5 Must-Watch Documentaries About the Struggles of Artists


The life and struggle of an artist can sometimes be very apparent, such as the bizarre public life led by Andy Kaufman or Charlie Sheen. Other times, however, it can be a complete secret, like that of Robin Williams or Egypt’s Salah Jahin. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that, more often than not, we are usually oblivious to the extent of an artist’s struggle. These documentaries shed light on five artists and their lives beyond their art, allowing us to explore their personalities like never before.

1. Searching for Sugarman, (2012)

Image from Kino Sõprus

This documentary follows the seeming rise and fall of an American folk musician by the name of Rodriguez. This bizarre story tells the tale of an obscure artist who seems to have disappeared under unknown circumstances and his effect on South-African politics; namely how his songs became an anthem for the movement that would end the subjugation of the black majority by the white minority. The story is one of humanity, mystery and humility.

2. What Happened, Miss Simone?, (2015)

Image from Politics & Fashion

Nina Simone has been a giant of the 20th Century music industry, and her music still lives on until today. This icon of a woman is not just the voice behind famous renditions of Sinnerman and Feeling Good, she was also a powerful, misunderstood woman. A woman who dared to stand up for what she believed in despite the fact that it cost her a lot. As you watch this documentary and navigate this woman’s life, you will at times be confused, others angry, but ultimately, you will end the film with a newfound respect and understanding of Nina Simone, as both an artist and a human being.

3. Salinger, (2013)

Image from The Athena Cinema

The 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye is perhaps one of the most famous novels to this day. Originally penned for adults, it has become a staple of adolescence due to the existing theme of alienation that persists throughout. The man behind the novel is J. D. Salinger, a recluse of a man who ultimately would not make public appearances until his death. This mysterious story attempts to piece together elements of his life, such as his adolescence and military experience which both affected his writing, as well as his withdrawal from society after several people cited his book as the motivation behind their actions in some form or another, including John Hinckley Jr., who carried out an attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon.

4. I Am Heath Ledger, (2017)

Image from Daily Mail

The star of everything from 10 Things I Hate About You and Brokeback Mountain to The Dark Knight and many other acclaimed films, Heath Ledger’s fans were heartbroken when he died at the young age of 28, only a few months before being awarded a posthumous Oscar for his role as the joker in The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, most people think they know what happened to him and who he was. This documentary takes you deep inside the life of Heath Ledger in a way that is hauntingly beautiful, with a lot of footage actually taken by Ledger himself on his personal camcorder. The story is not of his death, rather, it is a celebration of the extraordinary life that he led.

5. Finding Vivian Maier, (2013)

Image from The New York Times

Many will not have heard of Vivian Maier in the same way that they have not heard about some of the other people in the above documentaries. That was originally by design, because Maier did not share her life with anyone. This Oscar nominated documentary attempts to puzzle together the life of this seemingly docile Chicago nanny, who has now become an international sensation due to her photography and documentation over the years. She is hailed as a genius in the field and exhibitions of her work have begun popping up all over the world. But who is she? The answer to that is much more interesting and complicated than you’d think.

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