Inspiring People – Documentary Review

For this documentary review, we’ll look at films that unveil inspiring people. While heavily focused on Americans and the United States’ influence, the legacies of these individuals impact and inspire people around the world even today. Some are mostly unknown while others are famous, but not truly known by most. Each documentary uses different methods for storytelling but manages to bring their subjects to life!

Cover for Unsung Heroes Documentary

Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots

Unsung Heroes reveals the stories of selfless and courageous women who have responded to the call to protect their country from the Revolution to modern day. Rare photographs and an array of interviews not only brings history to life but makes it personal. Produced by Academy Award® Winner Ron Howard, this two-part documentary brings together many well-known stories as well as secrets that time has finally revealed.

Themed chapters weave an inspiring picture of the past and present in multiple branches of the military: Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Many of the women remain unrecognized and received no benefits in return for their service. However, the narrative maintains pride and love of country throughout. Difficult topics about women in combat such as death, capture, or abuse are not ignored, but faced with open eyes.

When discussing topics that deal with culture shift and questions of proper policy or treatment, it can be easy to fall into strong opinions and negative mindsets. Yet, I didn’t sense a taint of bitterness with either the interviewees or in the storytelling. Instead these women represent feminism well. They ably met and exceeded military standards and honored their brothers in arms and sisters at home. These American women set the example for the next generation of patriots.

Watch the trailer here:

Cover of Pumping Iron Docudrama

Pumping Iron

A unique docudrama, cameras follow Arnold Schwarzenegger and several colleagues/competitors through training up to the 1975 Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition in South Africa. While Schwarzenegger has had several careers, his first, bodybuilding, made him a household name. It also propelled the obscure sport and growing fitness culture of the day. Fans of artistry as well as bodybuilding and Schwarzenegger will enjoy this film. Others who know very little about those topics may also find themselves drawn into their world, waiting till the end to discover who the winner will be.

The film feels very relaxed and natural while still well-produced. The story relies on on music only occasionally, and voiceover only introduces new settings. Interviews remained casual and add to the intimate style of filming. Viewers feel like they are interjected into the settings with each bodybuilder, watching and learning about them as people as well as competitors. Not a fast-paced, quick-cutting film, it leaves time to pick up facts about the sport and art of bodybuilding without formally explaining the mechanics. The production style contrasts the impressions of godlikeness and humanity in bodybuilding. You also see the mental games between competitors play out simultaneously alongside friendships.

I picked Pumping Iron to watch because its good ratings and it dealt with a topic about which I know very little. I finished the documentary with a better understanding of not just “how” people body build, but the “why.”  I now recognize why Schwarzenegger became the icon he did, inspiring people to fitness. Often times sports stories are told in a flashy, fast-paced, highly edited manner. Instead, the producers chose to make the story beautiful, a little gritty, and intimate.

Watch the trailer here:

Cover of Armstrong documentary


One might feel pretty familiar with the story of Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon, but this biographical documentary reveals a fuller picture of who Neil was and the inspiring people of the space industry. Viewers journey through his childhood and education, family life, traumatic events, the space race, media mayhem, and life after the Apollo missions. Through it all, Neil is revealed as a man who was uniquely qualified as the right man at the right time in history.

Released seven years after Neil’s death, the producers of Armstrong relied upon interviews with Neil’s family, friends, and colleagues. A vast amount of historical footage appeared throughout the film. It ranged from family home videos, news reports and interviews, military recordings, and NASA documentation. These archival portions were kept in their original sizes, a square surrounded by black. In contrast, modern footage, like visiting old homesteads, was filmed in wide screen. These visual cues helped keep the audio and visual story timelines working together. Additionally, the use of sound effects with b-roll or through an interviewee’s onscreen comments, brought the story to life and maintained continuity.

An excellently made documentary, it praises Neil’s quiet intellect, hard work, and steadiness, while admitting to his personal struggles. Fans of space exploration or great Americans can unite behind this inspiring man and the era he represented.

Watch the trailer here: