Our pick of 7 of the best documentaries about women to watch on International Women’s Day

Pamela Anderson (Netflix)
Pamela Anderson (Netflix)

It’s International Women’s Day today, a day for celebrating women and all their achievements over the years.

One great way of getting involved with the celebratory day is by watching a documentary about the lives of remarkable women, and happily, there have been hundreds of them.

Here, we select seven documentaries about the fascinating things that women from all walks of live have achieved, that could be great to watch today – or indeed, anytime you need a little bit of inspiration.

Pamela, a love story (2023)

After years of being ridiculed and patronised for making a success out of her good looks, Anderson finally takes back some control in this Netflix documentary produced by Dorothy St Pictures. Weaving together private footage taken over the years, snippets from Pamela’s diaries, and interviews with the actress herself, director Ryan White slowly pieces together a picture of a resilient and intelligent woman.

“Pamela, a love story is a damning indictment on the treatment of women both then and now - and a brilliant insight into Anderson’s character. It’s also fun and entertaining to watch. It’s Anderson’s story, told by her, in her words – finally,” said The Standard.

Knock Down The House (2019)

The 2018 midterms, which took place during Donald Trump’s term, saw the Democrats gain a massive 41 seats in the House of Representatives. 49.4 per cent of voters went to the polls to vote them in – which might not sound like much, but in 2014 just 36.0 per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote. Knock Down The House follows four progressive Democrats – New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nevada’s Amy Vilela, Missouri’s Cori Bush and West Virginia’s Paula Jean Swearengin – during their fervent campaigns as they run for congress, which makes for a thrilling watch.

Director Rachel Lears apparently began filming the documentary the day after Trump was elected, initially raising $28,111 for the film through Kickstarter – it was reportedly eventually sold to Netflix for around $10 million.

Honeyland (2019)

This exquisite documentary directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov follows the life of beekeeper Hatidže Muratova, a woman living in a remote village in the north of Macedonia. Muratova lives an extraordinary life: she is one of the last keepers of wild bees in Europe, lives in a spot with no electricity or running water, and has to walk four hours to the country’s capital, Skopje, where she sells her honey to make a living. But her life starts to change when new neighbours move into the area.

The documentary is a visual treat. It was filmed over three years and was originally going to be a documentary about the region rather than about Muratova, which is partly why it includes so many extraordinary landscape shots.

“The opening minutes of Honeyland are as astonishing — as sublime and strange and full of human and natural beauty — as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie,” said reviewer A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Others agreed: The film picked up two Oscar nominations in 2020, including Best Documentary Feature.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)

Joan Didion (Kathy Willens/AP) (AP)
Joan Didion (Kathy Willens/AP) (AP)

This Netflix documentary about American writer Joan Didion weaves together interviews from the 82-year-old Didion (who was still alive when the documentary was made) as well as archival footage from her life. The film was directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, which gives it a particularly intimate feel.

“The relationship between Mr. Dunne and Ms. Didion limits the movie in certain ways, but opens it up in others,” said The New York Times. Vox said: “Dunne captures the fleeting expressions that cross [Didion’s] face after she finishes answering his questions, and they can, once in a while, speak volumes that never make it onto the page when she writes. That alone makes it worth watching.”

Jane (2017)

88-year-old primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is now regarded as the world’s foremost specialist on Chimpanzees, having spent over 60 years living alongside and studying the primates. This National Geographic documentary, which is now available on Disney+, focuses on her early fieldwork, when Jane, an inexperienced young woman with no scientific background, went to Tanzania to spend time with the great apes. Piecing together beautiful never-seen-before footage of Jane and her interactions with the chimps she studied, Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen creates an awe-inspiring film which is set to an orchestral score from Philip Glass.

Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise (2016)

Unbelievably, this 2016 documentary was the first feature-length documentary about poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. It details her life, from being a child born in Louisiana in the Twenties, to working as a fry cook and sex worker, to becoming one of America’s most important writers. Over her life, she published plays, film scripts, three books of essays and seven autobiographies and received as many as 50 honorary degrees. The documentary, which is directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, premiered at Sundance Film Festival and won a Peabody.

“What Coburn Whack and Hercules do so well is capture Angelou’s power and elegance, which seems to have increased as she got older,” said The Guardian. “It’s that longevity and creative drive that the film celebrates. No hagiography, it paints a portrait of a life lived to the full and dedicated to being true to oneself.”

Amy (2015)

Asif Kapadia’s documentary about Amy Winehouse won dozens of awards including an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2016. It follows Amy’s life as she found international stardom but also struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. The documentary was criticised by Amy’s family for seeming to suggest that they could have done more to protect her before the Grammy-winning singer’s 2011 death, but others praised the film: film critic Mark Kermode said the documentary, “eschews sensation and talking heads in favour of heartbreaking footage and difficult questions.”