TIME Television

Transgender Documentary Series Coming to ABC Family

Ryan Seacrest on Dec. 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
Ryan Seacrest on Dec. 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Steve Granitz—Getty Images/WireImage

The series, produced by Ryan Seacrest's company, is set to take a look at how a family reacts to a father's transition

ABC Family has ordered a documentary show called My Transparent Life straight to series from Ryan Seacrest Productions, which will focus on a teenage boy as he deals with major changes to his home life.

My Transparent Life will follow Ben, a teenager who learns both that his parents are going to divorce and that his father, Charlie, is transitioning into Carly.

The series is set to take a look at how the entire family handles both the divorce and the transition. My Transparent Life will attempt to look at both generations of this family and how they learn to support each other during a period of intense change in their lives.

“While Ben’s family situation is unusual, the themes and coming-of-age issues are universal, and we think our viewers will find a real connection to them,” Tom Ascheim, President of ABC Family, said in a statement about the show.

No date has been set for the series, but the show certainly continues television’s recent spate of shows offering a look at transgender characters. EW‘s Melissa Maerz spoke to the trend, pointing out shows like Orange Is the New Black and EW‘s best show of 2014, Transparent, as opening minds across the country to the experiences of trans characters.

This article originally appeared on Entertainment Weekly.

TIME

Man Posthumously Reveals He Was Spiderman in Obituary He Helped Write

Aaron Purmort showed great humor even in his dying days

Aaron Purmort was an art director, “pop culture encyclopedia,” husband and father. But his obituary, published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune after his death from a brain tumor on Nov. 25, revealed him to be something else: Spiderman. The obituary, which he co-wrote with his wife, said that he died “after complications from a radioactive spider bite that led to years of crime-fighting and a years long battle with a nefarious criminal named Cancer.”

The remembrance goes on to recall (facetiously) his first wife Gwen Stefani and to assure readers that his son “will grow up to avenge his father’s untimely death.” Purmort’s wife Nora wrote on her blog, “My Husband’s Tumor,” that she had “never laughed and cried more in one sitting” than when the two of them wrote the obituary together. She has been documenting their story — “not a cancer story” but a love story “with some cancer” — on the blog since 2012, the year after they got married and Aaron was first diagnosed, and the year before they had their son.

The Purmorts’ story will soon become a documentary, the title of which, a&n, serves as a reminder that it is a love story at its core. As Nora wrote in the blog post in which she announced Aaron’s death: “I know what Aaron always knew: it might not be true right this second, but it’s going to be okay.”

TIME Music

Kurt Cobain Documentary Heading to HBO in 2015

Photo of Kurt COBAIN and NIRVANA
Kurt Cobain performs live onstage in Modena, Italy on Feb. 21, 1994. Raffaella Cavalieri—Redferns/Getty Images

Montage of Heck will be the first authorized documentary about the Nirvana frontman's life

Kurt Cobain has been the subject of many films, including a fictionalized version of himself in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days and a controversial 1988 documentary called Kurt & Courtney. Now, HBO is releasing the first fully-authorized documentary of the Nirvana frontman, executive-produced by his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.

At the helm is Brett Morgen, who worked on HBO’s Rolling Stones documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, as well as The Kid Stays in the Picture, which told the story of the rise and fall of notorious Hollywood producer Roger Evans. According to a press release from HBO, Morgen started working on the project years ago with the family’s blessing, combing through Cobain’s archives, watching never-before-seen home movies, listening to recordings, and digging through Cobain’s artwork, photography, journals, and songbooks..

“I started work on this project eight years ago,” says Morgen in the press release. “Like most people, when I started, I figured there would be limited amounts of fresh material to unearth. However, once I stepped into Kurt’s archive, I discovered over 200 hours of unreleased music and audio, a vast array of art projects (oil paintings, sculptures), countless hours of never-before-seen home movies, and over 4000 pages of writings that together help paint an intimate portrait of an artist who rarely revealed himself to the media.”

The feature-length film, Montage of Heck, is slated for release in 2015.

TIME On Our Radar

A Fresh Look at Africa through Nigeria’s Largest Photo Festival

When LagosPhoto Director Azu Nwagbogu, and other members of the African Artists’ Foundation, were setting up Nigeria’s first ever photo festival, they had a pretty broad goal in mind: to provide a platform for photographers to tell new stories about Africa. But perhaps an even more important part of their mission was to empower artists to remedy what Nwagbogu has termed “Afro-pessimism,” the tendency for visual representations of the continent to be negative, particularly in the western media.

