The discovery+ documentaries slate for the first half of 2021 were announced today at TCA. The discovery+ documentaries include an eclectic curation of festival favorites and award-winning films that will launch exclusively on the streaming service.
The lineup includes Groomed, the powerful story of woman who travels back to her home country to confront her past sexual abuse as a child; Miracle fishing: Kidnapped Abroad, the extraordinary story of a father, kidnapped in Columbia, told through the family’s archival video footage; The Walrus and the Whistleblower, following Phil Demers’ crusade to free the walrus Smooshie; and My Beautiful Stutter, a film that includes Paul Rudd and Mariska Hargitay among executive producers, highlighting a group children and their inspirational experiences at Camp Say, in New York.
The slate also features Genius Factory, about the controversial “Nobel Prize sperm bank” of the 1980s and ’90s, and Apocalypse ’45, an emotional recount of the end of World War II by those who lived through it.
“This slate of documentaries is just the beginning for discovery+, as we embark on an ambitious journey to extend our leadership in nonfiction storytelling to the documentary genre,” said Lisa Holme, Group SVP, Content & Commercial Strategy, Discovery.
“Discovery sets the bar for a number of unscripted categories, and with our new streaming platform, we can satisfy fans of documentaries in a medium where viewers have shown tremendous appetite for the best docs. Expect to hear much more in the months to come.”
“We’re thrilled to share this slate of documentaries and shine a light on these important stories and talented filmmakers,” said Igal Svet, VP of Documentaries, discovery+.
“As a leader in nonfiction content, we are going to put the full support of our company behind documentaries as we continue to build the best streaming platform for all unscripted content with discovery+. We look forward to collaborating with brilliant storytellers and continuing to invest in premium docs.”
These films join previously-announced discovery+ documentaries Francesco (launching March 28); They Call Me Dr. Miami (launching today); P.S. Burn This Letter Please (streaming now); The Impossible Row (streaming now); Beyond Borders (streaming now); and Jon Benet: What Really Happened (streaming now).
The full slate of discovery+ documentaries, with release dates in chronological order, is below (all streaming dates are subject to change).
The Walrus and the Whistleblower (March 4, 2021)
Director: Nathalie Bibeau
A whistleblower is sued for $1.5 million for plotting to steal a walrus at the heart of the movement to end marine mammal captivity. Phil Demers, a trainer at Niagara Falls’ Marineland, popular for his bond with Smooshi the walrus, quits his dream job after a decade, makes claims of animal abuse and wages a war on social media. For the next decade, Demers is embroiled in a stranger-than-fiction public campaign to Save Smooshi. He becomes trapped in his own story and is swallowed whole by his crusade. Part cautionary tale, part portrait of human resilience, Nathalie Bibeau’s unconventional and heart-wrenching film drills at the heart of the hills we are willing to die on.
THE WALRUS AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER won the top Audience Award and the Rogers Audience Award at Hot Docs 2020, played in the Winner’s Circle at DOC NYC, was nominated for Best Director and Best Documentary Feature at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and has played to critical and audience acclaim at several festivals worldwide including DOXA 2020 and Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.
My Beautiful Stutter (March 11, 2021)
Director: Ryan Gielen (Stop the Bleeding, The Graduates)
Executive produced by Paul Rudd, Mariska Hargitay, Peter Hermann, George Springer and Patrick James Lynch, MY BEAUTIFUL STUTTER follows five kids who stutter, ages 9 to 18, from all over the United States and all walks of life. After experiencing a lifetime of bullying and stigmatization, these children meet others who stutter at an interactive arts-based program, The Stuttering Association for the Young, based in New York City. Their journey to SAY finds some close to suicide, others withdrawn and fearful, exhausted and defeated from failed fluency training, societal pressures to not stutter or the decision to remain silent. Over the course of a year, MY BEAUTIFUL STUTTER spotlights the incredible transformation that happens when these young people of wildly different backgrounds experience for the first time the revolutionary idea at the heart of SAY: that it’s okay to stutter.
