Inspiring Documentaries You Might Like

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black and white photo of nina simone
photo: nybooks

One of my true pleasures in life is watching a great documentary. There are inspiring documentaries that shine a deeper light on someone of something that I already love (Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise). Some have made me really angry. Sometimes enough to take action (Food Inc., Paradise Lost). And then there are  others that make your heart alternately soar/ache (Hoop Dreams, 50 Feet From Stardom, Paris is Burning, so many more…). I plan to continue sharing documentaries that I think you might like, or — at the very least — spark conversation! It will definitely be a mixed bag of some old (I feel like I’m always catching up) and new releases. Here are three for November:

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Listening to Nina Simone never gets old. Her voice always elevates any situation, be it at a party, in a taxi, or even at my local Monoprix grocery store (yes! they play her in the grocery stores here.) I thought I knew a lot about her but I learned so much. Classical piano prodigy, sent from her small town in North Carolina to Juilliard with help from a collection from her community. Her early years, early successes… so much is there. The setbacks, the fame (so many amazing clips of her performing at the Newport Jazz Festival, civil rights events, Carnegie Hall…), love, loss, so much. When asked what freedom means to her, she answers, “No fear!” Words to live by.


I’ve always loved minimalism from an art and architecture point of view, and because I moved so frequently in my twenties, I had to keep possessions to a minimum (memories of those 5th floor walk-ups in NYC). But as life moves on, we start to collect more stuff. We expand, grow, and “nest,” which means … more stuff. Having done an international move last year, I’m still on a “purge” high from moving from a house into an apartment. And, yes, I love Marie Kondo’s concept of, “Does it spark joy?” The duo behind “Minimalism,” Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, take this to the next level. The basic question is, “Could we have more by living with less?” Great interviews with other minimalists, including some famous faces, but especially the honesty and sincerity from both Millburn and Nicodemus.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

File this one under awe-inspiring. Filmmaker Werner Herzog was granted access to the Chauvet Cave in France, where there are the oldest surviving paintings. When I say old, I mean 30,000 years old. Process that. And, they are incredibly detailed, sophisticated, and just plain beautiful. Herzog’s voice-over is a treat. Accented and slightly monotone, he expresses himself in a way that is keenly evocative and direct.  His language and intensity takes you with him every step of the way on what is clearly a visceral, humbling, once-in-a-lifetime journey. This one will stay with you.

All are available on Netflix

What are some of your favorites?