“If I think about what documentary photography, in the traditional sense, has for done Africa, it hasn’t really empowered the continent,” Nwagbogu tells TIME. “Africa [is often seen] as a hopeless continent where it’s almost like nothing can be done.”

But he knew a different kind of work was out there, he says. And on his travels, he would often come across refreshing visual stories documenting various African countries, but ones that had never been shown in Africa. “I realized there was an abundance of talent,” he says. And so the festival was born.

Now in its fifth year, the show sees photographers present work under the theme Staging Reality: Documenting Fiction. Fiction here not necessarily indicating invention, Nwagbogu stresses, but rather how storytelling can represent reality. Indeed, fiction in Nigeria, and in many cultures, can often be used as a conveyor of truth, he says.

“Most of what we know about Parisian life in the 19th Century is through fiction — people like Balzac, people like Flaubert,” Nwagbogu continues.

On show are Cristina de Middel’s arresting This is What Hatred Did series, which is a modern retelling of an old Nigerian story, Namsa Leuba’s powerful Cocktail, which focuses on the representation of the female body in Africa and Seun Akisanmi’s Nigerian Punishments in which the artist explores the various forms of punishment he received as a child.

But Nwagbogu is keen to stress that this year’s theme is not about jettisoning photojournalism — last year, curators showed Jerome Delay’s work from Mali, for example — but it’s more about broadening the festival’s scope to include different kinds of photography, and indeed, narratives.

“If we engage and empower local and international photographers to embrace a newer narrative I think, maybe, we have a better solution,” he says. “We don’t need to define ourselves as who we are not anymore, we can now define ourselves as who we want to be.”


LagosPhoto runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 26, 2014 in Lagos.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.


TIME Music

Martin Scorsese Signs On as Executive Producer of Grateful Dead Documentary

"The 50 Year Argument" Photo Call - 52nd New York Film Festival
Director Martin Scorsese attends the "The 50 Year Argument" premiere during the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 28, 2014 in New York City. Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images

The documentary is set to be released next year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of band's founding

Hollywood director Martin Scorsese will be the executive producer of an upcoming documentary on legendary ’60s rock group the Grateful Dead.

The documentary, which will use a mix of vintage interviews, live concerts and new interviews with surviving members, is slated to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the iconic band’s founding, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Amir Bar-Lev, known for 2010 film The Tillman Story, will direct the yet-to-be-titled Grateful Dead flick.

The band, made up of Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and the late Jerry Garcia, said in a statement that they are honored to have Scorsese on board. “From The Last Waltz to George Harrison: Living in the Material World, from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones, he has made some of the greatest music documentaries ever with some of our favorite artists,” they said.

Scorsese also released a statement, saying he was happy that the film was being made and honored at being a part of it. “The Grateful Dead were more than just a band,” he said. “They were their own planet, populated by millions of devoted fans.”

[THR]

TIME History

FDR’s Polio: The Steel in His Soul

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Disease can break a lot of people. As a new film by Ken Burns and an exclusive video clip show, it helped make Franklin Roosevelt

No one will ever know the name of the boy scout who changed the world. Odds are even he never knew he had so great an impact on history. It’s a certainty that he was carrying the poliovirus—but he may not have known that either since only one in every 200 infected people ever comes down with the paralytic disease. And it’s a certainty too that he had it in late July of 1921 when he and a raucous gathering of other scouts had gathered on Bear Mountain in New York for a summer jamboree. So important was the event in the scouting world that it even attracted a visit by the former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and 1920 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Franklin Roosevelt.

This much is painfully certain too: somehow, the virus that inhabited the boy found its way to the man, settling first in his mucus membranes, and later in his gut and lymph system, where it multiplied explosively, finally migrating to the anterior horn cells of his spinal cord. On the evening of August 10, a feverish Roosevelt climbed into bed in his summer cottage on Campobello Island in Canada’s Bay of Fundy. It was the last time he would ever stand unassisted again.

Roosevelt’s polio, which struck him down just as his political star was rising, was supposed to be the end of him. The fact that it wasn’t is a self-evident matter of history. Just why it wasn’t has been the subject of unending study by historians and other academics for generations. This year, Roosevelt and his polio are getting a fresh look—for a few reasons.

October 28 will be the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, whose work developing the first polio vaccine was backed by the March of Dimes, which was then known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and which itself grew out of the annual President’s Birthday Balls, nationwide events to raise funds for polio research, the first of which was held on FDR’s 52nd birthday, on January 30, 1934, early in his presidency. That initial birthday ball raised a then-unimaginable $1 million in a single evening, a sum so staggering Roosevelt took to the radio that night to thank the nation.

