Among the kudos Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, has amassed are 22 primetime Emmys, 25 news and docu Emmys and 28 Peabody Awards — not to mention the doc and shorts Oscars racked up by the cabler under her tenure (“The Blood of Yingzhou District” and “Born Into Brothels” among them).
Not surprisingly, Nevins has built up a formidable reputation. She’s been referred to as the “doyenne,” the “De Medici” and the “dominatrix” of documentaries.
After spending some 25 years lording over nonfiction programming at HBO, Nevins says she can just tell when a doc’s DNA matches the channel’s. That means “it’s got a rawness to it, it has a special effect on you,” she explains. Her reaction can be immediate, as was the case with “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” about which Nevins recalls, “Sometimes, 15 minutes into a film, you say, We just have to get this.” And although the division’s acquisitions have made a lot of noise — “Polanski” at Sundance, the recent announcement of a Barack Obama docu — Nevins is quick to champion HBO Doc’s original output. She calls “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery” and “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq,” both of which examine the effects of the war, “little gems.”
Accolades aside, Nevins is not one to rest on her laurels. “Things are over so quickly in television,” she says. “You don’t feel the roar of the crowd, so it’s hard to be complacent.”