February 19, 2014

Education & Entertainment: Documentary Recommendations

In the last few months, I have watched countless documentaries that looked interesting. Most of them you can find on Netflix, some are available other places on the internet to watch for free. Some are longer than others and most are related to subjects I am passionate about. But I highly encourage you to check them out! I will give you the movie descriptions and also my opinion.

The Business of Being Born & More Business of Being Born

The Business of Being Born: Director Abby Epstein's controversial documentary takes a hard look at America's maternity care system, juxtaposing hospital deliveries against the growing popularity of at-home, natural childbirths that some expectant parents are opting for. Former talk show host Ricki Lake was inspired to produce this compelling exposé after a dissatisfying birthing experience with her first child left her with many unanswered questions.

More Business of Being Born: Executive Producer Ricki Lake and Filmmaker Abby Epstein follow their landmark documentary, The Business of Being Born, with a follow-up series that continues their provocative and entertaining exploration of the modern maternity care system.

I actually watched The Business of Being Born back during my senior year of college, but I just found the sequel "episodes", More Business of Being Born, on Netflix (they also have the first movie on there too). I would say that this movie is a definite must-see if you are pregnant or even if you plan to have kids in the future. Or, really, if you work in the medical profession. Yes, the first movie is home birth and doula/midwife centered, but in the sequel, they also mention how there are so many ways the birth process can go and there are steps between a birth in the hospital, induced with pitocin and a home birth, in the water, with no medication.

The Central Park Five


This piercing documentary examines the case of five teenagers, all African-American or Latino, who were convicted of the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Years later, the confession of the real rapist set the jailed men free.

I watched this documentary because I learned of The Central Park Five during one of my webinars and wanted to find out more about this sad case. It is absolutely mind-boggling that innocent men were sentenced to prison for a crime they didn't commit and weren't exonerated until many, many years later. I will say that this documentary is quite long: around 2 hours and was a little dry at times. 

After Innocence


With the emergence of DNA evidence, the justice system is seeing a wave of reversed criminal convictions. But what happens to those who are set free, sometimes decades after being imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit? Jessica Sanders takes a close look at some of these people in this gripping documentary that's both a harsh criticism of the current judicial system and a touching look at those profoundly affected by it.

This was definitely not as interesting as it looked. Again, it's mind-blowing how the justice system can work against so many people. If you're going to skip out on watching any of these movies, make it this one.



Filmmaker Justin Hunt explores how the absence of a father inflicts a deep, lifelong wound on men and women in all walks of life, from Metallica's James Hetfield and champion boxer Johnny Tapia to homeless people and prostitutes.

Very interesting and very touching look at what not having a father in your life can do. I watched this solely based on my personal connection to these stories. This filmmaker doesn't hold back. He actually went out into the field to interview the homeless and prostitutes, even going so far as to pay them $20 to get them to tell their story.

A Doula Story

This powerful documentary chronicles one African-American woman's fierce commitment to empower pregnant teenagers with the skills and knowledge they need to become confident, nurturing mothers.

I absolutely loved this documentary! Not many of you know, but my final senior paper/project in college was titled "Tailoring Childbirth Education to Adolescents" and was all about how, in order to support teenagers who become pregnant, we need to rework the system of childbirth education and prenatal visits that are currently put into practice in the medical system because they aren't always beneficial to the needs of young girls who become pregnant. Anyway, this movie kind of touched on this subject. The lady being followed meets with and supports teenagers during their pregnancy, as well as after they give birth.

National Geographic: Science of Babies

National Geographic takes an intimate, detailed look at the first 12 months of a baby's life in this installment of the "Explorer" documentary series, including research that indicates how human development can take many paths in the first year. From things as simple as breathing and eating to the more complex concepts of language and movement, this feature leaves no aspect of early childhood unexplored.

This is an AMAZING look at babies from birth to 12 months. Like the title says, a lot of it is looking at the medical side of things (which I enjoy). The biggest thing that got to me in this was when they said that the most dangerous few moments in a baby's life is the moment between when they are born and their first breath. They actually showed a baby who was just born and wouldn't breath and was turning blue and they showed the nurses working to get him to take his first breath (and he did, thank god!).

Poster Girl

Robynn Murray was a high school cheerleader who became the poster girl for women in combat. This documentary short follows Murray over the course of two years as she battles post-traumatic stress disorder and embarks on journey of self-discovery.

