Biographical Documentaries by Film Title – A to Z

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An Evolving List of Documentaries About Famous and Infamous People

Some biographical documentaries investigate the inner life or underbellies of their famous subjects, others are tribute films that present celebrities in a (sometimes artificial) glowing light. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of some important documentaries about a wide range of celebrated personages — some contemporary and others historical, some famous and others infamous — whose biographies will fascinate and inspire you.

Reviews of all these films originally appeared on About.com. The majority of them were posted when About.com was owned by the New York Times. Subsequent to the sale of the site, the new management terminated its contracts with hundreds of ‘guides,’ but continued to use our content — without paying royalties. My work — including reviews of all of the documentaries on this list — has been ‘rebranded.’ You can read that to mean obliterated. If you have copies of my reviews of any of the films on this list, or any of my documentary reviews, please send them to me at awfjinc.com. I would like to republish and archive them on CINEMA CITIZEN.

Here’s the list….

<strong>Ai Weiwei Never Sorry
Sundance Selects

Filmmaker Alison Klayman profiles Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei, following him as he gains fame not only for his innovative art, but also for openly protesting political repressiion in contemporary China. See full review

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Famed American comedian and musician Bill Hicks died of cancer in 1994. He was 32. His memory and artistry live on in this documentary featuring archival footage of his childhood. as well as of his irreverent stand up routines. There are also cleverly animated family photos, plus tributes from friends and colleagues. Read full review

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Abramorama Films

Anvil! The Story of Anvil is about the Toronto-based heavy metal group Anvil! and the two musicians — Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and Robb Reiner — who’ve been best friends, played together since they were in their teens and are ready for a replay of their life on the road.

The Arbor
Artangel Films

In this documentary about English playwright Andrea Dunbar, filmmaker Clio Bernard has actors lipsynch audio interviews with Dunbar’s friends and family to present the short and dramatic life of the gifted and troubled dramatist who died at age 29 of an alcohol-related brain hemorrhage.

Buck
IFC Films

Filmmaker Cindy Meehl follows Buck Brannaman, known as the original ‘horse whisperer,’ as he travels around the USA presenting workshops in which he not only trains horses, but spreading words of wisdom about every aspect of life.

Bhutto
First Run Festures

A stirring biodoc about Benazir Bhutto, one of history’s most fascinating and tragic political leaders, the first woman to head the government of a Muslim nation.

Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing
Weinstein Company

When during a sold out concert, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines made an impromptu disparaging remark about then US President George W. Bush, masses of country music fans decried the singing group. This film, directed by Barbara Kopple, chronicles their come back.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
IFC Films

Up close and personal with Joan Rivers, whose life is much larger than standup — although standup is a big part of it!

John Muir In the New World
PBS

Chronicling the life of American environmentalist John Muir, and presenting his long lasting but now endangered wilderness legacy.

L’Amour Fou
IFC Films

Documenting the lasting love affair and business partnership of Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge.

Man on Wire
Discovery Films

A dramatic account of how French aerialist and stuntman Philippe Pettit suspended a tightrope wire between NYC’s (now fallen) Twin Towers, walked across it and, as a consequence, faced criminal charges.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It
Sony

Compiled from footage shot of rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s scheduled ‘This is It’ tour. the documentary presents the King of Pop’s final performances before his unexpected, untimely death.

Mitzi Gaynor Razzle Dazzle
City Lights Pictures

In on camera interviews, actress Mitzi Gaynor tells all about her life and career. Especially wonderful are the clips from her television show, where she played a variety of adorable and hilariously funny characters and presented huge and splendid production numbers.

Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers
First Run Features

Part political thriller and part psychological drama, this fascinating documentary investigates Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to turn over the Pentagon Papers to the press.

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune
First Run Features

About the life and times of singer/songwriter Phil Ochs, whose music expressed and inspiried social protest.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

A view of the life and career of film director Roman Polanski, who is as famous for his scandalous behaviour with an underage girl as he is for his brilliant films.

Runnin’ Down A Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

In this tribute documentary, musician Tom Petty talks about key moments in his long career, and there are wonderful clips to illustrate his accomplishments.

Searching For Sugar Man
Sony Pictures Classics

Searching For Sugar Man is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories that has a win-win-win happy ending for all of its characters and simply shouts out for celebration. Rodriguez, an obscure Detroit songster whose two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971), were virtually unknown in the US, but became chart toppers in South Africa. The film puts him in the limelight worldwide.

Senator Obama Goes To Africa

Before he became U.S. President…

The September Issue
Roadside Attractions

About fashionista Anna Wintour and her reign at Vogue Magazine

Smash His Camera
HBO

About Ron Galella, the famous paparazzo who captured Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other famous people in so many candid shots that he, too, became a celebrity.

The Tillman Story
The Weinstein Company

Amir Bar-Lev’s very moving documentary about the efforts of Pat Tillman’s family to get to the truth about how the beloved football player met his death after he’d given up his sports career to join the military after 9/11.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Argot Pictures

Lynda and Jools Topp, otherwise known as the Topp Twins, are New Zealand’s leading stand up and musical performers, and they are hilariously funny — a characteristic clearly captured in this documentary about their childhood, their onstage characters and their lifestyle.

Trumbo
Red Envelope Entertainment

Chronicling the life, social activism and work of Dalton Trumbo, the brilliant American screenwriter whose career was trashed during the McCarthy hearings.

Valentino: The Last Emperor
Truly Indie

Haute couture fashion desinger Valentino clothed the beautiful, famous and rich. This fashionable documentary chronicles his career and the comings and goings at the House of Valentino.

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