Produced by Michael Aldman and Ryan Gielen, MY BEAUTIFUL STUTTER won Best Documentary at Boston International Kids Film Festival, Audience Award Best Film at the Napa Valley Film Festival, Viola Marshall Audience Award Best Documentary at the Rhode Island FIlm Festival and Best Documentary at the Golden Door Film Festival and Doc Sunback Film Festival.
Groomed (March 18, 2021)
Director: Gwen van de Pas
GROOMED is the devastatingly powerful story of filmmaker Gwen van de Pas as she returns to her hometown in search of answers about the man who sexually abused her as a child. To understand her ongoing traumas, Gwen travels to meet survivors, psychologists, and even a convicted sex offender. Produced by Gwen van de Pas, Bill Guttentag, and Dylan Nelson, GROOMED addresses a common yet little understood manipulation type called ‘grooming’, how to recognize it, and how to stop it. What begins as an exploration into grooming becomes a dramatic journey where Gwen faces unexpected revelations in her case, finally finds her anger, and boldly confronts the evil we’d rather ignore. Executive produced by Blumhouse in association with Yellow Dot Films.
Miracle Fishing: Kidnapped Abroad (March 25, 2021)
Director: Miles Hargrove (Stanley Marcus Documentary, The Starck Club)
In 1994, Miles Hargrove’s father was kidnapped outside their home in Cali, Colombia by the FARC. In an instant, the Hargrove family found themselves in the midst of a Colombian epidemic – the kidnap and ransom trade. Their only hope was to give in to the guerrillas’ demands, but they had no idea how to embark on the journey ahead. To cope with the long and difficult negotiations, Miles kept a Video8 diary of the events that unfolded. Twenty-five years later, he revisited the footage to turn his diary into a documentary chronicling his family’s incredible story.
MIRACLE FISHING: KIDNAPPED ABROAD premiered at 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to play AFI DOCS and DOC NYC.
Future People: The Family of Donor 5114 (April 10, 2021, Siblings Day)
Director: Michael Rothman
Executive produced by Jason Momoa, and filmed over eight years, Rothman follows a group of adolescents who discover that they were conceived from the same sperm donor, forming an unlikely family of familiar strangers. There are presently 37 half-siblings, and counting. FUTURE PEOPLE explores the complexities of alternative conception while defining a new realm of modern family.
Genius Factory (May 20, 2021)
Director: Daryl Stoneage (Donkey Love, Pizzicato Five, Shlomo Arigato)
In the 1980’s an eccentric billionaire named Robert Graham wanted to create the world’s smartest kids, so he funded the largest legal genetic experiment in human history. He felt that unintelligent people were breeding too often and smart people weren’t breeding enough, so he decided to do something about it. Today, 30 years later, the children of his eugenics experiment walk the streets of America as adults. These super babies seem normal enough, but there is a hidden struggle to understand who they are and why they came to be. They struggle to understand if the Genius Factory rewarded them or condemned them.
The founder is dead, the sperm bank is closed, and the records were burned. But now, for the first time, people who worked at the bank are ready to talk, the genius children are going to meet each other and find out who their fathers are. Never before has nature vs nurture ever been tested quite like this. GENIUS FACTORY is produced by Wavelength Entertainment in association with SILO Entertainment.
Apocalypse ’45 (May 27, 2021)
Director: Erik Nelson (The Cold Blue)
APOCALYPSE ‘45 recounts the end of World War II. With never before seen restored footage and the voices of 24 men who lived through these events, this timely documentary highlights the experiences of the last of the Greatest Generation.
Yellowstone: Super Volcanoes (June 3, 2021)
Yellowstone, one of America’s most famous National Parks, has long been a source of wonder and mystery. Both epic in scale and natural wonder, the park is perhaps best known for its hyperactive geological makeup. Hidden deep beneath the park is an unseen terror – a fiery time bomb slowly building up to its next eruption with the potential to become a modern Pompeii and the biggest natural disaster to ever hit the modern world. This super volcano is a mysterious danger that has left experts and scientists on edge… and it’s not the only one of its kind. With access to world experts, YELLOWSTONE: SUPER VOLCANOES explores the global phenomenon of Super Volcanoes and the threats they pose to the rest of the world.
The Impossible Row (now streaming on discovery+)
Drake Passage, which separates South America from Antarctica, is the most dangerous 600 miles of open ocean on Earth. A team of world record-holding explorers and athletes are going to cross it — in a rowboat.
