8 Best Environmental Documentaries You Need to See: The Power of Film

With climate change (and the resulting environmental disasters) at the forefront of our minds now more than ever, there is no better time to watch some of the best ecological documentaries.

Whether you’re looking to educate yourself on environmental issues or want to be entertained, environmental documentaries can seriously improve how you see the world.

Animal documentaries

The Legacy and Influence of Film in Environmental Advocacy

Film, as a medium, possesses a unique ability to shape our perspectives and elicit powerful emotions. Among the plethora of genres, environmental documentaries stand out as a beacon of enlightenment. These environmental documentaries pull back the curtains on global crises and bring to the forefront the pressing issues that demand our immediate attention.

The Titans of Environmental Advocacy through Film

When we talk about champions for the environment who have employed environmental documentaries as a vehicle of awareness, two names immediately come to mind – Sir David Attenborough and Leonardo DiCaprio. Sir David Attenborough, a stalwart in the world of environmental documentaries, has given voice to the wonders of our planet through series like “Planet Earth”.

Produced by the BBC and often available on streaming platforms like Amazon Prime, these environmental documentaries marry stunning visuals with Attenborough’s iconic narration, spotlighting the beauty and fragility of our world.

Leonardo DiCaprio, the Hollywood A-lister, has shown his commitment to environmental documentaries. Through films like “The 11th Hour” and his collaboration with National Geographic for “Before the Flood”, environmental documentaries have played a pivotal role in amplifying his messages on climate change.

Furthermore, the younger generation is not far behind. Activists like Greta Thunberg, whose passionate speeches have been encapsulated in environmental documentaries, serve as a rallying call for action against the climate crisis.

Exploring the Depths: Oceans in Focus

The health of our marine life is a recurring theme in many environmental documentaries. “Plastic Ocean” delves into the alarming realm of plastic pollution, elucidating the devastating impact of human consumption patterns on marine ecosystems. Similarly, “Chasing Coral” is another significant addition to the catalogue of environmental documentaries, depicting the declining health of coral reefs and pointing to broader environmental issues.

The Underbelly of Environmental Challenges

While some environmental documentaries spotlight the majestic beauty of the natural world, others shed light on the darker aspects of human activity. “An Inconvenient Truth”, presented by Al Gore, was groundbreaking in its time, and it’s one of the environmental documentaries that ignited widespread discourse on the impending climate crisis.

“Ivory Game” and “Racing Extinction” are other crucial additions to the roster of environmental documentaries. They illuminate issues such as wildlife poaching and the rapid decline of various species, reminding us of the intricate web of life on Earth and our responsibility toward it.

The Changing Tide: New Faces and New Films

The world of environmental documentaries is not just limited to the old guard. New faces, like Zac Efron, have also emerged. His journey in the series “Down to Earth with Zac Efron” showcases global sustainability efforts. It’s an educational odyssey, revealing innovative approaches to age-old environmental issues.

“Brave Blue World” stands out among environmental documentaries as it reimagines the narrative around water scarcity, emphasizing solutions and innovation rather than doom and gloom. The documentary underscores that with determination, we can indeed steer our planet toward a more sustainable future.

Marking Moments: Earth Day and Environmental Documentaries

One cannot discuss environmental films without mentioning Earth Day, an annual event promoting environmental protection. Every year, platforms like National Geographic and Amazon Prime curate a list of poignant environmental documentaries to mark this significant day. These environmental documentaries play an integral role in shaping public opinion and spurring individual and collective action.

Environmental documentaries, be they from revered figures like David Attenborough or contemporary voices like Leonardo DiCaprio, have a pivotal role in our understanding of the world. They not only unveil the depth of environmental issues but also inspire hope, innovation, and a call to action. As we find ourselves at the crossroads of climate challenges, these films serve as both a mirror and a map, guiding us towards a more sustainable and hopeful future.

8 Best Environmental Documentaries To Watch 

1. Seaspiracy by Ali Tabrizi

Seaspiracy by Ali Tabrizi stands out among environmental documentaries as it highlights how humans destroy the environment through overfishing and ocean pollution.

