Maybe you’re a film buff with eco tendencies, maybe you want to learn about a particular environmental topic, or maybe you’ve just binge-watched every other show out there during the pandemic. Well, roll in the environmental documentary. It’s time to let your trusty screen show you the bigger picture.
Nowadays there are thousands of documentaries about climate change, aside from Netflix Cowspiracy, and if what you’re looking for isn’t on any of your usual accounts, hit up Waterbear. I cannot recommend it enough as a free film streaming platform dedicated to the future of our planet.
So from the wild to the wonderful, the eye-opening to the awe-inspiring, here are our documentary recommendations.
As a glass half full kind of company, Tomorrow speaks to our ethos as it’s focused on climate solutions rather than the usual doomsday problems. This French environmental documentary spans the globe and films individuals and grassroots initiatives that are making efforts to secure a planet for the generations to come. From organic farming, to industrial scale recycling, to alternative modes of transport, it’s an eye-opening look at how we can each do our bit and create a lifestyle that is autonomous, free and, most of all, sustainable. Full of hope with an upbeat soundtrack to boot, this makes two hours of nice watching.
This is an intimate and quietly powerful portrayal of a rural Macedonian beekeeper. The documentary started out as an exploration of one of Europe’s last wild beekeepers. Living in an abandoned village in the hills with her elderly mother, she harvests honey the traditional and sustainable way, taking care of hives in tree nooks and leaving enough honey for the bees to be nourished as well as herself. Then the film takes a turn when a family moves in next door and the story becomes a wider metaphor for the human exploitation of natural resources. With beautiful sweeping landscapes contrasting the harsh reality of impoverished life, this is a perspective of the world which feels unheard, poignant and thought-provoking.
If you never quite got round to reading Peter Wollheben’s ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ (which I highly recommend for bibliophiles), then this is the next best thing. Teaming up with the ecological scientist Suzanne Simard, the documentary examines how trees communicate with one another. Not only that, but how they have feelings, understand friendship and look after each other. It puts the forestry industry under scrutiny and explains what we can do to support tree life now that we have this groundbreaking knowledge. Maybe tree hugging isn’t so silly after all?
A terrifying environmental documentary that records the gorillas of Virunga National Park amidst Congo’s war over oil. As the New York Times puts it: ‘It documents the best and the worst of human nature’. Both the brutal behaviour caused by the exploitation of the world’s natural resources and the rangers risking their lives in the name of animal sanctuary and biodiversity. Full of suspense, horror and emotion, this is a nature documentary you won’t forget.
If clothes are your thing, this shocking look at the industry will make you think about every item you buy furthermore. Putting fast fashion and profit-based models under the microscope, it explores the devastating social and environmental effects of this failing aspect of globalisation. Contrasting sickening images of Black Friday with insights into modern slavery, it highlights the price of materials next to our never-ending materialism. Not always an easy watch, but a pertinent one.
We’ve all heard of Seaspiracy and Mission Blue; incredible educational documentaries in their own right, but on my search to find my favourite ocean-focused film, Mother of the Sea stood out. Just 8 minutes long, this short film provides something a little different. It tells us of a myth passed down to Inuit children from Greenland to Canada in order to scare them away from the melting ice and teach them the perils of disrespecting nature. Unveiling the perspective of a community affected daily by climate change and plastic pollution, there’s simultaneously a whimsical feel to this documentary as well as a dangerous pertinence.
An avant-garde style mockumentary, set in 2067, Carnage will have you laughing and looking shocked in the same frame. Riddled with dark humour, it is a creative unmasking of what previous generations of sinful meat-eating would look like to the vegan and utopian Britain of the future. It is a convincing perspective of veganism, without once being preachy. It will swing any judgments or presumptions and have you thinking towards a new era where animals roam free.
This wouldn't be a complete round-up without including the big man, David Attenborough. Without doubt, his prolific list of appearances include some of the best documentaries about nature. A Life on Our Planet is a personal account of how rapidly the world's biodiversity has diminished over the course of his lifetime and 60-year long career. It begins as an emotionally charged retrospective with brutal before and after shots, then progresses to an urgent call of how we must work with nature rather than against it to reverse the effects of climate change. His lasting message is an inspiring one, filled with imminence and the potential for a brighter future. As he says, it’s not about saving the planet, but saving ourselves.