We are avid documentary watchers here at Clementine Daily, and nothing inspires us more than true life stories about women we admire. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are our top five recommendations for fascinating documentary films about fascinating women, plus one to keep a look out for in the next year!
This year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary, this film doesn’t pull any punches about the life and career of the late Amy Winehouse. Directed by Asif Kapadia (who also directed the brilliant biopic Senna), the film chronicles Amy’s paralleling ascents into fame and addiction. When she performs "Rehab" – with its ominous refrain, "They tried to make me go to rehab / I said, no, no, no" – your heart will break.
Though Amy died tragically and too early, she always stayed true to her art. Even as a young girl, she refused to compromise on her musical style (winning a Grammy for it in 2008) and left behind a profound but cautionary legacy.
Nora Ephron is a national treasure, and her son Jacob Bernstein directed this deeply personal documentary after his mother’s untimely death from leukemia. Best known for her films When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julia and Julia, Nora famously began her career as an intern in the JFK White House and later chronicled it in a perfect New York Times opinion piece.
The film interviews scores of her famous friends and collaborators, including Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Rob Reiner, Mike Nichols, Amy Pascal, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg and both of her ex-husbands. One of the best moments recounts when her fantastic novel Heartburn made Nora a heroine to scorned women everywhere. In the book, she chronicled the affair that her then-husband, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, had when she was seven months pregnant.
If you don’t know much about Nora Ephron, you’ll most certainly fall in love with her in this documentary. And if you were already a fan, your heart will swell at this final sweet goodbye created by her son.
Be prepared to be absolutely delighted by quirky 93-year-old style icon Iris Apfel. Watch as Iris recalls her creative and captivating life of world travel and her longstanding role in the New York fashion scene.
Iris followed her passions and ended up with a career that has inspired many for nine decades. As Iris says in the film, “I feel lucky to be working. If you're lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.” Hers is a mantra worth emulating. Iris is also the last film directed by the late, great Albert Maysles of Grey Gardens.
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary this year, this film uses rare performance footage and exclusive recordings to tell the complicated tale of singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone.
Simone rose to fame amid the turbulent 1960s Civil Rights Movement as the first black classical pianist. She encountered musical acclaim, racism, an abusive husband, a nervous breakdown and an eventual comeback. It’s a big story, and her daughter Lisa, an Executive Producer on the film, provides an important narrative of her mother’s complex and important legacy.
This is a fascinating account about a found box of 100,000 photo negatives and the secret life of the nanny who took them. Director John Maloof discovered the negatives at a Chicago auction house in 2007 and became obsessed with tracking down the identity of the photographer, Vivien Maier.
Maier's photographs are indeed incredible – they brilliantly examine Chicago life in the 1950s and 1960s – but the search for Maier is even more compelling. She’s like a Mary Poppins with a camera, a clandestine European past and a propensity for private hoarding. This film makes you think twice about the secret lives we all harbor.
6. A bonus to look out for next year: The Eagle Huntress
The best film from this year's Sundance Film Festival was the enchanting The Eagle Huntress. It revolves around Mongolia's centuries-old tradition of using eagles to hunt in the vast wilderness. Only men partook in the practice until 13-year-old Aisholpan developed an interest in hunting with her father. She’s the real-life Katniss Everdeen, and you’ll be cheering in your seat as she starts to train her eagle and compete as the only female in eagle hunting competitions.
Sony Pictures Classics picked up this film for a cool mid-seven figures, and actress Daisy Ridley of Star Wars has signed on to narrate it. We can’t wait for the whole world to see it once it's released!
p.s. No movie is complete without popcorn – how about this creative version of the classic theater snack?