Passionate and gracefully outspoken, Susan Sontag was a prominent literary, political and feminist icon. As a critic, novelist, teacher, filmmaker, activist and iconoclast, her love of learning and examinations of cultural and political ideas made her both a compelling public figure and a significant 20th-century critic. A complex person, Sontag fiercely guarded her privacy, despite her boldness in the literary world.

A layered look at a towering cultural critic and writer whose works on photography, war, and illness, still resonate today, REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG debuts TONIGHT, DEC. 8 (9:00-10:45 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

Other HBO playdates: Dec. 8 (3:45 a.m.), 11 (3:30 p.m.), 13 (4:15 p.m.), 17 (5:30 p.m.), 22 (11:55 p.m.), 28 (2:00 p.m.) and 30 (9:30 a.m.)

HBO2 playdates: Dec. 10 (8:00 p.m.), 15 (1:40 p.m.), 18 (12:50 a.m.), and 27 (10:00 a.m.)

Recipient of a Special Jury Mention at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG features a rich collection of archival materials, evocative imagery and accounts from friends, family, colleagues and lovers - including Sontag's sister, Judith Sontag Cohen, authors Stephen Koch, Eva Kollisch, Fran Leibowitz and Sigrid Nunez, and poet Wayne Koestenbaum - and Sontag's work, read by Patricia Clarkson.

Born in New York City in 1933, Sontag was a voracious reader who graduated from high school at age 15, and subsequently enrolled at U.C. Berkley. Recalling her arrival on campus, she remembered thinking, "I'm home. I've reached a place where other people have read the same books I have." At Berkeley, she met Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, who introduced her to the gay bars of San Francisco, and the two quickly became romantically involved.

Transferring to the University of Chicago, Sontag married sociologist Philip Rieff just a few days after they met. Two years later, she gave birth to her son, David. In 1957, Sontag was granted a fellowship at Oxford. After a semester, she left Oxford for Paris, where she visited Zwerling and rekindled their romance. A year later, she returned home and divorced Philip.

Sontag published her first novel, "The Benefactor," in 1963, but its experimental style and abstract prose were not well received. Three years later, her landmark collection "Against Interpretation" hit bookstores. Featuring her groundbreaking 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" the book propelled her to literary stardom, and Sontag became one of the most photographed women of her time. "What draws me very much to writing is its way of paying attention to the world," she wrote. "You're just an instrument for tuning into as much reality as you can."

Publicly, Sontag was the fierce "dragon lady" of American letters. In private, she was as vulnerable as anyone else, and felt the need to keep her sexuality private. REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG explores the contrast between the private Sontag, sometimes full of doubt, and her self-assured public persona.

Over the course of her career, Sontag never shied away from controversy, believing, "All writing is political. All acts are political." She was critical of the war in Vietnam, and visited Hanoi in 1968 in the midst of heavy American bombing.

In 1975, Sontag learned she had breast cancer. After treatment, she published "Illness as Metaphor" in 1978, becoming a role model for others struggling with the disease. A decade later, Sontag would write a follow-up, "AIDS and Its Metaphors," after losing several friends to the disease. In her 60s, she returned to narrative with the novels "The Volcano Lover" and "In America," which won the National Book Award.

In 2004, Sontag learned she had leukemia, her third bout of cancer, and died Dec. 28.

Director Nancy Kates produced and directed "Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin," with colleague Bennett Singer, which won the 2004 GLAAD Media Award, among other accolades. Her graduate thesis film, "Their Own Vietnam," received a Student Academy Award(R) in 1995. Kates was recently included in the OUT 100, Out Magazine's annual list of THE 100 most intriguing LGBT Americans.

REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG was produced and directed by Nancy Kates; executive producer, Tom Dolby; voice of Susan Sontag, Patricia Clarkson; written by John Haptas and Nancy Kates. For HBO: senior producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

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