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10 Inspiring documentaries to spark your creativity

10 Inspiring documentaries to spark your creativity

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Text: Kelly Lim


Image: Magnolia Pictures
Image: Netflix
Image: Getty Images

From style icon Iris Apfel to the sushi master Jiro Ono, we've rounded up the best documentaries about incredible individuals whose creative work, passion and life philosophies continue to inspire and educate generations.

During darker days, documentaries are a welcoming escape and an excellent way to entertain, educate and enlighten yourself without having to leave your couch. And no matter the discipline, there's something especially engrossing about deconstructing the creative process and learning how each individual goes through it to bring an idea, story, emotion to life.

If you've been feeling a bit uninspired during the MCO period, here's a list of inspiring documentaries, spanning the fields of art, design, fashion and gastronomy, that will leave you with lasting feelings and nuggets of wisdom, and might just even change the way you think about the world. 

Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011) 

This documentary is the first to offer a fascinating look into the minds and lives of creative couple Ray and Charles Eames, whose collaborative approach to product design was in its own way as influential as that of Steve Jobs. The creative geniuses may be best remembered for their furniture design but the film goes on to chronicle all their other mind-bending creations as they honed their craft over the years—from splints for wounded military during World War II, to photography, interiors, multi-media exhibits, graphics, games, films and toys—while drawing from a huge amount of archival material as well as interviews with friends, colleagues, and critics. 

Iris (2015) 

The world’s oldest style maven, 98-year-old Iris Apfel is fearless, spirited and truly one of a kind. This documentary chronicles her colourful life and numerous creative pursuits, proving age is just a number when it comes to influence and inspiration. The camera follows Apfel on imaginative shopping expeditions and into her Aladdin’s cave of a home, making it abundantly evident that her endless enthusiasm for art and fashion is present in everything that she does. Sticking to values and work ethic established during a middle-class upbringing during the Great Depression, the bespectacled New Yorker imparts generous wisdom that is motivational to all: “I feel lucky to be working. If you're lucky enough to do something you love, everything else follows.”

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Another nonagenarian on the list, Jiro Ono is world renowned for his craft as a sushi master whose passion earned his Tokyo subway-station sushi restaurant three Michelin stars. Straddling food and art, his culinary work showcases the power of craftsmanship and the art of perfection. The film will transport you to a brighter, beautiful world of mouthwatering visuals, while offering an uplifting and thoughtful meditation on work, family and life.

Abstract: The Art of Design

This highly informative 14-episode series offer extensive coverage of different fields of design through the lens and vision of distinguished guests, including Ilse Crawford, Olafur Eliasson, Tinker Hatfield and more. Perceive the world as they do as you step into the everyday reality and behind the scenes of their lives.

McQueen (2018)

This riveting documentary delves into the complicated inner workings of the late legendary designer, Alexander McQueen, an artistic genius gone far too soon. From live wolves on leashes to robots shooting paint on a white-dressed model, some of Lee's most awe-inspiring and iconic shows are highlighted in the film, along with new interviews and archival footage from close to 200 sources to portrait one of the most innovative minds in fashion history. 

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (2018)

One of the greatest artists you’ve probably never heard of, Stanislav Szukalski was a talented but tortured Polish sculptor whose intricate paintings and massive sculptures were notable for their dramatic mythological imagery during the period leading up to WW2. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and his father, who both knew Szukalski personally, the documentary is a character study that reveals the inner layers of his life, however strange, bizarre and astounding it may seem—he was even approached by Hitler for a commissioned portrait—and make you wonder if it's truly possible to separate the art from the artist.

Joan Didion: The Centre Will Not Hold (2017) 

With one of the most distinctive writing styles of the 21st century, Joan Didion is a literary legend whose confessional accounts of grief, self-respect and loss, alongside her reporting influenced both American culture and generations of devoted fans. This documentary, directed by her nephew, actor and filmmaker Griffin Dunne (and funded party through Kickstarter), is a loving tribute to Didion’s vast oeuvre and impact, offering a rare window into her life through archival footage and interviews with the people who know her best.

Press Pause Play (2010) 

With the digital revolution came unprecedented accessibility and opportunity, along with creativity and impact that caused massive cultural shifts in art, film, music and literature. While technological advancements brought positive developments that democratised culture, the documentary questions what happens to the importance of technique and expression in a world where anyone can be an artist. Filmmakers David Dworsky and Victor Köhler explore the hopes, fears and dreams in the reality of our digital culture, alongside interviews with some of the most influential creators in the digital era including Moby, Bill Drummond, Seth Godin, Lena Dunham, Robyn, Sean Parker and many more.

Bill Cunningham New York (2011) 

Way before Instagram even entered our lives, New York Times columnist Bill Cunningham was the original street style photographer. An incurable chronicler of fashion, the late photographer tirelessly documented the New Yorkers he spotted on the street and how they expressed themselves through their style. Filmed when he was 80-years old, the documentary profiles the creative’s life and work in the Big Apple, showing how his focus, passion and self-sacrifice allowed him to become the best at what he did.

Waste Land (2010)

This Oscar-nominated documentary is a story about true grit, following Brazilian artist Vik Muniz as he photographs and collaborates with “catadores” (self-designated pickers of recyclable materials) in the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to create large-scale art pieces made out of trash. Filmed over the course of nearly three years, the film chronicles the creative process over a transformative journey, demonstrating how what is discarded by others can be recreated into art, and simultaneously go on to transform the lives of the artist, the subject and its viewer. 

 

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