10 Unforgettable Sundance Docs by Women Filmmakers

The Wolfpack
These 10 female directors won big at Sundance and went on to collect armloads of other awards and nominations by creating docs that are unexpected, nuanced, political and highly personal.

1. Afghan Star (2008)
This debut feature documentary, from British filmmaker Havana Marking, tells the stories of singing contestants in an Afghanistan Idol kind of competition. The show caused a sensation in conservative Afghanistan with male and female contestants risking their lives for the chance to sing and compete on TV.

2. Born Into Brothels (2004)
A day-in-the-life kind of look at Kolkata’s brothels, told through the photos and stories of eight children. Co-director Zana Briski taught the youngsters photography as a way of giving them tools to change their fate; many of their images appear in the movie; some sold pics went towards funding school tuition for the prostitute’s children.

3. Moment of Impact (1998)
Julia Loktev picked up a High-8 camera and focused it on her family in this portrait of life after the car accident that left her father with a head trauma. Loktev wrote, directed, shot and edited the movie. She also did sound; recording late night conversations with her mother about the new reality of caring for Julia’s formerly charismatic dad.

4. Regret to Inform (1999)
Director Barbara Sonneborn travelled to Vietnam to visit the site of her husband’s death. What she discovered was another nation of women grieving those lost in what the Vietnamese call “The American War.” Sonneborn’s interviews with American and Vietnamese widows exposes the sweeping toll of the war on both nations.

5. The Farm: Angola USA (1998)
Liz Farbus and Jonathan Stack were hoping to make a movie about love at first sight until they met co-director Wilbert Rideau, an inmate who edited the prison magazine at Angola. His connections opened the gates into America’s oldest, largest, maximum security prison (built on a former slave plantation) where 77% of the inmates are African-American and 80% of the inmates will die in the facility.

6. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (1986)
Directed by Susana Blaustein Munoz and Lourdes Portillo who laid bare the brutal human rights abuses of Argentina’s military dictatorship through the brave stories of the mothers protesting their missing children weekly in the Plaza De Maya in open defiance of the government’s anti-terrorism law.

7. The Square (2013)
Director Jehane Noujaim takes us right into the fray in Tahrir Square where idealistic Egyptian youth who are determined to shake loose the foundations of the conservative Military regime. Egyptian-American Noujaim, charts the emotional journeys of the protesters and ultimately leaves viewers hopeful for the future.

8. The Wolfpack (2015)
The Sundance Grand Jury Prize Award citation said, “A subject matter this unusual may invite scrutiny yet the celebration of the power of imagination reflects the spirit of Sundance.” Crystal Moselle’s debut doc tells the tale of six almost-feral brothers locked in their apartment for years by an authoritarian father. The boys entertain themselves, and largely understand society, through the Hollywood movies they watch and reenact.

9. Watchers in the Sky (2014)
Director Edet Belzberg unveils the unknown story of Holocaust survivor Raphael Lemkin, the man who created the word “genocide” and lobbied for it to be given the necessary legal heft. Lemkin’s journey is woven together with the stories of genocide survivors.

10. We Live in Public (2009)
Ondi Timoner’s movie marks the moment in pop culture when the scales tipped and privacy lost its value. The movie profiles loopy, dot-com entrepreneur Josh Harris who put TV on the internet long before YouTube and risked sanity and relationships to film every — and we mean every — aspect of daily life in his New York loft.