Beyond Borders (now streaming on discovery+)
More people have been to space than flown around the world in a single prop plane. And this was not lost on filmmaker Juan-Peter Schulze (JP) and influencer / travel vlogger Louis Cole as they set off on a dangerous mission to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine, 1974 Cessna T210L airplane named Baloo. This adventure wasn’t just to see if it was possible, but to experience the many cultures and societies that make up our beautiful planet. The trip was emotionally and physically draining, pushing them to their limits and forcing the pair to face situations which, if handled badly, could have had dire consequences. From losing critical equipment over oceans, past the point of no return, to confronting fighter jets at ten thousand feet on the other side of the world. This is Beyond Borders.
Jonbenet Ramsey: What Really Happened? (now streaming on discovery+)
This feature-length documentary exploring the JonBenet Ramsey case, one of America’s most notorious and captivating unsolved murder mysteries, showcases the exclusive and previously unheard audio diaries of legendary detective Lou Smit, who worked on 200 murder cases and was brought out of retirement in Denver to work on this homicide. Police immediately suspected her parents John and Patsy Ramsey of the murder, but after reviewing the evidence, Lou thought otherwise and he recorded it all.
P.S., Burn This Letter Please (now streaming on discovery+)
Directors: Michael Seligman (writer E! True Hollywood Story – Joan Rivers, consulting producer Rupaul’s Drag Race), Jennifer Tiexiera (editor: 17 Blocks, A Suitable Girl)
A box of letters, held in secret for nearly 60 years, ignites a five-year exploration into a part of LGBT history that has never been told. The letters open a window into a forgotten world where being yourself meant breaking the law and where the penalties for “masquerading” as a woman were swift and severe. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2020 Outfest, PS BURN THIS LETTER PLEASE highlights how former drag queens – now in their 80s and 90s – survived and somehow flourished at a time when drag queens were both revered and reviled, even within the gay community. The government sought to destroy them, then history tried to erase them, now they get to tell their story for the first time.
They Call Me Dr Miami (now streaming on discovery+)
Director: Jean-Simon Chartier (Corps a la Carte, Playing Hard, Into the Fortress)
Fans come from all over the country to take selfies with him, and rap artists name-drop him in lyrics. At the same time, he has been condemned by the medical establishment. Dr. Miami, aka Michael Salzhauer, is America’s most controversial and famous plastic surgeon; his meteoric fame built on live streaming graphic procedures on social media to millions of followers, blurring the lines between entertainment and surgery. But past the surface of his wacky professional brand is a more personal paradox: the doctor is a devoted husband, a father of five, and a conservative Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath. While Salzhauer sees himself as fighting plastic surgery stigmas, a string of deaths in Miami driven by social media marketing and high-volume clinics bring his two worlds into conflict.
Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story (February 25, 2021)
Director: Patrick Creadon (Wordplay, Hesburgh, Ocean Stories: The Halls, 30 for 30 ep. Catholics Vs. Convicts)
Featuring: Ward Baker, Dan Egan and John Egan
SKI BUM: THE WARREN MILLER STORY chronicles the life and times of the legendary filmmaker who, through his annual films and national tours, was a driving force in the development and promotion of the ski industry in the US and the world. The film features Miller’s final interview before he passed. SKI BUM opened the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for Beyond Feature and also played Seattle International Film Festival and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Francesco (March 28, 2021)
Director: Evgeny Afineevksy (Cries from Syria)
From Oscar® nominated director and producer, Evgeny Afineevksy, FRANCESCO features unprecedented access to His Holiness Pope Francis, providing an intimate look at a global leader who approaches challenging and complex issues with tremendous humility, wisdom and generosity towards all. Spanning issues such as climate change, migration and refugees, women’s empowerment, sexual abuse and LGBTQ issues, pandemic, border walls, and many more of today’s headlines, this documentary takes audiences on a worldwide journey to spotlight the incredible empathy displayed by a leader who continues to inspire hope during an extraordinary moment in our lifetime. In doing so, the film examines how people might take action to transition into a new way of living and thriving in the 21st century.