From Joan Didion to Grace Jones: Documentaries to watch
If you’re a creative kickass woman seeking to draw inspiration from some fellow female troubadours, there’s plenty of documentaries to power through this crazy thing called life. From punk mavericks to soul trailblazers to singular vivid visionaries, this is our ranking of 11 phenomenal documentaries about creative kickass women like yourself, sure to inspire you to keep on keeping on.
11. L7: Pretend We’re Dead (2016)
Sarah Price’s real-time chronicle of the fierce feminist grunge band as they rise, crash, and comeback from the rubble is a captivating thrill. The rockumentary spans sixteen years of backstage, onstage, and away from the stage footage to provide an intimate glimpse at a provocative set of uncompromising female musicians.
10. Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016)
It’s a little ridiculous to think that this is the first full-length feature documentary to be made about Angelou – one of the most influential women of the past century – but it’s a terrific one nonetheless. The life of the remarkable writer, poet, actor, and activist is celebrated in vivid, riveting detail in a manner that will have you leaning in to soak up even a tenth of her genius.
9. Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)
Offering a sharp portrait of the 69-year-old androgynous icon, Sophie Fiennes’s documentary celebrates Jones’s gallant work as an extraordinary, singular artist with a unique and insubordinate vision.
8. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2012)
Directed by Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre, this critically-adored documentary chronicles the Serbian performance artist as she nervously prepares for a retrospective of her work at MOMA in New York. Full of insightful reflections on her work that somehow provide poignant statements about the nature of life, love, and creativity, The Artist is Present is astonishing on multiple levels.
7. Iris (2014)
Albert Maysles‘s singular study of fashion icon Iris Apfel is as fabulous as the woman herself. While her wardrobe clearly warrants a movie all of its own, Maysles is careful to direct our attention away from the clothes and towards the sparkling, dynamic genius concocting such looks.
6. Hit So Hard (2011)
Focusing on the harrowing duality of music and addiction, P. David Ebersole’s portrait of Hole drummer Patty Schemel is powerful, devastating, but ultimately uplifting. Schemel’s passion and determination is seriously contagious and her own archival footage from her life gives the film a tender rawness.
5. The Punk Singer (2013)
Director Sini Anderson (Mango Kiss) explores the fascinating life of activist and musician Kathleen Hanna, one of the pioneers of the 90’s riot grrrl movement who has continued to disrupt culture and societal norms ever since. Chronicling Hanna’s subsequent battle with Lyme disease and her determined efforts to reclaim her body and health with performance and music, the movie is ferocious, inspirational, and as candid as they come.
4. Miss Sharon Jones! (2015)
Following the late musical legend during the most difficult year of her life (as she confronts pancreatic cancer) Barbara Kopple’s portrait of the boisterous soul singer sees her rediscovering her voice and health to reclaim her space on the stage once again.
3. Advanced Style (2014)
Based on Ari Cohen’s buoyant fashion blog, Advanced Style offers reveries of eclectic style from New York City women over 60. Bold, outlandish, and endlessly feelgood, the documentary focuses on seven specific women whose zeal for life is almost as bold and bright as their adventurous fashion choices.
2. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Combining rarely seen archival footage, unheard recordings, and classic takes, Liz Garbus takes a conventional approach to exploring the life of musical trailblazer Nina Simone, but it’s also all we need when the subject is as compelling and tempestuous as the high priestess of soul.
1. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)
Directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London), The Center Will Not Hold sees the literary icon Didion reflecting on life, her career, and her various struggles with a staggering amount of intimacy. Showing how the writer became a legend (and the challenges that accompanied that transition), the documentary is full of wonderful tiny details that add up to a full, thriving picture.