Emmys: Robin Williams DocumentaryCelebrity Stories Dominate Documentary and Nonfiction

Four of the best documentary or nonfiction special nominees this year focus on different aspects of celebrity: the tabloid obsession with Britney Spears, the comic philosophies of George Carlin, the romantic and professional partnership of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the charitable work of chef José Andrés. Last but not least, there’s The Tinder Swindler, a real crime documentary about a man who conned women using the dating app. The writers and journalists at The Hollywood Reporter have compiled a list of the top candidates in this category.

Controlling Britney Spears is the follow-up to Samantha Stark and Liz Day’s Framing Britney Spears, and it covers interviews with people who were close to Spears while she was under conservatorship. They respond candidly to Spears’ emotional statement and discuss the extent to which her life was managed in interviews. Featured are Spears’s ex-assistant Felicia Culotta, ex-head of wardrobe Tish Yates, ex-promotional tour manager Dan George of Spears’s Circus Tour, and ex-executive assistant, operations, and security manager Alex Vlasov of Spears’s longstanding security company Black Box Security.

Vlasov, who worked for Black Box Security Inc. under CEO Edan Yemini for nine years, revealed one of the company’s most lucrative client relationships. It was just me and the boss at Black Box, he said, and we had all the information. According to the author, “Edan was so relieved after watching the first documentary [Framing Britney Spears].

What a relief it was that he, Black Box, and Tristar had all been forgotten. His greatest worry was that the security measures would draw unwanted attention. During the documentary’s press round, Yemini refused to discuss his company’s involvement with Spears. — Lexy Perez.

Samantha Stark directs Controlling Britney Spears, with Liz Day serving as supervising producer and reporter; the film follows up on 2010’s Framing Britney Spears and includes interviews with those familiar with Britney’s life throughout the conservatorship. They react emotionally to Spears’ story about how her life was controlled and open out about it in interviews. Some of the people featured include Alex Vlasov, a former executive assistant, operations and security manager at Spears’ longtime security company Black Box Security; Tish Yates, a former head of wardrobe; Dan George, promotional tour manager for Spears’ Circus Tour; and Felicia Culotta, a former longtime assistant of Spears’.

Vlasov, who worked with Black Box Security Inc. president Edan Yemini for nine years, contributed a particularly detailed report. Saying, “I was the only guy at Black Box who understood everything,” he went on to explain that he was indeed unique.

“After watching the first documentary [Framing Britney Spears], Edan felt a huge sense of relief. He was happy that he, Black Box, and Tristar had been left out of the story. His greatest worry was that the presence of security would attract unwanted attention. If you asked Yemini about his company’s involvement with Spears’ documentary, he would not answer your queries. By Lexy Perez

Chris Rock states this in the second section of George Carlin’s American Dream, directed by Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio: “We don’t really have philosophers anymore, but we have comedians.”

Proof positive that George Carlin transcended and altered the boundaries of his trade may be found in the precise essence and origin of Rock’s assessment. Despite the passage of nearly 14 years since Carlin’s death, his words continue to live on and stay insanely particular, as if every unexpected tragedy of human society was somehow foretold by only one man, thanks to the pervasiveness of social media. One group of fans will lament that we’ll never know what George Carlin would have said about the news of the day, whether it be about reproductive rights, environmental disaster, political hypocrisy, or the power of free speech, while another group will post the blistering stand-up set that illustrates exactly what George Carlin did say about that topic.


The most compelling feature of Apatow and Bonfiglio’s documentary remains unchanged by the fact that Carlin left behind endless hours of well-expressed, progressively frustrated assertions of his viewpoint. Carlin’s life didn’t only have a second act; he also had a third and a fourth, and the comedian he was in the mid-’90s and ’00s probably isn’t the comedian he would have been today. Thus, the film is both a triumph and a tragedy in one. It was Daniel Fienberg who said this:


Lucy and Desi (Prime Video)

Lucy and Desi have a wealth of stills and footage, and among them, you may see a striking resemblance to the film’s director, Amy Poehler. Lucille Ball is depicted in the photo as a wide-eyed, lovely clown while wearing one of her sillier outfits and posing for the camera. Many people who work in television now credit the groundbreaking sitcom and its beloved actors, including me, Love Lucy, with inspiring them to go into the industry. Yet in her first feature-length documentary, Poehler conveys an especially profound feeling of empathy and compassion. She’s a hilarious woman with huge clout in the TV industry, much like Ball. And she has first-hand experience with the difficulties that can arise after the divorce of a high-profile comedic pair.

