Many viewers might be familiar with HBO as a channel that shows other people’s movies while impressing critics and viewers alike with its impressive variety of television programs, and that’s accurate. From intricate dramas on The Wire to the smash success of True Blood, HBO series have been wowing the public  for awhile. And HBO definitely gets first-run movies faster than other premium cable channels, so you and your family can be enjoying whatever it is you missed at the theatre quicker than ever.

But one of the biggest things on HBO, and actually in the world of cinema as it currently exists, is HBO’s support and uncanny ability to select compelling documentaries. You see, out there in the film world, if you’re not at Sundance with your documentary, it might not ever get the chance of being picked up and shown to a wider audience. But the folks at HBO decided that, in addition to hitting it big with their TV series and their big-run movies, they would support filmmakers and go ahead and curate their own documentaries. And like everything else, they’ve really hit the ball out of the park with this.

People might think of channels like IFC and Sundance for true film auteurs, but HBO is right there with them. How about a documentary that screened at the Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival, was made by a single person with a high definition camera, and featured the unlikely love triangle between exotic cat trainers, two of whom were eventually eaten by the animal that made them rich? Art house fare, true, but also compelling for mainstream audiences. And how would a mainstream audience get the chance to see «Cat Dancers,» but through HBO documentaries, who obtained rights to the film and showed it on their channel?

With the incredible amount of films available at your fingertips if you happen to have satellite TV, sometimes you might be searching for something more substantial than Men in Black, but not know where to look. Now you do. HBO documentaries manage to touch on a number of subjects that will be poignant and interesting for all members of the family. Like a compelling documentary, originally selected by the South by Southwest Film Festival, about the country’s only prison rodeo. Or an interesting and creative look back at Ted Kennedy in his own words, as well as insight into one of America’s last great political dynasties.

The documentaries that HBO makes itself are just as great as the ones they pick up from film festivals, too. In fact, HBO Documentary Films received a number of Emmies for their incredible piece on Roman Polanski that showed in 2009, titled «Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.» The film, which showed concurrently through satellite TV and at film festivals, follows the controversial director’s life up through the incident which had him fleeing the United States.

So for couch potatoes looking to brush up on their cultural IQs, or anyone who is hoping to see a film that will move and change them, there’s no need to search through the five million channels on your television anymore. Just head to HBO and see what documentaries they’re screening this month, and turn your living room into a place of learning and knowledge.

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