Documentaries Dominated at Sundance Again

Shere Hite, Brooke Shields, and Judy Blume all feature in excellent docs this year

You can always count on Sundance to be packed with juicy documentaries. I missed the Steph Curry film, because they didn’t show it to remote attendees, but there was no shortage of great content available to us couch-based journos. It was incredibly gratifying to see so many female-focused, and directed, nonfiction entries again dominate an event once ruled by Harvey Weinstein. Here are five of the best docs I saw this year.

The Disappearance of Shere Hite

Do you know about the Hite Report? I vaguely did, but not the fascinating story around its creator and the backlash to her view that women and men should know more about the female orgasm. The glamorous Hite, who started out as a model, made her name with The Hite Report on Female Sexuality, a 1976 survey of women that found the majority of them weren’t having orgasms during sex. Here she is talking about her findings. Would you believe this didn’t go over entirely well in America? The doc, narrated by Dakota Johnson, follows Hite’s work and her increasing frustration at the antagonism she received during media appearances. Her sex research legacy? While Masters and Johnson got a series, and Kinsey was played on the big screen by Liam Neeson, there’s not even a Wikipedia entry dedicated to Hite’s most famous work.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields appears in Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields by Lana Wilson, an official selection of the Premiers Program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Getty

Unlike Hite, Brooke Shields has been a household name for just about forever. She looks back on her life in this doc, which embraces a nuanced perspective on Shields’ controversial adolescent years (including playing a prostitute in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby at the age of 12) and includes the actress talking, for the first time, about her sexual assault by an unnamed man in the film industry in her 20s. She also clears the record about Michael Jackson’s telling the world they were dating-they weren’t-and has some great dinnertime discussions with her two nearly-adult daughters, who understandably see their beloved mom’s career through a very different lens.

Judy Blume Forever

‘Judy Blume Forever,’ debuting at the Sundance Film Festival.

Molly Ringwald is the first talking head in this lovely tribute to the queen of YA, and it just gets better from there. The author of Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret narrates much of her own story, from her early life as a suburban mom to the time when she got into a war of words with Pat Buchanan on Crossfire. Adoring fans like Lena Dunham and PEN15 creator Anna Konkle weigh in, alongside women who’ve corresponded with the author since they were Margaret-aged. Blume, who now runs a bookstore in Key West, has become a firebrand in the fight against book-banning, now enjoying a resurgence that gives the outraged author flashbacks to the days of the Moral Majority’s crusade against that one sentence about masturbation in Deenie.


Also in the outrage genre is Nancy Schwartzman’s doc about the prevalence of police coercion in false-reporting charges filed against women who report sexual assault. The film follows investigative reporter Rachel de Leon, who profiles several thusly-charged women (including a posthumous story in which a rape victim died by suicide after  police told her that she was making it up). Unsurprisingly, de Leon can’t get many law enforcement people to talk about why they use interrogation-style interviews with rape victims, but she does snag one, who blithely explains how effective it is to lie to survivors in order to intimidate them into dropping charges. One of the doc’s central questions – is reporting worth the risk? – remains hauntingly unanswered.

King Coal

This ethereal doc, directed by a West Virginia native, follows two tween-girl BFFs as the through line in profiling a culture running on the fumes of dwindling fossil fuel. Its insider point of view allows King Coal to showcase why the excavation industry still inspires so much pride here, even while probing the brutal toll on miners and the people around them through the decades. The movie features maybe a few too many Terrence Malick-inspired sequences of the girls wandering around their town, accompanied by a dreamy score, but this doc pulls off the near-impossible feat of talking critically about coal culture while not condescendingly throwing its adherents under the bus.

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Sara Stewart

Sara Stewart is a film critic and a culture and entertainment writer whose work is featured in the New York Post,, and more. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Sara's work can be fully appreciated at But not on Twitter, because she’s been troll-free since 2018.

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