Environmental documentaries: 11 must-see eco-films
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, search for environmental documentaries is at breakout. Why? Well, simply, because as the recent UN IPCC report has proven, we’re facing a worse climate crisis than ever before and change must be made to save planet earth.
Which is where environmental documentaries come in. Many filmmakers have taken it upon themselves to highlight just how dire the current climate situation is – and no, we’re not just talking about David Attenborough.
We’ve asked author and founder of the Transition movement Rob Hopkins to share his top recommendations for eco-documentaries to inspire you to think bigger, do better, and do your bit for the planet more.
After all, every little really does help.
11 environmental documentaries to add to your ‘to watch’ list
Not sure where to start? “With stories of environmental disaster so frequently in the media, it’s easy to feel disheartened,” Hopkins explains.
“It’s crucial that you don’t lose hope – our ability to be imaginative about the future is entirely dependent on the amount of exposure we have had to creative ideas, audacious activism, brilliant campaigning, and real, solid examples on the ground,” he goes on.
Like? Environmental documentaries, for a start. “Good films about the environment may shock us, but they can also take our hand and walk us into the future that is still possible – just,” the activist shares. “They can spark our imaginations to create positive changes to our lives that benefit the environment.”
Keep scrolling for Hopkin’s top picks of the best environmental documentaries to watch now or bookmark for later.
1. We the Power – The Future of Energy is Community-Owned
Watch because: It’s one of the newest documentaries focused on climate change. “The latest film from Patagonia highlights the citizen-led community-energy movement making waves across Europe,” says Hopkins.
“The film follows those pioneering community energy as they break down legislative barriers and take power back from big energy companies to put it in the hands of locals. It’s inspiring watch that shows the true power of community action and how community energy has the power to benefit the environment, and build healthier, financially stable communities,” he shares.
Available on: YouTube.
2. An Inconvenient Truth
Watch because: It highlights the need for everyone to make small changes. “Al Gore’s famous film on global warming had a really big impact on me,” Hopkins shares.
“Indeed, it was in the moment at the end, when all the glaciers are melting, that my wife and I decided to stop flying, a decision I haven’t regretted for a moment.”
3. Demain (Tomorrow)
Watch because: This was one of the first environmental documentaries to focus on climate solutions, rather than problems. “Released back in 2015, this was the first sustainability film that really focused on climate solutions so completely,” he explains.
“Its success took everyone by surprise. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that I am in this film. It remains a powerful reminder of the world we need to build.”
Available on: Amazon Prime to rent.
4. Faces Places
Watch because: It’s highly emotive and a powerful comment on humanity. “This beautiful French film is about legendary film maker Agnes Varda and the street artist JR,” shares Hopkins.
“It talks so beautifully and movingly about the transformative and radical power of art, ageing, and humanity,” he explains. “It’s really about service to people and the planet being an art, and it made me cry several times.”
“Charming, deeply uplifting and as radical as you can let it be.”
5. In Grave Danger of Falling Food
Watch because: This was one of the first documentaries that challenged the system. “Made in the eighties for Australian TV, this documentary was the world’s first taste of permaculture – an approach to land management and philosophy that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems – and of its co-originator Bill Mollison,” he explains.
“It’s irreverent, anarchic, and filled with a can-do spirit which really changed my life.” But be warned: you will never look at lawns in the same way again, Hopkins warns.
Available on: YouTube.
6. The Man Who Planted Trees
Watch because: You need convincing that one person can change the world single-handedly. “Frédéric Back’s incredible animation of Jean Giono’s classic book is about one shepherd’s mission to reforest a barren valley,” Hopkins shares.
Available on: Vimeo.
7. Captain Fantastic
Watch because: It’s a beautiful feature film, according to the activist. “It features Viggo Mortensen as a father raising his kids in the forest, home-schooling them in a completely immersive way. It explores fascinating themes around nature, education, imagination, and how really pure principles sit alongside modern society – it’s beautiful.”
8. Garbage Warrior
Watch because: It’s imaginative and makes you think outside the box. “It’s a wonderful film about Michael Reynolds, the brains behind the concept of Earthship, which are homes built with natural resources, old car tyres and junk,” shares Hopkins.
“He’s a complex, driven and creative man who has imagined something incredible – a maverick who inspires people by doing. The film really helps you to reimagine what shelter could be,” he goes on.
Available on: On Thought Maybe, an independent, not-for-profit project that aims to inspire action on issues surrounding modern society and industrial civilisation, for free.
9. The Age of Stupid
Watch because: It’ll give you a glimpse into the future – if things don’t change. “This seminal film is set in 2055, where the world has been devastated by the effects of climate change. It still stands the test of time today – it’s really powerful,” Hopkins says.
“If only people had really listened when it was first released.”
10. The Big Short
Watch because: It helps even those who aren’t financially minded to understand global finance. “The Big Short is an amazing film that helps even the most economics-illiterate of us to understand how global finance works and why the 2008 financial crash happened,” he explains.
“It’s hilarious, outrageous and terrifying, and a hugely enjoyable film that also provides a massive education. It’s really important to understand how global finance is being run, and this is the best place to start.”
11. Youth Unstoppable
Watch because: Not a pick of Hopkins, but an MC entry, to round off the list. Documenting the rise of the youth climate movement, WaterBear – the free streaming-for-impact platform dedicated to the future of our planet – has just released its first original feature documentary, Youth Unstoppable.
Directed and narrated by Canadian filmmaker and climate activist Slater Jewell-Kemker, Youth Unstoppable follows her growing from a grassroots teenager to eco-activist adult, documenting her journey over the course of twelve years and nine different countries. The aim? Simple: to reignite the energy of the climate change movement and unite youth around the world in combating the biggest challenge humanity faces.
Jewell-Kemker said: “We need stories to help us adapt and rethink our relationships to each other and the planet as we move forward in a world forever changed by the climate crisis. After twelve years of documenting the global youth climate movement, I’m excited to be bringing the film to a wider audience with the help of WaterBear, a platform that understands this need for connection.”
Available on: WaterBear.