Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

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Seven Mothers from Seven Mother’s Day Documentaries

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m considering some of my favorite documentaries that feature motherhood in its many forms…

Rosanne Katon-Walden
Autism, The Musical (2007)

Of the many valiant mothers in this film about living with autism, the one who stands out for me is the one who is most flawed. Rosanne Katon-Walden is an outspoken, bold and deeply loving mother. Plus, she’s got charisma. The former Playboy Playmate has a healthy ego, and in one particularly cringe-worthy scene when she perceives her autistic son as being slighted, she gets pretty unhinged. She may be in the wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from seeing what a passionate, caring mother she is.

Jackie Libby
Bully (2012)

For any parent who has ever felt in over his or her head, Jackie Libby is a sterling example of a mom who copes with a terrible situation the best she can. Having a son, Alex, who is ruthlessly bullied, but not knowing about it, and a husband, who might not exactly be helping things, is a tragic, and probably pretty common, situation to be in. And as lost as she seems, Jackie calls it like it is when she gets talked down to by a school principal who is clearly failing to protect Alex.

Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Also, Gisele Bundchen, Cindy Crawford, Melissa Joan Hart, Alanis Morissette, Molly Ringwald & Christy Turlington-Burns
The Business of Being Born (2008)

What mothers go through to become mothers. Phew! Anyone who’s been in the presence of a woman giving birth knows that there is no greater feat. And this documentary breaks down how most American women are being subjected to a birthing industry that does not help matters much. This is a film with a capital A, that is: Agenda. It makes many salient points, and others that I question, but it’s must-viewing for every woman who plans to become a mom.

A Humpback Whale
Earth (2007)

The 4,000-mile migration that the featured humpback whale embarks on, to find warmer waters where her calf can prosper, is the probably the greatest documentation of a mother’s instinct ever depicted. The beautiful creature is jaw-dropppingly rendered by directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.

Grey Gardens

Edith “Big Edie” Beale
Grey Gardens (1975)

Why does this film keep appearing in my different “Best Of” lists? Because it’s one of the greatest docs of all time, and it has so many exceptional facets, including Big Edie, a mom unlike any other. Passive aggressive, vain, pathetic, proud, deranged and sweet, Big Edie is one of the sickest moms to ever grace a screen. Her relationship with her daughter is twisted, but it’s so powerful, you cannot help but be in awe of her.

Mother Earth
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Yes, this is a documentary about the original mother, that is, Mother Earth. Davis Guggenheim’s groundbreaking film took the environmental movement a huge step forward toward the mainstream. And although it stars Al Gore’s maverick environmental work, the true star is that big, beautiful, blue, white and green globe.

LaLee Wallace
LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001)

LaLee, a mother of many, and grandmother of many, many more, grew up in backwoods Mississippi as poor as dirt, without a spit of education. She’s a marvel, a mother who represents so much — the legacy of slavery — and yet is also so down-to-earth and immediately real, as depicted by Albert Maysles, Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson. LaLee is a resilient spirit, and more than anything, she’s a true American matriarch.

I imagine you have your own ideas of great moms in nonfiction films, and I invite you to recommend them in the comments section below. (For one, I haven’t seen Extraordinary Moms, which was executive produced by Julia Roberts.)

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Yvonne Jones

    ‘Finding Christa’s quirky, canny Camille Billops and adoptive mom Margaret Liebig are my fave doc moms by far.  

  • northierthanthou

    Excellent post! Thank you for writing it. …must get some of these now.

  • Melissa

    When I saw the link to this article, my first thought was “did Grey Gardens make the list?”  such a gem :)

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  • Second_life2001

    I need to find each one of these and watch them. Thank you for the info today!