Top Women's Documentaries

A List of Documentaries By And About Women

These superb documentaries 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 - 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. More »
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A Film Unfinished - 2010

A scene from Yael Hersonski's 'A Film Unfinished'. 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 atrocities will not be forgotten. The film is deeply disturbing, but is a must see.

The Arbor - A scene from Dunbar's eponymous play, staged in situ. 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. More »

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 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. More »

Jane's Journey Poster Art. 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. More »

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.

Agnes Varda. 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. More »

Good Hair Poster Art. 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. More »

Blessed Is The Match Poster Art. 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. More »
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September Issue - 2009

Anna Wintour passes judgement. 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.

Miss Indigo Blue in performance. First Run Features

A Wink And A Smile follows ten aspiring women through the Seattle Academy of Burlesque's six week-long training program that prepares them for their debut performances as strippers. More »

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Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing - 2006

Dixie Chicks in Shut Up And Sing. Weinstein Co.
The Dixie Chicks' popularity plummeted after main singer Natalie Maines made an off-the-cuff comment about George Bush and the Iraq War. This documentary, directed by Barbara Kopple, chronicles the group's efforts to reclaim their place in the hearts of their fans and at the top of the music charts. Stand by your Chicks!
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Deliver Us From Evil - 2006

Deliver Us From Evil on DVD. Lions Gate
In her Academy Award-nominated documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, director Amy Berg champions victims of sexual abuse and harassment by Catholic priests, and exposes the Catholic Church's shocking cover up in the case of Father Oliver O’Grady, a notorious pedophile priest.
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Forbidden Lies - 2009

Forbidden Lies Poster Art. Roxie Releasing

Forbidden Lies is nonfiction thriller about Norma Khouri, who wrote a best-selling nonfiction book about the 'honor killing' of a Jordanian woman. The story she told turned about to be a fabrication. Was Khouri motivated by wanting to raise awareness about 'honor killings,' or is she a cunning con artist who'll exploit anyone and any situation—including the making of this film?

Katrina Browne in Traces Of The Trade. Katrina Browne
Traces of The Trade: A Story From The Deep North is seminarian-turned-filmmaker Katrina Browne's deeply personal investigation of ancestors' occupation as prominent New England slave traders. Browne and her family's courageous public instrospection leads us all to an understanding of social responsibility and reconciliation. Co-directed by Alla Kovgan and Jude Ray. More »
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Very Young Girls - 2008

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 are neglected children who have been seduced into prostitution by older men who prey on their need for love and attention. Others are 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.
Mimi Weddell in Hats Off. Canobie Films
Jyll Johnstone’s documentary profiles the delightful, effervescent and beautiful Mimi Weddell who, at age 93, continues to work as an actress and model. She’s an inspiration to us all. More »
Kimberly Roberts in Trouble The Water. Zeitgeist Films
In Trouble The Water, filmmakers Tia Lessen and Carl Deal follow a Hurricane Katrina survivor, Kimberly Roberts, who had the courage and foresight to chronicle the devastating storm in remarkable video footage that's used in the film. Roberts and her extended family and neighbors are heroically coping with the government's failure to provide them with relief as promised, and she is realizing her ambitions to become a rapper. More »
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Jesus Camp - 2006

Jesus Camp Poster Art. Magnolia Pictures
Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present an extraordinary exposé about the well-organized Evangelical indoctrination of preteen girls and boys by Pentacostal Minister Becky Fischer at her Devil's Lake (N.D.) Bible Camp. Fischer "hooks them up" with Jesus, training them to become unquestioning soldiers for Christ. The film serves as a cautionary tale about fundamentalist Christian recruitment and conditioning of preteens to prepare them to battle al-Qaeda, whose kids fast, bare arms and sacrifice themselves for Islam.

Tricia Regan's documentary introduces Elaine Hall, who adopted an autistic child—then got divorced and found herself in need of an occupation. She chose special ed, a profession that allowed her to help her son, and she 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. 

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Operation Filmmaker - 2008

Documentarian Nina Davenport's assignment to chronicle the experiences of Muthana Mohmed, a young Iraqi whom Liev Schreiber hired to work on Everything Is Illuminated, winds up feeling responsible for her subject, who tries to involve her in resolving his life problems and supporting him financially. It's a woman's good Samaritan moment gone terribly awry. Davenport's take on the situation is fascinating.
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Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle - 2008

Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle Poster Art. City Lights Pictures
This thoroughly entertaining documentary traces Mitzi Gaynor's career, and delights us with elaborate musical numbers and comedic skits from her spectacular televsion specials. Pure fun.
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Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House - 2008

This entertaining and informative documentary shines the spotlight on the First Lady of America's press core. Helen Thomas, who pitches hardball questions to America's presidents in her own inimitable, irresistible softball style. She's been sitting front and center at presidential press conferences since JFK was in office, and her story is told in this documentary by Rory Kennedy, daughter of RFK.
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A Walk To Beautiful - 2007

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 because they suffer from obstetric fistula, a medical condition that often occurs in women whose bodies are too small and underdeveloped—due to their young age or malnutrition—for them to be able to successfully deliver a healthy child. To be delivered from this life of misery, they walk hundreds of miles to reach a free clinic where their bodies can be repaired.

Zypora Spaisman in The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story. New Love Films
Actress Zypora Spaisman is on a mission to save New York's Yiddish Theater, the Folksbeine, from extinction. At age 84, she is still is performing in the Yiddish play, Green Fields. The production is housed in the Mazer Theater on the Lower East Side, on East Broadway in the heart of what was once New York's biggest Jewish community. But the company has run out of funds, and the production will be shut out of its theater if investors can't be found. If anyone can save the show, it's the persistent, inspiring Zypora. She's a great leading lady, and this is a great film. More »