The groundbreaking Oscar-nominated and Peabody and Emmy award-winning documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” from documentarian and historian Henry Hampton, is coming to a new audience.
HBO Max, HBO and Anonymous Content’s AC Studios are joining forces to bring the 14-part PBS docuseries to HBO, where, starting today, viewers will be able to stream part one of Hampton’s chronicle of Black history and the civil rights movement.
But the legacy of “Eyes on the Prize” does not end there — part one of the “Eyes on the Prize” will be followed by the premiere of a one-hour Max Original documentary special, “Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground” on Aug. 19.
The new special is directed by Oscar nominated filmmaker and artist Sophia Nahli Allison (“A Love Song for Natasha,” with executive producers including Patrisse Cullors, Mervyn Marcano and De La Revolución Films’ Melina Matsoukas, as well as Anonymous Content’s Joy Gorman Wettels, Bedonna Smith, Blackside’s Judi Hampton and Sandra Forman.
Cullors expressed gratitude for Judi Hampton, Henry’s sister and the current president and CEO of Blackside for her support on the project and “the role as an elder that she has played, as she’s been holding on to this archive, and she so generously offered it to us.”
“I didn’t get to meet Henry Hampton,” Cullors tells Variety. “But I get to meet him through his beloved sister who has been, honestly, a really incredible guide for us.”
Allison adds: “[I’m] just so grateful that she trusted us with this history, with this task. she has protected the work of Henry and Blackside so beautifully, and it is such an honor to continue this legacy.”
In a press release announcing the projects, Hampton said, “I remember watching the pilot of ‘Eyes on the Prize’ with Henry when it was first created, and I immediately knew this film would be a life-changer for all who saw it.”
“A special thank you to Joy Gorman and Anonymous Content for reaching out to me years ago with passion for the original series and a dream to help bring ‘Eyes’ to a new generation,” she continued. “We are grateful for the stellar team of artists and activists who’ve come together to reimagine ‘Eyes on the Prize’ in a way that will move and inspire a whole new audience.”
To craft the companion film, Allison, her co-writer Lenelle Moïse and the team of producers worked together to weave archival footage with 15 new interviews (including an interview with Cullors) and a set of powerful and visually-stunning vignettes choreographed to mirror or evoke real life scenes like the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
“Having so much of the archival footage in juxtaposition to contemporary footage was really this opening, and this moment, to fill in the gaps,” Cullors says.
“There’s so much archive that you couldn’t possibly put into the 60 minute film, which is why it was so important to have this process with [editor Andrew Morrow] and Sophia, and this team, really battling back and forth,” Marcano explains, nothing that the 14-parts of “Eyes” and the footage that made it up, represent the “necessity for a living archive.”
Of course, the legacy of “Eyes” does not end with “Hallowed Ground,” but it is set to continue with a brand new iteration of “Eyes on the Prize,” which will stream on HBO Max. Details of the project are currently under wraps, but the filmmakers share some of the topics they didn’t get a chance to explore via the special that could make good fodder for the upcoming project.
One of the topics left on the cutting room floor, Allison says, was the discussion of land liberation.
“Throughout the editing process we realized it just stood out. It just felt awkward. It didn’t fit within the overall narrative,” Allison recalls. “That’s one that I deeply miss. But I understand that story, and that history, needs time. But also we discovered that our interviewees in the film, were already speaking about that without naming it. But that definitely is a piece that’s not in there that I would love to revisit one day.”
Another subject that was left out, Marcano says, was the conversation about closing jails and prisons. The original “Eyes” had a lot of coverage of Attica, he explains, saying, “We would take it in, we’d put it out. We saw some echoes, but it just didn’t feel right to try to make mini-episodes of ‘Eyes,’ inside of ‘Hallowed Ground.’”
“We had to make ‘Hallowed Ground’ stand on its own, as that deeply spiritual piece,” he continues. “Knowing that what we have here are nuggets that meet an emotional moment and serve as jumping off points to explore further in the series when there’s more time and space to dive into it.”
Ultimately, the same way that “Eyes on the Prize” influenced the filmmaking team that is carrying the torch into this next phase, Matsoukas hopes that “Hallowed Ground” does the same for future generations.
“I hope that people are really inspired; that they learn, but are also intrigued,” Matsoukas explains. “That they find space to remember to celebrate, to continue the fight, but they also have room for safety, and each other.”
“One of my favorite pieces [is the interviewee who says,] ‘This country was built on us forgetting and not remembering,’” she adds. “This archive and this piece is all about us knowing who we are, where we came from, and where we will take the future.”