12 Documentaries on art, food and fashion to stream on a hot summer day

It's not that we're wishing for snow, or even that we're wishing for fall, but when a heatwave comes along and has us firmly in its grip, the sheer thought of even being outdoors is simply too much. There are those days when it's simply too hot to sit by the pool, on the beach or to be physically active outdoors. When this happens there's nothing more appealing than cranking up the air conditioning, curling up with a blanket, some popcorn and turning on the ol' television set. I've watched every bingeable series there is that appeals to me (Amazon Prime, Netflix and even my cable company's On Demand). Wanting something meaty that I can sink my teeth into, something heartier than a chick-flick, I decided one afternoon last summer to check out the available documentaries - not those of the National Geographic sort, but if those are your cup of tea, go ahead and indulge! A documentary is a live memoir, if you will, and I happen to love memoirs and autobiographies. I love that these accounts are factual, informative and entertaining. Those more personal in nature are my favorites. I always feel as though I've come away having learned something new and having enjoyed myself. I do have a few favorites and I do hope you'll share yours!

All are available on Amazon to stream, rent or purchase.


1. For Grace, Chef Curtis Duffy

Curtis Duffy, one of America's top chefs, is building his dream restaurant despite the nightmarish state of his personal life. The laser focus on his cooking career that won him two Michelin stars also cost him his marriage and two young daughters, but his ambition is still to make his new Chicago restaurant, Grace, the best in the country. The story pulls you in from the moment you tune in. A lost boy finds his. You'll laugh - you'll cry. You'll cheer him on. The cinematography is sensational. 


2. Spinning Plates

Spinning Plates is an award winning documentary about three extraordinary restaurants and the incredible people who bring them to life. A world-renowned chef competes for the ultimate restaurant prize in Chicago, while privately battling a life-threatening illness. A 150-year-old restaurant in Iowa is still standing only because of an unbreakable bond with the community, and a fledgling Mexican restaurant in Tucson struggles as its owners risk everything to survive and provide for their young daughter. These unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to reveal how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another.



3. Step up to the plate

In 2009, three-Michelin-star French chef Michel Bras decides to hand over his legendary restaurant to his son Sébastien. Having worked with his father for 15 years, Sébastien is ready. But it’s not easy to take over the family business when your father is a world-renowned master in his field. Filmed in the gorgeous Aubrac region in the South of France, home to the Bras family for generations, “Step Up To The Plate” reveals the secrets behind their most extraordinary dishes while observing one of the most closely watched transitions in haute cuisine.  A magnificent documentary about family, tradition, and traditions passed from one generation to the next, Step up to the Plate is about great cuisine. 


4. Iris

A colorful documentary on the the quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed Iris Apfel - then 93. Many don't know that she was initially discovered by the legendary Bill Cunningham. This is a story about a creative free spirit who continues to inspire young and old alike. IRIS is portrayed for her fashion, art and serves to remind us that dressing and life is just an experiment. Despite the abundance of glamour in her current life, she is, in many ways, the middle-class girl from Queens who grew up during the Great Depression. This film was directed by Albert Mayes who was brought to the spotlight for his Grey Gardens. 


5. Bill Cunningham New York

The legendary Bill Cunningham was a mainstay of the New York Times about 40 years. The incurable and eccentric chronicler of fashion, tirelessly snapped photos and documented both celebrity and the ordinary New Yorkers alike as he spotted them on the street in outfits he thought to be unique and trendsetting. The original Street Photographer, Bill Cunningham was unmistakable in his blue jacket, camera and bicycle he rode around town on. Ironically, it was the bicycle that brought him to the New York Times. The former street beat reporter was hit by a truck on his bicycle while working for the New York Post. He went to the New York Times for a desk job and health insurance. This incredible profile features interviews with many of his friends and subjects including Tom Wolfe, David Rockefeller and Vogue magazine's Anna Wintour.


6. Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf's

Scatter my Ashes over Bergdorf's is an unforgettable documentary in commemoration of the internationally renowned luxury specialty store’s 111th anniversary. Comprised of vignettes, and filled with wonderful personal remembrances, audiences are given a rarified chance to peek behind the backroom doors and into the reality of the fascinating inner workings and fabulous untold stories from the iconic store. Audiences will hear from the fashion idols, get rare glimpses into magical parties, view the the windows, the women, the buyers and shoppers all who desire to outfitted by the legendary store. There is only one Bergdorf's.


7. Dior and I

Starring Grace Coddington, the subtitled Dior and I brings the viewer inside the storied world of the Christian Dior fashion house with a privileged, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Raf Simons' first haute couture collection as its new artistic director.


8. The September Issue

As audiences wonder whether the Devil really does wear Prada, they are treated to an intimate, and surprising behind-the-scenes look at VOGUE’S legendary editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team, showing us how they pull together The September Issue. Grace Coddington appears again, as the film takes a look at the longtime relationship between the famous redhead and Anna. We are privy to see what it takes to remain at the top of the fashion field game. The documentary promises to deliver a captivating peek into the world of high fashion that and reveals it to be one that's as fun and fast-paced as it seems.


9. Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict

The collector, free-spirit and one of a kind, Peggy Guggenheim fought through personal tragedy to build one of the world's most important collections of modern art, now enshrined in her famous Venetian palazzo. Filled with interviews from The film is a compendium of famous 20th century painting and sculpture mixed with the wild and iconoclastic life of one of the most powerful women in the history of the art world. Ok, I confess to cheating just slightly here. While the DVD is available in the UK it is not yet here. But you'll want to bookmark this so that you can watch it in the States and Canada as soon as it becomes available. Or you could purchase the autobiography while you wait. 


 10. Dominick Dunne: After the party

Best-selling author and chronicler of the rich and famous, Dominick Dunne was one of the world's leading journalists and society commentators. Here we learn how the personal tragedies in his life influenced his writing, story telling and journalism.  


11. The First Monday in May: Behind the scenes of the Met Gala Ball 

The First Monday in May follows the creation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's most attended fashion exhibition in history, "China: Through The Looking Glass," an exploration of Chinese-inspired Western fashions by Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi captures the collision of high fashion and celebrity at the Met Gala, one of the biggest global fashion events chaired every year by Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. Featuring a cast of renowned artists in many fields including Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano, and Rihanna to name a few, the documentary dives into the debate about whether fashion should be viewed as art.


12. Grey Gardens

This documentary features Big and Little Edie Beale, once members of high society, the  mother and daughter, cousins of Jackie O, become reclusive together as they live amid the decay and disorder of their derelict East Hampton home. Once wealthy, they older Edie lost her fortune after divorce. Albert and David Maysles provide and intimate and somewhat provocative glimpse into their ramshackle world. Grey Gardens quickly became a cult classic and established Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher queen.