Poehler’s zeroes focus on a showbiz love tale with an insider’s perspective and access to Ball and Arnaz’s archives. They are more than just a loving couple, though; they have captured the hearts of a postwar nation. Like a previous documentary about Dean Martin, another megastar of the same generation, this one praises enormous skill while taking stock of something much more subdued: anguish that isn’t always cured or even calmed by professional achievement.

Similar to the Martin documentary, which heavily features commentary from one of the filmmaker’s children, Lucy and Desi feature significant time with Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Arnaz and Ball’s firstborn child. There was “a cost to the achievement,” she says, as she provides probing and insightful testimony on her parents’ marriage and intertwined careers. Years after they had both remarried, she describes the heartbreaking simplicity of their final chat. Sheri Linden

The Tinder Swindler (Netflix)

Simon Leviev (real name: Shimon Hayut) of The Tinder Swindler fame met women through the dating app, showered them with expensive gifts and trips, and eventually convinced them to lend him money by claiming he was in financial distress. He never paid them back, leaving them owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Next, he’d use the money he made from his con to find another victim. Richards opines, “These women are all selfless, empathic women, and that’s what he trades on.” It’s awful when someone’s kindness and concern for another are used for their own gain. However, this is frequently the crux of authoritarian rule.

Another one of Leviev’s victims, Pernilla Sjoholm, is still making payments on her $45,000 debt. Sjoholm tells THR that he is still ashamed of the incident since it shows that “someone can do something to a human, [the type of person whom] you would [say is] of lower intelligence.” That’s why I bring it up so often: it could happen to anyone. To be honest, I didn’t recognize how I was being manipulated at the time, but in retrospect, it seems ridiculous that I didn’t.

Luke Bryan Documentary
Luke Bryan Documentary

Sjoholm claims that Leviev exploited her by showing interest in the things that were important to her. She says, “Being in Rome, I’m a sucker for history, so he had arranged a car just to take me through all the sightseeing spots,” and that he also acted as though he felt sorry for himself, saying, “he didn’t have any real friends and that I was the only person who actually cared, while other people just wanted to use him.” Annotated by Beatrice Verhoeven

We Feed People (NatGeo)

My interest in mega-chef José Andrés shifted from a desire to dine at one of his many acclaimed restaurants to a hope that he would one day win the Nobel Peace Prize at some time in the previous decade.

We Feed People, directed by Ron Howard and produced by National Geographic Documentary Films, focuses on Andrés’ unexpected career shift from culinary mastermind to culinary first responder following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2020. With We Feed People, the Oscar-winning director continues his evolution into a thoughtful and reliable ultra-mainstream documentarian (the Ron Howard of documentaries, if you will). It’s realistic enough to not be overly dismissive of Andrés’ achievements and insightful enough into his thought process to hold your interest over the long haul.

For all intents and purposes, Howard could view Andrés as a gastronomical Avenger, flying around the world in a flash to bring paella to the hungry and interacting on various social media sites. Yes, you can also find it.

With a telegenic wife and three equally stunning daughters, it’s no surprise that Andrés’s family is always eager to share tales of his outsize personality and anecdotes from their own lives, sometimes accompanied by home videos.

The most critical thing said about Andrés by anyone in the documentary is that his daughters occasionally have to check Twitter to figure out where he is at any particular time.

However, merely desiring to do good in the world and coming up with a brilliant concept is not the same thing. What Howard and his team are most interested in documenting are the multiple processes that must take place before any good deed can be done. This is ostensibly a film about a heroic individual, but it ends up being far more about the bureaucracy of kindness. — D.F.

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