Like many environmental documentaries, it aims to shed light on pressing issues, but the focus here is particularly on the marine ecosystem. Although humans have been exploiting the oceans for hundreds of years, many remain unaware of the extensive damage they inflict.

As you delve into this film, typical of impactful environmental documentaries, expect to be confronted with eye-opening facts and statistics on how humans have mistreated our oceans. It offers a poignant criticism of current practices, from unsustainable fishing and plastic dumping to the use of cruel slavery to ensure a steady supply of cheap seafood.

2. Cowspiracy by Kip Andersen

Cowspiracy highlights the environmental impact of animal agriculture. The film’s 85-minute runtime highlights how animals are raised for meat consumption and the effects of our eating habits on global warming and climate change. The film features interviews with leading experts, environmentalists, and political figures.

This documentary shows the truth, however unpleasant it may be. Without a shift in animal eating and the animal agribusiness sector, individual attempts to combat climate change won’t even put a dent.

3. Blackfish by Gabriella Cowperthwaite

This tells the story of the killer whale Tilikum who was kept in captivity at Seaworld.

The film shows how distressing it is to keep wild animals in captivity, such as dolphins. Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s film depicts these creatures’ magnificence and the confinement’s misery. While science and statistics aren’t the primary focus, Blackfish convincingly shows how these creatures are harmed emotionally and physically while held captive.

4. Honeyland by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov

It’s unusual for a film to be nominated in two categories at the Academy Awards: Best Documentary and Best International Feature.

Honeyland, a standout in the realm of environmental documentaries, was nominated and won at the 2020 Academy Awards. This heartwarming tale of beekeepers in North Macedonia and the urgent message of conservation continues to resonate, maintaining its immense popularity.

Bees have been one of the most important creatures on the planet since ancient times, as they are responsible for pollinating many crops, plants, and trees. This documentary follows the story of beekeepers in North Macedonia and the struggle to protect their bees amid an economic crisis and polluted environment.

5. Generation on Fire by the Sunrise Movement

The Green New Deal, highlighted in environmental documentaries, aims to combat climate change and boost the economy. The Sunrise Movement’s documentary, “Generation on Fire,” showcases young activists lobbying the U.S. government for a Civilian Climate Corps. This concise film is perfect for discussions on youthful climate activism and is ideal for events with emerging changemakers.

6. The River by Pare Lorentz

The River is a documentary film on river cleanup along the Mississippi River directed by Pare Lorenz to support FDR’s New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The documentary by Lorenz is another short film that provides a glimpse into the early stages of the environmental movement.

This film may appear dry by today’s standards, but the writing was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature. In addition, the River brings to light America’s history of environmental destruction, serving as a sharp reminder of the actions that must be taken now.

7. The Plastic Problem 

The Plastic Problem from PBS NewsHour addresses the pervasive problem of plastic in the modern world. The substance is everywhere, causing severe health problems for humans and significantly influencing wildlife.

This documentary will educate viewers on the specific effects of plastic and how to limit their plastic consumption. This short, sweet, instructive documentary covers an essential topic in less than an hour.

8. The River and the Wall by Ben Masters

Among environmental documentaries, “The River and the Wall” stands out as a poignant piece. This documentary delves into the intricacies of the Rio Grande River, where it acts as a boundary between the United States and its southern neighbor, and the proposed wall that was championed by a former US politician to be constructed along the Mexican border.

This environmental documentary not only highlights the humanitarian concerns but also views the issue through the lens of environmental repercussions. It showcases how constructing a border barrier could disrupt the fragile ecosystems of the Rio Grande and impact the lives of the people residing along the border.

Author’s Note

After watching several documentaries about environmental issues, such as global warming, melting polar ice caps, and deforestation, many people now realize that the environment desperately needs help, requiring immediate action. 

No matter what movie a person chooses to watch, these documentaries inspire you to act in some way or another to help the environment.

Related: Environmental Organizations, Environmental Movies, Environmental Activists

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