It’s very difficult to create a best-of-year list when you haven’t seen everything that’s available. More documentaries were released this year that can be seen by any reasonable person. But I wanted to honor the women-directed documentaries that I did manage to see — and that really impressed me.
Here are the docs that I found noteworthy this year.
Anita – Directed by Frieda Mock
This is a film that brings me back to the moment when I became an adult activist and really learned some tough concepts in life about how women and men are treated in the workplace. It is also a portrait of a woman who had no desire to become an international icon and symbol for other women, but she accepted it, grew with it, and continues to inspire. It is also a documentary that reminds me why we need women in power and the highest levels of our government.
The New Black – Directed by Yoruba Richen
I love this film because I love the fight that these people put into their cause. It’s hard to talk about gay rights and gay marriage in communities of color and in communities of faith, but these people will not veer from the course. It is an inspiration.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry – Directed by Mary Dore
When we think of the second wave of the women’s movement, we generally think of the big books and the big names. What this movie does so beautifully is remind us that change does not just happen at the top; in fact, change happens from the bottom up. The women in this movie are mostly the unknown soldiers of the fight for women’s rights — the normal but extraordinary women all across the country who demanded change. It was educational as well as inspirational and needs to be in every classroom.
Afternoon of a Faun – Directed by Nancy Buirski
I knew nothing about Tanaquil Le Clercq before I saw this beautiful film. This gifted dancer, who was the muse to the great George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, was cut off in her prime when she developed polio at the age of 27 and became paralyzed as a result thereof. It is a haunting story that is done with poetic grace.
Maidentrip – Directed by Jillian Schlesinger
If you are ever down in the dumps and feeling like crap, turn on this movie. It will give you a kickstart. Laura Dekker is [at the time of shooting] a 14-year-old Dutch girl. She decides to sail around the world by herself. She is amazing. She is honest. She is a girl with more guts in her pinky that most of us have in our whole bodies.
Citizenfour – Directed by Laura Poitras
This movie will probably win the Academy Award for best documentary. It’s on this list because what it does is humanize a person — Edward Snowden — who was a really elusive character in his own story. We saw all the information that he leaked, but you never really knew who this guy was. This is the movie that will get behind one of the biggest stories of the last couple of years. It’s fair, fascinating, and illuminating.
Citizen Koch – Co-directed by Tia Lessin
One person, one vote is the fundamental bedrock of our democracy. But now that so much money from the uber-rich have flooded our electoral system, we see how our democracy has been changed. This is a painful movie to watch in terms of where we are as a country, but it is important because we need to remind ourselves that it’s not okay that people are able to buy influence.
E-Team – Co-directed by Katy Chevigny
Activists from Human Rights Watch make their way into hot-spot crises like Syria to document the atrocities being inflicted on civilians. They go where the news people are not going. They go to tell us the stories, to show us the human tragedies of these conflicts. We may read the number of people killed in a newspaper, but these amazing people try and put a face to those statistics and hold perpetrators accountable. (Listen to Women and Hollywood’s podcast with Katy Chevigny)