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Top Women's Documentaries

A List of Documentaries By And About Women


These superb documentaries that are made by and about women introduce us to contemporary women who are famous or unknown, and celebrate their accomplishments, delve into women's issues and reveal life from a woman's perspective. Treat yourself to a festival of women's documentaries and see them all.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work - 2010

Joan Rivers A Piece of Work - SFIFF 53 closing night at the Castro 385
Steve Rhodes/Flikr/CC BY 2.0
Joan Rivers has been a public figure for so long, you might just think you know her. In Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg follow the comedienne as she assails the seasons of her 75th year. With fly-on-the-wall observations and close-up-and-personal interviews, they reveal that Rivers flows deeper than her brashly funny truth-and-trash-talking face-lifted blonde public persona normally allows us to see. Yes, Rivers is bleached, brazen, outspoken, restructured and all, but she's also absolutely brilliant, disciplined, generous and caring. She'd make a wonderful friend. Big surprise.

A Film Unfinished - 2010

Oscilloscope Pictures
Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished is a remarkable holocaust documentary comprised primarily of previously unedited historic footage that was shot by Nazi filmmakers, ostensibly chronicling daily life in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Hersonski brilliantly uses raw footage -- shot by the Nazis, and previously hidden away in a secret archives -- to set the record straight and assure that Nazi attrocities will not be forgotten. The film is deeply disturbing, but is a must see.

The Arbor - 2010

Strand Releasing
In The Arbor, London-based artist Clio Bernard uses an unusual, fascinating and effective amalgam of documentary and narrative styles to tell the story of Andrea Dunbar (May 22, 1961 - December, 20 1990), the gifted English working class playwright who wrote three autobiographical plays before she died at age 29 of an alcohol-related brain hemorrhage. In the film, actors lipsynch to recorded interviews with Dunbar's kith and kin, and other eye witnesses. This is an effecting film about the hardships of working poor women -- particularly the talented Dunbar -- in England's Midlands.

In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee - 2010

Independent Lens/PBS
In In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee, filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem clearly states her personal involvement in the film and her reason for making it. In voice over, she says, "In the 1960s just before being adopted from a Korean orphanage by an American family, my identity was switched with another girl named Cha Jung Hee. I was told to keep the switch a secret." The film chronicles Liem's efforts to uncover the secret and find out what happened to the little girl whose name -- and shoes -- she was given.

Jane's Journey

Animal Planet
Dr. Jane Goodall is world famous for her ongoing research about the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, and for her ongoing nonprofit Roots and Shoots programs that bring education and eco friendly enterprise to people in need around the world. She is a diminutive woman whose accomplishments are larger than life. In Jane's Journey, German filmmaker Lorenz Knauer chronicles Dr. Goodall's personal evolution to become the iconic activist environmentalist she is today, and follows her on her tireless travels to help poor people by bringing hope and practical solutions into their lives.

The Business of Being Born - 2007

Red Envelope Entertainment
Director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake play dramatic roles in investigating the way America gives birth, ranging from natural child birth under the guidance of midwives to invasive procedures in hospitals. Graphic footage of births includes the very emotional delivery of Lake's own baby. This is a subject of interest and concern to us all--whether or not childbearing happens to be on our personal agenda.

Beaches of Agnes - 2008

Agnes Varda

French filmmaker Agnes Varda focuses on herself in stylish mix of verite and reenactment in which she examines her childhood on the beach, her marriage to Jacques Demy and her career among cinematic greats such as Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve, Robert De Niro, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jim Morrison and Philippe Noiret, among others.

Good Hair - 2008

Roadside Attractions

Filmmaker Jeff Stilson follows comedian Chris Rock on his hilarious, yet disturbing and sometimes alarming investigation of the social implications and economic impact of African-American women's preoccupation with having good -- that is to say 'straight' -- hair.

Blessed Is The Match - 2008

Katahdin Productions
Blessed Is The Match - The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh is the heartbreaking and inspiring story of a modern day Joan of Arc. During World War II, Hannah Senesh, a young Jewish women, emigrated from Hungary to Palestine, but valiantly returned to her birthplace to attempt to save the Hungarian Jewish population, including her mother, from death at the hands of Hungarian Nazis.

September Issue - 2009

Roadside Attractions

RJ Cutler's documentary, a dishy profile of fashion editor Anna Wintour, provides a rare insider glimpse of the prima fashionista's 20-year tenure at Vogue and her influence over the fashion industry.

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