“As the representative of hundreds of thousands of crippled children,” he said, “I accept this tribute. I thank you and bid you goodnight on what to me is the happiest birthday I have ever known.”

This year too marks one more step in what is the hoped-for end game for the poliovirus, as field-workers from the World Health Organization, Rotary International, UNICEF and others work to vaccinate the disease into extinction, focusing their efforts particularly on Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Then too there is the much-anticipated, 14-hr. Ken Burns film, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which begins airing on Sept. 14. It is by no means the first Roosevelt documentary, but it is the first to gather together all three legendary Roosevelts—Franklin, Theodore and Eleanor—and explore them as historical co-equals. It’s the segments about FDR and his polio that are perhaps the most moving, however—and certainly the most surprising, saying what they do about the genteel way a presidential disability was treated by the media and by other politicians in an era so very different from our own.

“We think we’re better today because we know so much more,” Burns told TIME in a recent conversation. “But FDR couldn’t have gotten out of the Iowa caucuses because of his infirmity. CNN and Fox would have been vying for shots of him sweating and looking uncomfortable in those braces.”

That’s not a hard tableau to imagine—the competing cameras and multiple angles, shown live and streamed wide. And what Americans would have seen would not have been pretty, because never mind how jolly Roosevelt tried to appear, his life involved far, far more pain and struggle than the public ever knew, as a special feature from the film, titled “Able-Bodied,” makes clear. That segment, which is not part of the broadcast and is included only on the film’s DVD and Blu-Ray versions, which are being released almost contemporaneously with the film, was made available exclusively to TIME (top).

Concealing—or at least minimizing—the president’s paralysis was nothing short of subterfuge, the kind of popular manipulation that wouldn’t be countenanced today. But it’s worth considering what would have been lost by exposing the masquerade that allowed FDR to achieve and hold onto power. Roosevelt, as the Burns film makes clear, was a man whose ambition and native brilliance far exceeded his focus and patience. It was a restlessness that afflicted cousin Teddy too, causing him to make sometimes impulsive decisions, like pledging in 1904 that he wouldn’t run again in 1908—an act he regretted for the rest of his life and tried to undo with his failed third-party presidential bid in 1912.

“Who knows what would have happened if Teddy had had the great crises Franklin had—the Depression and World War II?” Burns says. “I do know he was unstable and always had to be in motion. It fell to FDR, who could not move, to figure out a way to outrun his demons.”

George Will, in an artful turn in the “Able-Bodied” clip, observes that when the steel went onto Roosevelt’s legs it also went into his soul. That may have been true in FDR’s case, but it’s true too that suffering is not ennobling for everyone. Some people are broken by it; some are embittered by it. As polio nears the end of its long and terrible run, the things FDR achieved despite—even partly because of—his affliction remain nothing short of remarkable.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME celebrities

George Takei: ‘Being Optimistic Is Ensuring Your Success’

The star is the subject of a new documentary

There’s a Japanese word that shows up repeatedly in the new documentary, To Be Takei (Aug. 22) about the life of George Takei: “gaman.”

“Gaman translates into English as ‘to endure with dignity, or fortitude,’” the Star Trek actor tells TIME. Gaman was, he says, a source of strength for Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps during World War II — and he would know. Takei spent his childhood, up until almost his 9th birthday, in such a place. Even after the internment ended, the young Takei found himself in a hostile world, where housing and employment for Japanese-Americans were scarce, and his family, penniless after the war, lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles.

And gaman continued to prove necessary as Takei got older. When he became an actor, his first roles were ones he regretted even before filming them, stereotypical Asian caricatures he says his agent convinced him were worth it for the visibility. And, even after his acting career was established, he faced different struggles as a gay man — first with concealing his sexuality, later with getting the right to marry.

But he endured. As he tells TIME, he did so with a smile.

“I think being optimistic is ensuring your success. If you start out saying ‘I’ve got this problem or I’m angry at that,’ you will not succeed,” he says. “My father said, ‘Be confident of who you are, but also work hard to be the best that you can be.’”

It’s clear by now that his optimism is well-founded. The science-fiction devices he used on Star Trek have become reality (except, he notes, for the transporter), he’s married, he’s enjoying a major wave of popularity — and, of course, he’s the star of a movie about himself.

“The future,” he says, “is today.”

