Even though National Women’s History Month ends today, there’s no reason to stop learning about the trailblazers, whistleblowers and behind-the-scenes ladies who both paved the way for the world today and those who are presently working for a better tomorrow.
If you’re a documentary-lover like me, why not check-out the films below to whet your appetite for knowledge?
The Lady in Number 6 (2013)
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life might only clock-in at a brief 39 minutes, but this little gem sure does pack a wallop, running the gamut of emotions from devastating to utterly life-affirming.
At the time the award-winning documentary was filmed, Jewish piano prodigy Alice Herz-Sommer was the oldest known surviving victim of the Holocaust at 109 years old. She was imprisoned in Theresienstadt in then-Czechoslovakia during World War II. Despite suffering through great tragedy and surviving terrible circumstances, Sommer’s optimism and candor might just make this the most rewarding short film I’ve treated myself to lately.
Top Secret Rosies (2010)
Regardless of whether or not it’s been properly acknowledged, women have always been innovators in the computer world, from the early 18th century’s Ada Lovelace to actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr.
Ultimately helping to shepherd in the modern computer age, the women of Rosies were recruited by the US Army in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Among others, this documentary spotlights the Blumberg twins (Doris and Shirley), who became ballistic specialists at the University of Pennsylvania, along Betty Jean Jennings, who eventually became one of the first programmers of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, the first general-purpose computer). I won’t admit to knowing anything about programming, but these women are definitely some interesting and wonderful role models!
A Ballerina’s Tale (2015)
Although I don’t follow the ballet world much, I’ve always found dance to be a fascinating art form. Last June, the exciting news broke that Misty Copeland was promoted to American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) principal dancer, thus making history as the first African American female to do so.
This film shows “A Day in the Life” of likable Copeland, as well as her rise to principal ballerina role, and gives a short history of ballet. There are cameos and interviews with Copeland’s own role models, while she shares her own thoughts and experiences. This includes being a black dancer, one with a with a body that doesn’t fit the ‘typical’ mold for today’s ballerina, and her perseverance through injuries that could have ended a less tenacious dancer’s career.
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
What a fascinating documentary! Mystery and history all wrapped-up into one tidy little package that is Miss Maier (or Meyer, or sometimes Mayer, according to the filmmaker!). But the question remains: Who was Vivian Maier? While she was mostly a nanny and housekeeper, she was also, apparently a photographer with a keen eye for composition and seeing the humanity in pretty much all of the people she met, familiar and unfamiliar alike.
This documentary came to be because of John Maloof, who also narrates and co-directs the film. Maloof frequented auctions for pictures to use in a book he was writing. He had the serendipitous fortune of acquiring many of Maier’s belongings. Among them he discovered a treasure trove of over 100,000 images, negatives, and undeveloped film cartridges, a veritable time capsule of the introverted Maier’s life. While Maier was far from an ideal person (anecdotes from her former wards include physical and mental abuse), this curious portrait of a curious woman is a worthwhile watch.
The Perfect Victim (2012)
The history of any group isn’t limited to famous, infamous, or otherwise well- known individuals. It’s about everyday people: their survival and contribution to the whole of history. In this heavy, heartbreaking documentary, we get to take a look at women who were incarcerated for murdering their husbands after suffering years of victimisation. Instances of rape, forced prostitution, and physical and mental abuse were never entered into evidence in their defense.
This documentary focuses specifically on the Missouri Battered Women’s Coalition, and their members’ trials and tribulations to help a number of women incarcerated in the Missouri State Prison. This film will make you angry–as well it should– but there is some modicum of vindication by the end. Unfortunately, there are miles to go, but it is heartening to know that groups like the MBWC are doing their best to strike back against a biased system.
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, it’s important to remember that the history of any specific group of individuals should be considered all year ‘round, and not just during their allotted month, week or day.
Have you watched any of the docs mentioned above? If so, what did you think, or do you have other suggestions? We’d love to hear about your thoughts in the comments!