This may seem like one of our usual features exclusively highlighting a celebrity’s favorite documentaries, but I’m merely taking a similar format to point out a similar list compiled by a famous actress for SundanceNow Doc Club. Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is a guest curator for the streaming service this month, sharing eight favorite docs, two of which just so happen to be films she produced — that’s fine, you should love your own work — and one of those is co-directed by her son, Jack Henry.
The actress has 168 documentary credits of some sort or another listed on IMDb. That’s not surprising given that she’s always been an outspoken figure in Hollywood, though not all the docs she’s been involved with are political. Her narration credits include a biography of Bette Davis (Stardust: The Bette Davis Story), for instance. She’s also appeared on screen in other docs, including The Celluloid Closet and (pictured above) How to Make Money Selling Drugs.
As for her preference with nonfiction cinema, she provides the following statement with this special curation:
When I watch a doc, at least once, I want my head to explode and my heart to feel. I want to see the world differently. Know something I didn’t know before. Engage me but most of all surprise me. Let there be an image, a person, or a moment that never leaves. I might forget a lot of the particulars, but the documentary will now have lodged itself in me. I appreciate a doc when it encourages you to be the protagonist in your own life or when it makes you itch to solve a problem, fight for justice. Others celebrate life and the human spirit. Doesn’t get much better than this.
Here are her eight picks with comments:
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman, 2012)
“Ai Weiwei has a lot of cats in his studio. One of them learned how to open the door and even though all the other cats watched him do it, no other cat tried. Ai Weiwei opens the door in a place where that is not easy. After watching this documentary I was even more thankful for my freedoms and more resolute to guard them.”
The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda, 2008)
“Unbridled consciousness is the way I would describe Agnes Varda who mixes archival footage, performance art, film, and aesthetic insubordination in this autobiographical documentary. All along she throws caution and ego to the wind. It made me want to be braver just watching it.”
DamNation (Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, 2014)
“Until I saw DamNation at The Telluride Film Festival I was completely ignorant as to the proliferation of dams in the United States. Dams that are no longer efficient or necessary and which were destroying so much wildlife. Inventive and brave art and artists highlight the problem. It was also so beautiful to watch.”
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2011)
“The twists and turns of this inspirational story start off as a tribute to outsider art and becomes something so sweet and unexpected. A classic. I can’t say anything more or I’ll spoil it for you. You’ll never again look at playing with dolls the same way.”
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Lea Pool, 2012)
“Before you put on a pink ribbon or run for the cure, see this film. I was so angry after watching it, but sometimes that’s what happens when your eyes are opened with information that has been withheld. When I watched it, I had a friend fighting through chemotherapy and it made me reevaluate everything I’d known before about the cancer industry.”
Storied Streets (Thomas A. Morgan and Jack Henry, 2014)
“I’m proud to say that Storied Streets was directed by my son Jack Henry. After graduation from USC, he and some of his friends went across the country in hopes of dispelling the myths about homelessness. Who’s homeless, how they got there, how difficult it is to survive un-housed. They were hired by my now-friend and partner Thomas Morgan. Tom was so moved and appalled by the struggles of a young homeless man in his neighborhood that he sold off a lot of his possessions to produce his first documentary ever. The making of this film changed everyone connected to it. Tales of bad luck, bad choices, kindness, and redemption.”
Trouble the Water (Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, 2008)
“I feel a huge connection to New Orleans having worked there a number of times. The Citizens of the Lower 9th Ward documented the rise of the waters and their abandonment by those in authority. But they remain unsinkable and the courage in these personal stories moves me to tears while giving me hope at the same time because the human spirit is so strong. The score is also wonderful which is fitting since New Orleans throbs with music day and night.”
Waiting for Mamu (Francois Caillaud, Dan Chen and Thomas A. Morgan, 2013)
“Pushpa Basnet is a funny, passionate and tireless young woman. In Nepal, if a woman goes to prison and she has children, they go with her. Pushpa has made it her life to rescue these shunned children of convicts, giving them education, confidence and hope. I nominated her for the 2012 CNN Hero Award and she won. My friend Tom Morgan made this documentary, traveling to Nepal to show her inspiring work, so you can see I have a personal connection to this story. As a result of the showing of MAMU at festivals and on planes, Pushpa is building an orphanage to house all her adopted children. It’s wonderful to see how love transforms them.”
Head to SundanceNow Doc Club now and subscribe at a relatively cheap rate to watch all these films and more, including other curations from Thom Powers, Ira Glass, and others, many of which I’ve highlighted as Home Pick bundles in the past.