This is a very sad documentary and you definitely will need Kleenex! It makes me so angry at the military and their treatment of people who are/were deployed overseas during the war. I just wanted to give this girl a hug. 

It's a Girl

For most Westerners, the widespread practice of killing or aborting female infants simply because they are female seems inconceivably cruel. This sobering documentary spotlights the cultural traditions in India and China underlying the tragic facts.

With all the reading and research I've done as of late related to "feminist" topics, I'm surprised I didn't really know much about these practices done in India and China. This is a very shocking documentary and very graphic, as some of the people interviewed tell exactly how they killed their newborn daughters. 

First Circle

From director Heather Rae comes this affecting documentary that trains an illuminating lens on America's foster care system and the plight of children whose families can no longer provide adequate support, often as a result of addiction.

I highly, highly recommend this one to watch. I am in awe of those individuals and families that take in foster children, knowing that, more than likely, they will be returned to their birth parents at some point. I don't know if that's something I could do.



Following the fates of four orphans from around the world, this earnest documentary argues that international adoption laws are deeply flawed. The film reveals the maze of regulations that prospective parents must navigate to take a child home.

I initially watched this film because it is narrated by, who else, Mariska Hargitay (she and her husband Peter have two adopted kids, so this is close to her heart). If you didn't need tissues for Poster Girl, get ready to whip them out for this one! I know a couple of you bloggers who have seen this will agree!  I bawled like a baby. Like full on sobbing tears. These brave parents who are promised a child from a different country and then have so many hoops to jump through and end up waiting years just to take their child home.....unreal.

Searching for Angela Shelton

Filmmaker Angela Shelton journeys across the United States meeting other Angela Sheltons in an effort to survey women in America. She discovers that 24 out of 40 Angela Sheltons have been abused just like herself. Then the filmmaker meets an Angela Shelton who tracks sexual predators and lives in the same town as the filmmaker's father who molested her and her stepsiblings for years. The filmmaker's survey of women becomes a journey of self discovery during which she decides to finally confront her past and her own father - on Father's Day.

This one is not on Netflix, but can be found here. Angela's story of her journey across the United States, speaking with other women with her same name and hearing their stories, shows just how widespread the issues of assault, child abuse, and domestic violence are in this world. This is another one you will need the tissues for, especially around an hour in, after Angela confronts her father about what he did to her and her siblings.

Telling Amy's Story 

Hosted by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, and told by Detective Deirdri Fishel, Telling Amy’s Story follows the timeline of a domestic violence homicide that occurred on November 8, 2001. The victim’s parents and co-workers, law enforcement officers, and court personnel share their perspectives on what happened to Amy in the weeks, months, and years leading up to her death. While we will never be able to change the ending to Amy’s story, we hope that its telling can change outcomes for the millions of victims, survivors, and loved ones affected by domestic violence every day.

This one is also not on Netflix, but can be seen here. The actual documentary is relatively short, but after the film, there is a talk with domestic abuse advocates from Virginia. This story shows how difficult it can be to know if someone is in an abusive relationship, how quickly things can escalate, and how difficult it can be to leave that situation.

The Waiting Room

Director Peter Nicks examines the complexities of health care in the United States by focusing on the ER waiting room of a public hospital in Oakland, Calif., where a diverse -- and largely uninsured -- collection of patients seek care.

I loved this one! I think it gave a really accurate portrayal of the Emergency Room and struggles that the uninsured or low-income patients who use it go through. And the one main nurse who triages the patients....WHAT A HOOT!

I'm sure I'll have another installment of documentary recommendations soon because I have a lot more on my Netflix queue.

Are there any documentaries you've watched lately that I should look up?

 photo Sig_zpsd9daa49c.png


  1. I recommend the business of being born to anyone pregnant! I wish I'd seen it before I had my first.

  2. Thanks for the recs! I teach psych and love showing good docs on babies!

  3. Great list! I'm pinning for later. I recently became really interested in documentaries as well. Food, Inc. and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and Fork Over Knives changed the way I look at food. I recommend them all.

  4. I LOVED THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN! The first installment was a lot more powerful than the second but I loved them both. Definitely made me consider a natural birth when I have kids. I just don't know if I can handle the pain. I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to pain.

  5. Oh and if you liked Poster Girl, you need to check out The Invisible War! Covers sexual assault in the military on both males and females and how justice rarely ever occurs. I haven't seen Poster Girl but I just added it to my Netflix List!