Read more about George Takei in this week’s TIME.

TIME Pop Culture

See How ‘Oh My’ Became George Takei’s Catchphrase

Say it with us now...

Take a quick peek at the Twitter feed from George Takei — the actor famous for his Star Trek and advocacy roles, and the star of the new documentary To Be Takei — and it’s immediately clear that he has a catchphrase.

He uses it in a sentence:

He uses it as a hashtag:

He even has his own link shortener, which churns out catchphrase-inspired short URLs for him to tweet:

But how did “Oh my!” come to be his catchphrase? Here, Takei tells TIME.

TIME Theme Parks

SeaWorld Is Drowning Fast

Trainers have Orca killer whales perform for the crowd  during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California
Trainers have Orca killer whales perform for the crowd during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, on March 19, 2014. Mike Blake—Reuters

A damning documentary hasn't helped the struggling theme park

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Ben Geier

On Friday, SeaWorld Entertainment announced that it is building new, bigger enclosures for its signature attractions — the orcas (also known as killer whales). Their jumps and tricks have delighted some, but their alleged poor treatment and inadequate habitats have enraged others.

The theme park company said it plans to upgrade the killer whale tanks at three of its theme parks, starting with the one in San Diego, Calif. The new orca tanks will be 50 feet deep and have a surface area of nearly 1.5 acres.

Will improved conditions be enough to reverseSeaWorld’s declining revenue? Earlier this week the theme park company said its revenue dropped 1 percent in the three months ended June 30 during a period that’s considered the company’s peak season. SeaWorld also attributed its poor quarter to bad press following the release of the “Blackfish” documentary, which accused the theme park operator of mistreating orcas.

Wall Street wasn’t impressed and sent the company’s stock price down over 30 percent.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Music

David Byrne and Jonathan Demme on The Making of Stop Making Sense

David Byrne in Stop Making Sense Courtesy Palm Pictures

The Talking Heads frontman and the film's director reflect on the seminal rock documentary

It’s been 30 years since the release of Stop Making Sense, the Jonathan Demme-directed Talking Heads concert pic that’s widely recognized as one of the greatest live music films of all time.

Stop Making Sense paired Demme — years before he won Best Director for Silence of the Lambs — with the band Talking Heads, just as the New York-based art rock group were becoming musical icons.

The film begins with the band’s frontman and impresario, David Byrne, walking on stage a boombox in hand. He sets it down, turns it on and starts to sing along with the Talking Heads’ song “Psycho Killer.” He is soon joined by bassist Tina Weymouth while stagehands build a drum platform for Chris Frantz. Backup singers and horn players appear and the show goes on, building into a frenzy while Byrne throws himself around the stage like a possessed version of Mick Jagger. That energy carries throughout the film, fusing Demme’s sweeping cinematographic style with Byrne’s eye for stagecraft and the art of the show.

To mark the occasion, the film is being made available digitally for the first time ever by Palm Pictures, along with a limited theatrical engagement this summer and fall. When asked why it took so long for a film that used some of the most modern equipment and techniques of its age — it was the first rock movie made using entirely digital audio techniques — to become available digitally, Demme shrugged: “I guess we just weren’t paying attention?”

TIME talked to both Demme and Byrne as they reflected on making Stop Making Sense and the lasting legacy of the film:

Demme: “In early 1983, Gary Goetzman and I went to see my favorite band, the Talking Heads, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The show was like seeing a movie just waiting to be filmed. We tracked David Byrne down and pitched him on the idea of teaming up to make the picture.”

Byrne: “I realized the show was ‘cinematic’ and that it sort of had a narrative arc. It might work on film, or so I believed.”

Demme: “David really saw this movie in his own head long before we came and pitched him on letting us shoot it.”

The two connected through a mutual friend, Nadia Ghaleb (according to Byrne), but they already shared a mutual appreciation of each others’ work.

Byrne: “I knew Jonathan’s work. I loved Melvin and Howard.”

Demme: “I was a Talking Heads fan from the very beginning.”

To make the film, the band turned to the parent company of their record label, Sire, for funding.

Byrne: “Our manager, the late Gary Kurfirst, went to Warner Records for a ‘loan.’ They got paid back and sold some live albums too.

With financing secured, the filming could begin.

Byrne: “Jonathan followed us on tour for about a week or so prior to filming, so he knew the show pretty well.”

Demme: “The big suit, the lighting, the staging, the choreography, the song line-up — everything was there in the show before the filmmakers showed up.”

