Female Gamechangers in the Documentary Genre

Female Gamechangers in the Documentary Genre

As is all-too often the case, women aren’t receiving enough credit for their work in documentary filmmaking. The list below is an attempt to highlight just a few female directors and writers, behind some truly amazing documentary films.

Barbara Kopple

Perhaps the most well-known name on our list, Kopple has been in the business for decades now. Her work is always featured on Top Ten lists in the documentary genre, and she is an Academy Award-winner.

What to watch: Harlan County, USA is an Oscar-awarded film covering the 1976 coal-mining strike.

Abigail Disney

Abigail Disney is the granddaughter of Walt Disney, and has strived for years to build an independent career in the world of documentaries and activism. Her goal is to produce films that delve into the social and political issues of our day, lending special focus to how minority and repressed groups are treated.

What to watch: Among her best works is Pray the Devil Back to Hell, documenting the work of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace: a feminist antiwar movement.

Kim Longinotto

Kim Longinotto is a British film maker who draws inspiration from her own early experiences, shining light upon difficult topics of female oppression and discrimination. She began her work in the 1970s, and has returned time and time again to the same themes, each time with a fresh approach and new subjects.

What to watch: Longinotto’s most recent film was well-received at Sundance, with some claiming it to be her best work so far. Dreamcatcher is focused on Brenda Myers-Powell, a former professional who operates the Dreamcatcher Foundation: a charity helping women in Chicago to leave the sex industry.

Chris Hegedus

Hegedus is one of the more well-known names on today’s list, with a long career in political documentary filmmaking. She has worked in the field since the 90s, staying true to the so-called ‘direct cinema’ style.

What to watch: Hegedus is known for her documentary covering the presidential campaign of democratic president Bill Clinton, entitled The War Room. The film provides an in-depth look at the media and political machine required to put a president in the Oval Office.

Lourdes Portillo

Portillo is a Mexican-American documentary filmmaker, whose work focuses on the art and culture of the Latino community. Her films tell stories that are interesting and engaging for wide audiences of many backgrounds.

What to watch: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo focuses on the disturbing tale of mothers in Argentina whose children “vanished” during the human rights atrocities of the Dirty War. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 1985, and has raised this important issue from obscurity.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Gabriela Cowperthwaite has worked in television for years, producing long-form documentaries. Her most famous work is the film Blackfish: a story of a whale in the Sea World theme park in Orlando.


It is important for audiences and the industry as a whole to pay attention to female directors. There are many amazing women working in the documentary industry, who deserve far more recognition than they receive.