Movies with a Message

August 17, 2020


Too busy to read the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Here’s another way to get informed: turn out the lights, grab some popcorn and watch a few eco-documentaries.

They deal with everything from climate change to sustainable living and most end on a positive note, reminding us that innovative solutions to the world’s problems are well within our reach.

Tip of the day: Not able to splurge with Netflix, HBO or Disney + subscriptions? No Worries. Some of these films can be found on Vimeo or YouTube. Films for Action also has an online library of more than 200 environmental and social-change documentaries you can download and watch for free.

1. The Burning Season. Did you know that Indonesia has the third-highest emissions in the world, because of logging, or that deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of the world's carbon emissions? This is about an Australian entrepreneur, Dorje Sun, and his mission to set up a rainforest-protecting, orangutan-saving carbon-trading scheme.

2. The Cove. Academy Award-winner for Best Documentary in 2009, this is an eco-adventure about a stealth operation led by former Flipper trainer-turned-dolphin-activist Ric O'Barry to film (and expose) the slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins a year in a quiet cove south of Tokyo. The film’s website also shows how you can help save Japan's dolphins.

3. Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? One of the most beautiful nature documentaries ever made, with a profound message: without bees, human civilisation would collapse. Now the bees, which have been pollinating our food for more than 10,000 years, are in trouble, and beekeepers, philosophers, organic farmers and scientists all over the world are looking at ways to restore our balance with nature.

4. An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel Truth To Power. Is it really over years since former US vice president Al Gore opened the world’s eyes to the prospect of climate change and what we can do about it? The facts might be dated but this movie is just as watchable, and even more relevant than it was in 2006. We also recommend the follow-up film; An Inconvenient Sequel Truth to Power that shows just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight travelling around the world training an army of climate champions and influencing international climate policy. Cameras follow him behind the scenes – in moments both private and public, funny and poignant -- as he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.

5. No Impact Man. The inspirational story of Colin Beavan and his one-year experiment to live with no net environmental impact, not off the grid but in the middle of New York City, taking his less-than-enthused, business-writer wife and toddler daughter along for the ride. See also No Impact Project.

6. Food Inc. One of the more shocking documentaries since it touches on something close to home, in fact right on our dining tables: what we eat (though it is America-focused), how it is produced and the environmental cost of the over-mechanisation and over-corporatisation of the food industry.

7. The End of the Line. “The Inconvenient Truth about the oceans”, this is the first major film about the devastating effects of overfishing, the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna and the possibility an ocean devoid of life by 2048 if commercial fishing continues unsustainably. Another marine-themed one is Sharkwater, in which Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart tackles myths about the ocean's most maligned fish before taking to the high seas to stop the barbaric practise of shark-finning.

8. Carbon Nation. An uplifting film about practical solutions to climate change (mostly in America) such as the US Army greening its operations in Iraq, cotton farmers becoming wind farmers, the Empire State Building in New York being retrofitted to be more sustainable. You don’t have to “believe” in climate change, it says, to want clean air and water, more jobs and cheaper energy.

9. The Corporation. A witty and stylish expose on today’s corporations, including interviews with 40 corporate insiders and critics. You’ll need a long night to watch it: the cinema release is 145 minutes long and the DVD set includes eight hours of extra footage, commentary and Q&As. In a similar vein, Ethos narrated by Woody Harrelson, deals with the ways marketing and advertising promote overconsumption and warfare, and how we can use our purchasing power to save the planet.

10. 180°South. A boy’s own adventure about surfer/climber Jeff Johnson who sails to Patagonia via Easter Island and meets Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia outdoor gear, and Doug Tomkins, founder of The North Face, who travelled to Patagonia by road in 1968 and now make regular pilgrimages there. Epic footage of incredible natural places, inspirational people, uplifting music and a strong environmental message. What more could you want in an eco-movie?

Do you want to watch more eco-documentaries? We got you covered! Check out this list of new environmental movies on Netflix and HBO here.

Article by Louise Southerden