National Geographic Documentary Films

As the country prepares to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising in April, we can now count 7 projects on the subject that are at some stage of development, set to premiere in the next month, or some time later this year.

First, Showtime’s new feature-length documentary “Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!”, directed by Sacha Jenkins (“Fresh Dressed”), will explore the complicated relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s black and minority communities, tracing a throughline from the 1962 ransacking of a Los Angeles Nation of Islam mosque (which left many injured and one man dead), to the 1965 Watts riots, the rise of L.A. street gangs in the 1970s and ’80s, and the Rodney King beating in 1991.

There’s also writer/director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s English-language feature film debut, “Kings,” which stars Halle Berry, in a story set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of the police officers charged with the excessive beating of Rodney King. Berry plays a mother living in South Central, Los Angeles, where the riots began; Daniel Craig plays a white male neighbor and love interest to Berry’s character.

John Ridley is working on a feature length documentary for ABC about the racial tensions in Los Angeles in the ’80s and early ’90s, pegged to the 25th anniversary of the 1992 riots. The two-hour doc, “Let It Fall: LA 1982-1992,” will get a theatrical release before it airs on ABC in spring 2017.

Spike Lee has directed a taping of Roger Guenveur Smith’s one-man Rodney King show, which has been picked up by Netflix to premiere on April 28 – a date that coincides with what will be the 25th anniversary of the acquittals of the LAPD officers who were videotaped brutally beating King in 1991. Titled “Rodney King,” the work is an adaptation of Smith’s Bessie Award-winning stage production of the same name.

A&E will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots next month with a two-hour documentary co-produced by John Singleton. Titled “L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later,” A&E has set an April 18 premiere for the film which will chronicle the civil unrest that shook the nation, telling the story from the POV of those who lived through it all, including police officers, rioters, bystanders caught in the crossfire, and the reporters who covered the chaos.

And the Smithsonian Channel will revisit the chaotic days following the April 29, 1992 Rodney King verdict, incorporating powerful media coverage, home videos, gripping photographs and LAPD recordings, in the April 23 installment of its documentary series, “The Lost Tapes.” The documentary also includes some never-before-heard Los Angeles Fire Department dispatch calls, in which firefighters in the field are desperately pleading for police backup as they were being fired upon. Promising “the ultimate in authentic storytelling,” as well as a “unique and immersive approach,” the film features no interviews or recreations – just the story as captured by video cameras and media reports at the time.

Finally, National Geographic Documentary Films presents “LA 92,” a riveting look back at the controversial Rodney King trial and subsequent protests, violence and looting of the city. Viewed from a multitude of vantage points through visceral and rarely seen archival footage, the film brings a fresh perspective to a pivotal moment that reverberates to this day.

Produced by Lightbox’s two-time Academy Award winner Simon Chinn (“Man on Wire”) and Emmy winner Jonathan Chinn (“American High”) with Academy Award-winning directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin (“Undefeated”), and featuring original music from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (“OA,” “Enemy”), LA 92 premieres at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 21. Following the premiere at Tribeca, the film will complete a multi-city screening tour including Baltimore; Charlotte; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta. Additionally, a limited theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles begins Friday, April 28, and “LA 92” makes its television broadcast debut on National Geographic on Sunday, April 30, at 9/8c and will also air globally in 171 countries and 45 languages. Furthering the national conversation, National Geographic has also partnered with Picture Motion to provide free screenings of the film to colleges and universities nationwide and has developed a robust free discussion guide to accompany the film.

Using no narration or talking head interviews, the filmmakers decided to take a bold approach: to reconstruct the tumultuous events that unfolded in 1992 by exclusively using archival footage and photographs. Culling thousands of hours of visceral broadcast news footage, radio reports, police files and personal home videos – some of which have never been broadcast – the filmmakers tell the story through a variety of different points of view and perspectives and set it all to a rich orchestral score composed by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

The film features never-before-seen and rarely used footage from the Los Angeles First AME Church, which supported many victims of the violence; materials from the Los Angeles police and fire departments; and video from contemporaneous news broadcasts from LA-based Korean-language television stations. “LA 92” takes viewers out of the prism of their own cultural, racial and political perspectives and allows them to see the events of 1992 in a new light.

The film captures the shock, disappointment and fury felt by many Angelenos, particularly those in the African American community, following the outcomes of two back-to-back, highly publicized trials. In November 1991, a Korean convenience store owner who was convicted of fatally shooting African-American teenager Latasha Harlins was given no jail time by a white Los Angeles judge. Six months later, four police officers caught on videotape brutally beating unarmed black motorist Rodney King were acquitted of assault by a predominantly white Simi Valley jury.

“We come from a cinema verite background and as such, we are always striving to find ways to let the footage speak for itself,” said Martin and Lindsay, who also edited the film. “Our intent was to fully immerse viewers in a raw and unfiltered experience in order to challenge their understanding of the civil unrest, both emotionally and intellectually.”

National Geographic Documentary Films’ “LA 92” will premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, followed by its broadcast debut on National Geographic on April 30 at 9/8c.

The NatGeo has released a first trailer for the film which is embedded below: