It’s Climate Week, and protests and political promises are feeling more poignant than ever. The world has faced mounting tragedies from natural disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis. We’re facing increased risks from infrastructure collapses, from power grids to
There is so much to concern ourselves with that it’s hard to know where to begin, but it never hurt to start by learning. The genre of environmentalist documentary filmmaking has truly blossomed in the 21st century, and the following documentaries offer information, calls to action, and even a few solutions.
Chasing Coral documents the tireless efforts of a team of divers, photographers and scientists to capture and explore the crisis that the world’s coral reefs are facing. Corals are an integral part of many underwater ecosystems, but rising temperatures brought on by climate change has led to the phenomenon of “coral bleaching,” which has damaged a woeful amount of the planet’s coral. Chasing Coral streams on Netflix.
For anyone thinking of making the environmentally advantageous transition to vegetarianism or veganism, Gunda may be the last push you need. The experimental documentary follows a pig and her fellow farm animals as they go about their lives, putting the viewer literally eye-level with the animals. While some gruesome details about life on a farm sneak into the film, it encourages us to empathize with these creatures. Gunda is streaming on Hulu.
Taking place in the Brazilian Amazon, last year’s The Territory looks at the ongoing conflict between the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people and the farmers who are determined to take their protected land. The decimation of the Amazon Rainforest has long been a major environmental issue, but few documentaries have been able to capture the on-the-ground conflict of deforestation quite like this. The Territory is streaming on Disney Plus.
The Ivory Game
Focusing on the shadowy global ivory trade, The Ivory Game traverses countries and continents to investigate the world’s booming ivory business. Elephant population numbers have dwindled dramatically in the past century, and the exploitative trade is to blame. Aided by a Chinese journalist determined to expose the industry and a Zambian intelligence officer, among others, the documentary shows everything from raids targeting major poachers to the ease of in-store ivory purchases. The Ivory Game streams on Netflix.
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste
For a bit of a palate cleanser, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste teaches viewers how to handle the ever-growing problem of food waste. Anthony Bourdain leads a cast of world class chefs who seek to show audiences how to transform their leftovers, tackling the issue of our over-consumption (or, rather, our lack of consumption). Wasted! The Story of Food Waste is available to stream on Hulu.
All That Breathes
All That Breathes was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature at this past year’s Oscars ceremony, and it’s a powerful look at the contemporary relationship between humans and nature. The film follows brothers Saud and Nadeem, who are determined to look after New Delhi’s plummeting black kite population. While the birds once soared the skies, the city’s air pollution is killing them slowly. All That Breathes is streaming on Max.
A powerful tale that makes the case for respecting the planet in many forms, Honeyland focuses primarily on a humble beekeeper in North Macedonia. Her name is Hatidže, and she looks after her mother and her colony of bees in a remote village, living on and with the land. An affinity for sustainability is not shared by all in her village, though, as a traveling farmer disrupts the natural balance. Honeyland streams on Max.
This documentary centers on the many conflicts surrounding (and within) the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Virunga follows park rangers who look after their sprawling natural charge amidst a violent political conflict and interest from a British oil company. Its human subjects put their lives on the line to safeguard the park, making for a gripping, urgent film about protecting the environment. Virunga is streaming on Netflix.
Wide-ranging and devastating, Racing Extinction focuses on the many ways in which human beings have made the world inhospitable for many of our fellow creatures. The documentary discusses the idea of the Anthropocene Extinction (essentially a man-made mass extinction), touching on everything from the consequences of contemporary farming to the illegal wildlife trade. It’s upsetting, but it’s a vital watch. Racing Extinction is available to stream on Hulu.
An Inconvenient Truth
Can any list of environmental documentaries not include Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth? The watershed 2006 doc is close to two decades old, but it remains as relevant and important as ever. Gore has been a climate-focused politician since the ‘80s, and he puts his knowledge and experience to good use in the film (and its 2017 sequel). Both An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power are streaming on PlutoTV.
What to Watch is a regular endorsement of movies and TV worth your streaming time.