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Docs To Watch: On Your Bookshelf

Wednesday 1 July, 2020

We are browsing the bookshelves this week and bringing you a list of documentaries diving nose first into the global literary world.

If you want to find out about the hidden secrets of the New York Public Library, learn more about authors from Morrison to Marquez and Ferrante to le Guin or get inspired by Tom Hanks' passion for the typewriter, then snuggle up with this list of docs to watch online.

We're also entering the world of books in this week's online watch party of THE BOOKSELLERS, and a Q&A with director D.W. Young, hosted by Leena Norms on Friday 3rd of July. 

Happy reading!


Confirming her place as a major figure in American literature and as a spiky, rebellious and engaging personality’, Screen Daily.

When Ursula K. Le Guin first started writing she was rejected by many publishers: even when she was eventually published, she was rejected by many critics.

But she was determined to change the face of sci-fi writing to be accepted as serious literature. Paving the way for women writers to come, Le Guin’s pioneering books provided a critique of the real world, and laid the foundation for sci-fi feminists, from The Handmaid’s Tale to Harry Potter.

This inspiring documentary looks at the power of science fiction as an art form through one of its foremothers, exploring Le Guin’s life through the prism of the magical worlds she created. 

Watch on BBC iPlayer & Vimeo.


GUILTY PLEASURES / Julie Moggan / 2010 / 86 mins

Mills & Boon is a truly international phenomenon and this documentary follows the romance devotees from four corners of the globe who are involved in the fantasy world of the seductive mistress and gallant billionaire.

Julie Moggan explores the ambiguous area between fantasy, romance and real life as these characters struggle to place themselves in an uncertain world.

"An affectionate, witty celebration of all the lovers in the world" - London Film Festival. 

Watch Guilty Pleasures on Amazon Prime

TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM / Timothy Greenfield-Sanders / 2019 / 120 mins

From a young age Toni Morrison learned that words have power. Through her many celebrated novels she channelled the power of words to transform understanding of the African American experience, winning both Nobel and Pulitzer prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  
In this lovingly crafted film, director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who was Morrison’s friend and photographer for four decades, has Morrison narrate her own story. Completed a few months before Morrison’s death in 2019, in Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,  we hear not only from Morrison herself but from a range of friends, including Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis and Fran Lebowitz.

In the words of Columbia University professor Farah Jasmine, “If there’s life on Mars, they’re reading Toni Morrison to learn what it means to be human.” 

Watch Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes and SkyStore.


FERRANTE FEVER / Giacomo Durzi / 2017 / 72 mins

Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has sold over 5 million copies of her books worldwide, but nobody knows her true identity. Ferrante Fever interviews some of her most ardent fans including Jonathan Franzen, Hilary Clinton and executive director of the National Book Foundation Lisa Lucas.

We meet the woman who translates her novels into English and explore the prevailing themes of her work; self-reflection, friendships, loss and fraught mother-daughter relationships.

A mysterious figure who has set the contemporary literature world on fire with her Neapolitan Quartet, Ferrante’s anonymity fuels the intrigue.

Watch Ferrante Fever on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube & iTunes.

GABO: THE CREATION OF GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ / Justin Webster / 2015 / 90 mins

How did a boy from a small town on Colombia's Caribbean coast go on to become a writer who won the hearts of millions, from the poorest to the most powerful political leaders, and whose works changed our perception of reality?

Growing up in the poverty and violence of northern Colombia, Gabriel García Márquez – ‘Gabo’ to all of Latin America – was propelled by a love of life and a sensual, magical sensibility. He pioneered life-affirming literature and - through his militant journalism and friendships with leaders like Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton - was at the forefront of the political struggles of the 70s and 80s.

More than just a biography, this film follows the interwoven threads of Márquez’s life and work to reveal the incredible power of human imagination.

Watch Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Vimeo, Amazon Prime Video, and iTunes

WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL / Rob Garver / 2019 / 98 mins

What She Said tells the story of Pauline Kael, longtime New Yorker film critic and best-selling author, and her battle to make a name for herself. 

In a field that has historically embraced few women film critics, Kael was controversial, witty, and fiercely discerning. Her decades-long berth at The New Yorker energized her fans and infuriated her detractors on a weekly basis. 

Pulsatingly subjective, exhilaratingly assertive, Pauline Kael wrote about movies in a way they'd never been written about before. Director Rob Garver examines her life and legacy as America's most controversial critic.

Watch on

AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY / Jeff Feuerzeig /  2016 / 110 mins

This is the true story of one of the greatest scandals ever to envelop the literary world. The unmasking of “it boy” author JT LeRoy by New York magazine in 2005 is the type of stranger than fiction story tailor-made for the movies.

JT LeRoy was a teen prostitute, addicted to heroin and infected with HIV, when a therapist encouraged him to write his life story. Hailed as a literary sensation for his tough prose and having overcome an abusive, drug-addled childhood, LeRoy published three critically acclaimed books. But as his fame skyrocketed, a shocking truth emerged; LeRoy was actually the invention of 40-year-old San Francisco phone-sex operator Laura Albert.

This entertaining documentary takes us down the infinitely fascinating rabbit hole of how Albert breathed not only words, but life, into her avatar for a decade. 

Watch Author: The JT Leroy Story on Rakuten, Chili, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube and iTunes

THE MIRACLE OF THE LITTLE PRINCE / Marjoleine Boonstra / 2018 / 89 mins

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s celebrated philosophical children’s book The Little Prince, is one of the world’s most widely translated literary works, having been translated into more than 300 languages.

In the desert, among the sand and stars, two writers fight to preserve the Berber language of Morocco. A Sami translator in Scandinavia and Tibetans living as exiles in Paris share their stories. A translator in El Salvador endeavours to translate the book into Nahuat, or Pipil, an indigenous Aztec language drastically diminished by the El Savadoran massacre of the Nahua-Pipil community in 1932.

The Miracle of the Little Prince connects the vast distances between translators working to save some of the world’s most oppressed and diminishing languages.

Watch on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play & YouTube.

EX-LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY / Frederick Wiseman / 2018 / 206 mins

Legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman invites you to spend three hours behind the scenes at the New York Public Library.

Turning his inquisitive eye to one of the world’s greatest institutions of learning, Wiseman offers a captivating and engrossing portrait of this incredible resource of knowledge and community support for all of New York’s inhabitants, no matter their social status or ethnicity.

Taking us inside board meetings, talks with guest speakers such as Patti Smith and Elvis Costello, book club events and donors’ dinners, as well as the day-to-day activity of lending books, Ex Libris is a glorious love letter to knowledge exchange and a reminder of the central role libraries play in communities everywhere. 

Watch on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play

CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER / Doug Nichol / 2016 / 93 mins

“There is a wonderful way to spend time: typing. You get to think about it. You get to romantically sit back and ponder what your next words are going to be. And that is a pleasant, tactile action,” comments avid collector, Tom Hanks.

In an age where we consume, upgrade and have machines that aren’t built to last, Tom Hanks loves typewriters. And he’s not alone. We meet a man who creates sculptures out of typewriters, another who has spent the best part of his life repairing typewriters, and a typewriter orchestra.

Built out of weaponry from the American Civil War, the invention was initially a failure. However, this affectionate documentary explores how the typewriter became a crucial part of history, and continues to spark our imagination.

Watch it on iTunes or Amazon Prime Video.