documentaries to watch next

by Krystal Bick
December 17, 2020

OUTFIT DETAILS: Carolina Herrera ball gown skirt (bought on mega sale at their annual sample sale) // Vintage Oscar de la Renta blouse (similar style here) // Roger Vivier heels (gifted) // Erdem hat (similar style here) // Vintage Chanel earrings 

There are places in New York that have the uncanny ability to whisper stories to you.

Some stories float by like memories, some are weighted by facts and some walk a fuzzy, blurred line of fiction. And when I find places like that, I can’t help but lean in and say…”Tell me everything.”

And in the effort to learn more stories — the more varied and random, the better — I’ve been devouring documentaries lately, mainly as my background noise throughout the day as I edit. While I love podcasts, there’s something about being able to look up to see visuals alongside a story every once a while that gets my creative muscles flexing a bit more than usual. And since you all have been insisting on a roundup lately, I’ve put together everything I’ve watched as of late, with the first six being my top recommendations for your next viewing party. So without further adieu…

  1. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael: A portrait of the work and life of controversial film critic Pauline Kael, and her battle to achieve success and influence in the 20th century movie business. For any of my movie buffs, I highly recommend this one!
  2. Everything is Copy: All my Ephron fans — you must watch this. A great, heartwarming look at the life and work of writer/filmmaker Nora Ephron.
  3. Billie: All about the life of the inimitable Billie Holiday, considered one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. A great holiday (pun intended) watch too, as many of her classic songs are irreplaceable hits, especially this time of year.
  4. American Masters: Maya Angelou — And Still I Rise: A beautiful celebration of the life and work of famed author Maya Angelou, featuring numerous interviews with literary and celebrity greats — and loads of great archival footage.
  5. The Way I See It: A look inside Pete Souza work capturing historic and intimate moments as a photographer for President Barack Obama and President Ronald Reagan. I dare you not to tear up while watching this. I dare you!
  6. American Experience New York: For all my New Yorkers and New York lovers alike, this is a great series to sink your teeth into.

And in no particular order, here are some other noteworthy additions for your documentary queue:

  • Sinatra: All or Nothing at All: The life and career of ol’ blue eyes, featuring beautiful archival footage and interviews with other musical greats.
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Designing America: Do you love Central Park? Then you’ll be fascinated to learn about the man who designed it and many other great public city parks in America.
  • Jazz: A Ken Burns series: Filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story of jazz — the quintessential American art form. The 10-part series follows the growth and development of jazz music from the gritty streets of New Orleans to the Lincoln Gardens on Chicago’s south side, where Louis Armstrong first won fame, from Prohibition-era speakeasies to the wide-open clubs of Kansas City, from the elegant Roseland Ballroom in Times Square, where only whites were allowed to dance, to the more egalitarian Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, where people of all colors mingled.
  • American Masters: Wyeth: A portrait of one of the most loved and lambasted painters in American art history. Though popular with the public, realist Andrew Wyeth’s works greatly divided the art world.
  • All In — The Fight for Democracy: 2020 American documentary film directed and produced by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés. The film revolves around voter suppression.
  • Dolly Here I Am: Any Dolly fans in the house? Take a look back on Dolly’s illustrious career. My favorite quote from the film is actually from Jane Fonda who says this about Dolly: “You underestimate Dolly at your own peril.”
  • Out of Print: Out of Print draws us into the topsy-turvy world of the written word, illuminating the turbulent, exciting journey from the book through the digital revolution.
  • Deaf U: A tight-knit group of deaf students at Gallaudet University navigate the high, lows, and hookups of college life together; their stories offer an unprecedented, unfiltered, and often unexpected look inside the deaf community.
  • Fantastic Fungi: A descriptive time-lapse journey about the magical, mysterious and medicinal world of fungi and their power to heal, sustain and contribute to the regeneration of life on Earth that began 3.5 billion years ago.
  • Lore: Writer Aaron Mahnke launched his podcast “Lore” in 2015 and it has gained critical acclaim in the time since, including earning Best of 2015 honors from iTunes. The audio program is now becoming a TV series as an anthology that, like the podcast, uncovers real-life events that spawned people’s darkest nightmares.
  • Museum Secrets: In every episode, Museum Secrets travels to one extraordinary museum, revealing the stories of 6 irreplaceable treasures, probing familiar legends and assumptions, using cutting edge research and technology to investigate the unknown.
  • Mavis! Mavis! is a documentary film about musician and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, directed by Jessica Edwards.
  • What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann: A profile of photographer Sally Mann as she prepares her series on death and decay.
  • The World Before Your Feet: For over six years, Matt Green has been walking every street in New York City, over 8000 miles, on a journey of discovery, humanity and wonder.
  • Beauty is Embarrassing: Filmmaker Neil Berkeley documents the life and times of American artist Wayne White. In his mission to bring humour into Fine Art, Wayne hoped to bring inspiration to many and ultimately just be fun.
  • Take Joy: The Magical World of Tasha Tudor: For the first time ever, Tasha Tudor has permitted a film crew unprecedented access to document her daily life. An intimate and charming portrait of one of America’s best-loved artists, best known for her illustrations in The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows and The Little Princess.
  • Diana: In Her Own Words: A fresh account of Princess Diana’s public life, troubled marriage and personal struggles — in her own voice.
  • What Was Ours: A Shoshone veteran, a teenage powwow princess, and an Arapaho journalist discover their purpose on the Wind River Indian Reservation as they seek lost artifacts.
  • See Know Evil: A look into the life of ’90s fashion photographer and youth culture icon Davide Sorrenti.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child: A thoughtful portrait of a renowned artist, this documentary shines the spotlight on New York City painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Featuring extensive interviews conducted by Basquiat’s friend, filmmaker Tamra Davis, the production reveals how he dealt with being a black artist in a predominantly white field. The film also explores Basquiat’s rise in the art world, which led to a close relationship with Andy Warhol, and looks at how the young painter coped with acclaim, scrutiny and fame.
  • Gonzo: This stylized documentary uses journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s own words, his home movies, interviews with his fans and critics and passionate narration by Johnny Depp to give some insight into the writer’s process and edgy genius.
  • Beautiful Darling: The life and times of Candy Darling, a transgender actress, activist and icon, who also starred in many Andy Warhol films.
  • The Sunshine Makers: n the 1960s, underground chemists Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully manufacture a massive amount of LSD while staying one step ahead of the law.
  • Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski: Archival footage and interviews offer insight into the life and career of Polish painter and sculptor Stanislav Szukalski.
  • The First Silent Night: Learn about the origins of the beloved poem turned carol, “Silent Night.”

Photos by Allie Provost

2 thoughts on “documentaries to watch next

  1. Thank you so much for linking these! I’ve read countless lists that then require you to search for where they’re streaming only to find out many aren’t available. You made this so easy.

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