 
In the late 1950s, doo-wop music took America by storm. And its legacy lasts to this day in the music of such recording artists as Bruno Mars and Meghan Trainor. Award-winning director and producer Brent Wilson is shining a light on this genre of pop music. Using original interviews with doo-wop recording artists, and those they influenced, Brent’s…
 
In the 1970s Camp Jened was not just any old summer camp in the Catskills. Hippy values, the Grateful Dead and pot smoking shaped this utopia for teens with disabilities. Before long, a generation of summer campers with disabilities became a social movement that soon changed the world. We welcome Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, co-directors of the…
 
Stewart Brand has been at the forefront of multiple societal trends since the 1960s, and now he’s trying to bring back the woolly mammoth and other species from extinction. Is this folly or is he once again ahead of the curve? Stewart might just be one of the most influential people that none of us have heard of. He traveled around with the novelis…
 
Baywatch was a 1990s phenomenon well ahead of its time, going ‘viral’ long before there was something called social media. Director and producer Matt Felker is an acclaimed observer of pop culture and social media trends. As a result, Matt is making a documentary that takes a serious look at Baywatch – a show that still resonates with a global audi…
 
Natalie Wood was an iconic American actress, featuring in many influential Hollywood movies in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Her life was tragically cut short when she drowned at the age of 43. Today we talk with Laurent Bouzereau, the director and producer of the recently released HBO documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (2020). The film explo…
 
The Hart Family had the perfect American life. At least, that is what their social media accounts showed the world. But the reality was very different. A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy documents a family’s spiral into abuse and despair. Ultimately, Jennifer and Sarah Hart decided to drive their family SUV off a cliff, killing them and th…
 
Cowboys are as American as hot dogs and apple pie. But what is life like for the modern-day American cowboy? Filmed on eight of the nation’s largest cattle ranches across ten states in the American West, Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait (2019) provides an intimate look at life in the modern world for this most American of icons. A cowboy’s life has …
 
Narrated by Samuel L Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro (2016) uses James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript to tell the horrific history of racism in America. Following the lives of three slain civil rights leaders, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr, Baldwin’s words still resonate today. Since the beginning, race has defined America and ra…
 
Warning: This Drug May Kill You (2017) by broadcast journalist Perri Peltz is a heart-wrenching account of opioid addiction in the US. Before the coronavirus, a different epidemic plagued America. Medical researchers will hopefully develop a vaccine for Covid-19 in the near future. But more than 2 million Americans remain addicted to opioids. Is th…
 
In America religion and politics are inextricably linked, despite what the US Constitution might say. Using The Most Hated Family in America (2007) by Louis Theroux and its sequel, America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis (2011), Factual America explores the history of religion in US politics. Not only does religion polarise American society, but it a…
 
How many of us think about where the meat on our tables comes from? Well, we all should! That’s the message of Eating Animals (2017), produced and narrated by Natalie Portman and based on the best-selling book on factory farming by Jonathan Safran Froer. The film shines a light on corporate farming. Besides being inherently cruel to animals, it has…
 
Is it ever right to kill someone? Are lethal injections really humane? Is capital punishment going to be around forever? In some parts of the world the US is infamous for its continued use of the death penalty. Using the BBC’s Life and Death Row – The Mass Execution as a backdrop, Dr Vivien Miller discusses the history of capital punishment in Amer…
 
An Inconvenient Truth (2006) won two Academy Awards, and turned former Vice President of the United States Al Gore into an international celebrity. More importantly, it brought climate change and global warming to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Drawing on his own research, our guest Dr James Lyons shows how director Davis Guggenheim…
 
Factual America caught up with director and producer Adithya Sambamurthy, who is heading to the US to cover the 2020 American election for The Guardian newspaper. We discuss the upcoming elections and take a look back at President Donald Trump’s rise to power. In 2016 and 2018 Adi spent weeks on the campaign trail filming and producing Anywhere but…
 
Soyalism (2018) explores how factory farming has become a giant global business concentrated in the hands of a few Western and Chinese companies. Across the globe, people are eating more and more meat. Demand has increased sevenfold since 1960 with 70 billion animals currently being killed per year. That number is set to reach 120 billion by 2050. …
 
America’s love affair with guns is one of its defining attributes, and the number of mass shootings hit an all-time high in 2019. While politicians vow to tackle the problem, a powerful gun lobby stands in the way. To help us understand why the US struggles with gun violence on such a massive scale, Dr Peter Squires, an expert on the subject, joins…
 
As a tribute to documentary film pioneer DA Pennebaker, who passed away in August 2019, Factual America explores his groundbreaking Dont Look Back (1967), considered one of the best documentary films of all time. Dr Stella Bruzzi, author of the acclaimed New Documentary, demonstrates how the film about Bob Dylan is a shining example of the direct c…
 
In Silicon Valley, where “fake it till you make it” is a mantra, Elizabeth Holmes stood out. Theranos, the company she founded, drew the support and accolades of investors and senior statesmen alike – that is until a Wall Street Journal reporter’s prying questions spelled the beginning of the end. What originally looked like a revolutionary technol…
 
In The River and the Wall (2019), a group of modern-day adventurers led by filmmaker Ben Masters sets out on a 1,200-mile journey along the Texas-Mexico border to understand the economic, environmental and social impact of President Donald Trump’s border wall. They not only encounter a land of soaring vistas, outstanding natural beauty and unrivale…
 
Award-winning journalist, Kevin Turley, joins Factual America to discuss Albert and David Maysles’ seminal documentary. Kevin places Salesman in the context of 1960s America and traces the film’s influence on documentary filmmaking to this day. Along the way Kevin and host Matthew Sherwood discover that the film about hard-luck Bible salesmen is ac…
 
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