12 Fascinating Documentaries By and About Women

Exploring Women's Issues, Achievements, and Struggles

These superb documentaries made by and about women introduce us to contemporary women who are both famous and unknown. The films 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.

01
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Advanced Style

Women spend years worrying about what others think of them, but "Advanced Style" takes a look at women who just don't care. This hilarious documentary by director Lina Plioplyte is one that any woman will find freeing.

The film follows seven New York women ranging from 62 to 95 who are breaking with convention. They prove that aging doesn't have to mean conformity as they flaunt their individual style and attitudes while holding nothing back. It's certainly a fun, new perspective on growing old.

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Hot Girls Wanted

"Hot Girls Wanted" is a film that every mother and daughter should watch and its message will not be lost on any woman today. The film speaks to the reality that is amateur porn in a digital era and how it can quickly lure in young women.

It's a film that raises a lot of questions for discussion. Why are teenagers drawn to sexual situations that show off their bodies? How do adults find and grab the attentions of these girls? What are they setting themselves up for in the future? While some call it exploitation, others label it as bad decisions. Either way, it's a new reality that should not be overlooked.

03
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Miss Representation

Equality for women has been a long topic of discussion and sexism and gender bias has not disappeared from daily life. "Miss Representation" takes a look at one aspect, the roles of powerful women as portrayed in the media. 

The focus is on how few women have truly made it to influential positions in America and, when they do, how the media and public perceive them. It includes perspectives from Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Ellen DeGeneres, and many more women and men who weigh in on the topic.

If nothing else, it's a brief look at women in modern history and the challenges and achievements that have been made. It also does not discount that work remains for true equality.

04
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Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers A Piece of Work - SFIFF 53 closing night at the Castro 385
Steve Rhodes/Flikr/CC BY 2.0

Joan Rivers had been a public figure for so long, you might just think you knew her. In "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg followed the comedienne as she assailed the seasons of her 75th year.

With fly-on-the-wall observations and very personal interviews, they reveal that Rivers flows deeper than her brashly funny truth-and-trash-talking, face-lifted, blonde public persona she normally allowed us to see. Yes, Rivers was bleached, brazen, outspoken, restructured, and all. She's also absolutely brilliant, disciplined, generous, and caring. She would have made a wonderful friend. 

05
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In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee

Comparing identity photos in In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee. 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 a voiceover, 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 this secret. We follow her attempt to discover what happened to the little girl whose name—and shoes—she was given.

06
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Jane's Journey

Jane's Journey Poster Art. Animal Planet

Dr. Jane Goodall is famous for her ongoing research with the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania as well as her philanthropic work. She is a diminutive woman whose accomplishments are certainly larger than life.

In "Jane's Journey," German filmmaker Lorenz Knauer chronicles Dr. Goodall's personal evolution to become the iconic activist and environmentalist she is today. In it, we follow her tireless travels to help poor people by bringing hope and practical solutions into their lives.

Director Abby Epstein and producer Ricki Lake play dramatic roles in investigating the way America gives birth. The story ranges from natural childbirth 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 women and it doesn't matter whether or not childbearing is on your personal agenda.

08
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Very Young Girls

Very young girls in Very Young Girls. Swinging T Productions

It's not a pretty picture, but one that women of conscience should see. "Very Young Girls" follows several New York City tween and teenage girls who’ve become prostitutes.

Some of them were neglected children and seduced into prostitution by older men preying on their need for love and attention. Others were the victims of sexual abuse. However, with the help an organization called GEMS, they are trying to cope with the consequences of their actions and redirect their lives.

Kimberly Roberts in Trouble The Water. Zeitgeist Films

In "Trouble The Water," filmmakers Tia Lessen and Carl Deal follow Hurricane Katrina survivor, Kimberly Roberts. This woman had the courage and foresight to chronicle the devastating storm in remarkable video footage that's used in the film.

The film documents how Roberts and her extended family and neighbors were heroically coping with the government's failure to provide them with relief as promised. At the same time, she begins to realize her ambitions to become a rapper. More »

Tricia Regan's documentary introduces Elaine Hall, who adopted an autistic child. It wasn't long before she was divorced and found herself in need of an occupation as well.

Hall chose special ed, a profession that allowed her to help her son. She also founded the Miracle Project, a workshop for autistic kids and their parents. As the kids learn to work and play with each other, we see that they're intelligent, humorous, and perceptive. 

11
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Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House

This entertaining and informative documentary shines the spotlight on the First Lady of America's press core. Helen Thomas spent 60 years pitching hardball questions to U.S. presidents in her own inimitable, irresistible softball style.

Thomas was one of the best-known journalists in America and had been sitting front and center at presidential press conferences from the time when JFK was in office through the term of Barack Obama. Her brilliant and wit-filled story is told in this documentary by Rory Kennedy, daughter of RFK.

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A Walk To Beautiful

Wubete in A Walk To Beautiful. Engel Entertainment

In Mary Olive Smith’s moving documentary, "A Walk to Beautiful," five young Ethiopian women face social ostracism and physical misery. It's all because they suffer from obstetric fistula.

A common condition in the African region, it often occurs in women whose bodies are too small and underdeveloped—due to their young age or malnutrition—to successfully deliver a healthy child. To be delivered from this life of suffering, the women walk hundreds of miles to reach a free clinic where their bodies can be repaired.