This is one of the best weeks we’ve had for documentaries by women. This week’s docs engage the prison pipeline, anti-racist protests, medical emergencies, women choosing careers in the ocean, a high school sports first, and the history of a K-pop group.
I mentioned eight documentaries in New Shows + Movies by Women on Friday, but I discovered one was more of a reality show. I don’t cover those in this feature for a number of reasons (which may be worth going into in a later article).
On to the docs!
directed by Garrett Bradley
“Time” tackles the impact on a family when a father is sent to prison. Fox and Robert Rich lost an investor for their business in the late 90s. They grew desperate and robbed a bank. They were termed the Black Bonnie & Clyde since the bank wasn’t far from where those celebrated, white folk heroes died.
Fox accepted a plea deal and served three-and-a-half years in prison. Due to legal mismanagement, Robert ended up with a 60-year sentence. At first his deal was 10 to 18 years, but then a new lawyer insisted they could get Robert into a 6-month boot camp with parole afterward. The lawyer seemingly overlooked one of the requirements for the program, and failed to restore the earlier plea deal before leaving him in the lurch with that 60-year sentence.
“Time” has been described as a compassionate and expressionist tone poem of a documentary, arguing against the prison pipeline from the standpoint of a family’s journey without one of its members. It blends documentary with home footage Fox has taken over the years of her children growing up without their father.
Director Garrett Bradley is a filmmaker who has shifted between narrative and documentary filmmaking. She’s presented a number of stories that examine the economic difficulty workers face, the prison pipeline, and the relationship and reliance between the two.
You can watch “Time” on Amazon Prime with a subscription.
White Riot (VOD)
directed by Rubika Shah
“White Riot” is named after the anti-racism anthem by The Clash. The 1970s saw a wave of anti-racism in music, often termed Rock Against Racism. It was aimed at the UK’s National Front, a fundamentalist, neo-fascist, far-right party that still argues for white supremacy, global segregation, and both a ban on non-white immigration and deportation of non-white citizens. National Front also embraces Holocaust denial and a whole range of other conspiracy theories that aid in its recruitment.
Lest we forget, Eric Clapton strongly supported and campaigned for National Front. David Bowie argued for them in 1976, only later retracting his comments and blaming them on drug addiction in 1977. Regardless of cause or intent, those comments still had an impact, and that impact still needed to be fought. (Yes, Bowie would lend support to artists of color and apply pressure on networks to feature them more in the 1980s, but that didn’t help people impacted by his cultural sway in the 70s, did it?)
Rock Against Racism would spur large demonstrations and marches across the UK. This battle raged in the 1970s, but it quite obviously is still relevant today. Maybe if we remembered these lessons better, we wouldn’t keep letting national fascist and white supremacist parties gather so much support before doing something about it.
Director Rubika Shah tends to focus on documentaries about cultural icons. She’s made docs on Gore Vidal, Spike Lee, and yes – David Bowie. “White Riot” is an expansion of an earlier documentary short called “White Riot: London”.
You can watch “White Riot” on its website here.
Rooting for Roona (Netflix)
co-directed by Pavitra Chalam
“Rooting for Roona” is a 40-minute documentary about a girl born in India with a birth defect. Her advanced hydrocephalus caused her to have an overly large head. Hydrocephalus is due to an excess of fluid that puts pressure on the brain. The documentary tells the story of how her family raises her, and the surgeries aimed to reverse the condition.
Pavitra Chalam directs with Akshay Shankar. Chalam has previously directed “Indelible”, which tells the stories of people with Down Syndrome in India, and “Maanasi – ‘of sound mind’”, which examines how women’s mental health is treated in rural southern India.
You can watch “Rooting for Roona” on Netflix with a subscription.
In Case of Emergency (VOD)
directed by Carolyn Jones
“In Case of Emergency” follows nurses and patients in seven very different hospital settings across the U.S. It presents an ongoing health care crisis that is only getting worse. As the documentary was being filmed, it intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic, which only stresses just how broken our health care system has already become.
Director Carolyn Jones has focused on documentaries about health care and how health care technology effects us. “The American Nurse” tells the story of nurses in the U.S. “Defining Hope” addresses how medical technology and science have changed our perspective on death.
You can watch “In Case of Emergency” free through Oct 22. on Kino Now. (Nurses can receive Continuing Education credits through the Emergency Nurses Association for watching the film.) Where to watch in the future will be updated here.
She is the Ocean (virtual theatrical)
directed by Inna Blokhina
“She is the Ocean” tells the story of nine women across the world who have chosen careers in the ocean. This includes pro surfers Coco Ho, Keala Kennelly, and Andrea Moller, cliff diver Anna Bader, free diver Rose Molina, shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey, surfing icon Jeannie Chesser, marine biologist and former NOAA chief scientist Sylvia Earle, and aspiring surfer Cinta Hansel.
Director Inna Blokhina has previously directed “On The Wave”, a documentary about Russia’s surf scene.
You can watch “She is the Ocean” through virtual theater. This is an approach to streaming that splits the cost of the rental between the distributor and theater just as if you’d bought a physical ticket. This allows you to stream it at home, while still supporting local independent and art theaters. There’s a list of theaters on the site so you can choose to support a favorite or local theater through your rental.
A Most Beautiful Thing (Peacock)
directed by Mary Mazzio
“A Most Beautiful Thing” tells the story of the first African American high school rowing team in the country.
Director Mary Mazzio was a U.S. rower in the 1992 Olympics. She’s since turned her eye toward documentary filmmaking. “A Hero for Daisy” told the story of Title IX and Chris Ernst’s protest at Yale that increased sport opportunities for women. “The Apple Pushers” describes the overlooked role of immigrant street vendors helping to solve the food crisis in the U.S. “I Am Jane Doe” follows the legal battle of mothers suing Backpage after their daughters were trafficked on the now defunct website.
You can watch “A Most Beautiful Thing” with a Peacock subscription (which is free).
BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky (Netflix)
directed by Caroline Suh
“BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” is a music documentary about Korean pop sensation BLACKPINK. It dives into the early lives and formation of the group. Jisoo and Jennie are from South Korea, Rose from New Zealand and raised in Australia, and Lisa from Thailand. K-pop labels draw auditions from across Southeast Asia and train those it accepts in singing, dance, acting, the list goes on. Many who make training won’t necessarily make the cut into album production or pop groups.
Director Caroline Suh has an eclectic career. “Frontrunners” follows a high school election at Stuyvesant, “The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem” explores the monumental gender gap in production and directing, and “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is a documentary exploring each of those four concepts in cooking.
You can watch “BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky” on Netflix with a subscription.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.