The so-called big suit became one of the most iconic images of the show, the band and the film:

Demme: “It was all part of David Byrne’s original concept for the staged show, from the beginning.”

Byrne: “I was in Japan in between tours and I was checking out traditional Japanese theater — Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku — and I was wondering what to wear on our upcoming tour. A fashion designer friend (Jurgen Lehl) said in his typically droll manner, ‘Well David, everything is bigger on stage.’ He was referring to gestures and all that, but I applied the idea to a businessman’s suit.”

Filming took place over four nights at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, while the Talking Heads were on tour following the release of their album, Speaking in Tongues:

Demme: “Those four nights of filming were four of the most thrilling shoots of my life. Everything went flying by so fast it was just one ecstatic blur for me.”

Byrne: “During the shoot every day was spent re-balancing the lights so that the show would look to the camera as it did to the eye, as well as blocking out camera moves.”

Demme: “It was wonderful that our Director of Photography was the late/great Jordan Cronenweth, because Jordan was able to help David achieve on screen what was never completely possible with the lighting scheme in those big live arena shows, because there’s so much ambient light in those rooms that it blows out the starkness of true graphic black and white lighting design.”

Byrne had an attention to detail and an eye for design that was vast in scope:

Byrne: ”Edna Holt, one of the incredible singers (see 20 Feet from Stardom) changed her hair the day before we started shooting! I freaked out — hair whipping was a big part of the show —so I paid for her to get a weave immediately. It took her many, many hours, poor girl, but it worked.”

Courtesy Palm Pictures

Stop Making Sense was a true collaboration between the two men, with each contributing their own aesthetic ideas about music, cinematography and stagecraft into a cohesive whole of avant-garde rock-and-roll theater. Both Demme and Byrne were eager to credit their collaboration and each other for the end result:

Demme: “Most of these dynamics arose from David Byrne’s original vision, but it was a highly collaborative experience.”

Byrne: “Jonathan saw things in the show that I didn’t realize where there or didn’t realize how important they were.”

Demme: “We shot it together, cut and mixed it together, and we all went running off to the festival circuit together as soon as we had our first print.”

Byrne: “[Demme] saw the interaction of the personalities on stage, how it was an ‘ensemble piece’ if it were viewed as one would a scripted film. He also realized that to suck the viewer into that ensemble, there would be no interviews and no shots of the audience until almost the very end.”

Demme: “In the cutting room we quickly discovered that there was always something far more interesting going on on stage than in the ‘best’ of our audience footage. This led to the realization that if we pulled back from showing the live audience, it made our film feel that much more specially created for our movie audience!”

The film also used a number of long camera shots to capture all the on-stage action in beautiful sweeping shots. It’s something Demme would replicate in future music documentaries like Storefront Hitchcock and Neil Young: Heart of Gold.

Demme: “The use of extended shots instead of quick cuts is a result of my belief that there is great power available by holding on any extended terrific moment and letting the viewer become more deeply involved in the performance at hand, instead of constantly interrupting the flow with un-needed cuts. Too much cutting usually speaks to a lack of editorial confidence in the players and the music.”

Courtesy Palm Pictures

While Byrne tends to be the film’s focal point — and he is rarely off-camera throughout — the real star of the show is the music: the exuberant, funk-influenced rock that pushed the Talking Heads from the New York underground, where they opened for the Ramones at CBGB, to hitting the Billboard charts. The film captures their energy perfectly, building in tempo and attempting to force even the most reluctant audience members from their seats:

Byrne: “There were many screenings, film festivals and all that — many of which featured dancing in the aisles.”

Demme: “I adore film and I adore music. I often find myself feeling that filming music is somehow the purest form of filmmaking. This crazed collision of sound and images, the intense collaboration, these incredibly cinematic performances. And for the nights you’re filming, a non-player like me gets to feel somehow part of the band.”

Byrne: “I think the film and the show showed that a pop concert could be a kind of theater — not in the pretentious sense, but in the sense that it could be visually and even sort of dramatically sophisticated and yet you could still dance to it.”

Demme: “I knew that we had captured the magic of an extraordinary band at just the right moment, but didn’t imagine it would still be so around and feeling so fresh 30 years later. Makes sense now, though.”

Demme: “I love this film passionately with all my heart.”

You can purchase Stop Making Sense on iTunes here.

MORE: Love Story: A Q&A with Singer-Songwriter Robyn Hitchcock

MORE: Tommy Ramone RIP: The 9 Best Ramones Songs

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