You’ve been protesting the Adani coal mine (or any other proposed mine), Arctic drilling, fracking, are protecting the oceans from plastic or fighting to stop other environmental injustices, and now you’re exhausted and suffering activist burnout, wondering whether anything you’re doing is actually making any bit of difference at all. It’s perfectly understandable that you feel this way. Fighting the good environmental fight is mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically taxing. It’s draining swimming against the current of corporate money, uncaring politicians and the unconsciousness of the masses.
If you’re on the brink of giving up hope or just feeling helpless (or hopeless), these docos are perfect for environmental activists and sustainability advocates needing a good dose of real-life eco-warrior inspiration – minus the advocacy sugar-coating.
Earth Days is an awe-inspiring 2009 documentary film that traces the history of the modern environmental movement to its American roots. It features some groundbreaking pioneers of eco-activism, such as Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, biologist and author of ‘The Population Bomb‘ Paul Ehrlich, environmental advocate and Earth Day organiser Denis Hayes, co-author of ‘Natural Capitalism‘ and renewable energy pioneer Hunter Lovins and Former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall to name a few. It tells how Earth Day came to be, through rarely-seen archived films and first-person accounts.
The story begins at the time of post-war industrialisation which gave rise to our culture of materialism, followed by the publication of Rachel Carson’s bestseller ‘Silent Spring‘ in the early 60s, explores challenges with politicians and corporate foes, and showcases environmental accomplishments and failings. This is a must-see film for a comprehensive look at what it really took to get the world to ‘think green’ and learn more about the cast of characters that lay the foundations of the green movement.
You can watch the film on YouTube here:
A Fierce Green Battle: The Battle For a Living Planet
A Fierce Green Battle is a two-hour documentary film that takes a comprehensive look at the global environmental movement, from it grassroots conservation beginnings to today’s climate change crisis. It covers the stories of ecology visionaries such as naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club John Muir, as well as David Brower, conservationist and uncompromising founder of Friends of the Earth, and showcases important environmental milestones such as the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. It also provides details on the key hard-fought battles throughout the movement, including the protestation of building dams near the Grand Canyon, Lois Gibbs and Love Canal residents’ struggle against 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals, Greenpeace’s fight to save the whales, the Indigenous battle to protect the Amazon rainforest and much more.
Directed by Mark Kitchell, Academy Award-nominated director of Berkeley in the Sixties, and narrated by Robert Redford, Ashley Judd and Meryl Streep to name a few, this 2012 film is popular amongst environmental organisations and eco-activists for its good grasp of eco history. Watch the film and you’ll get to appreciate the fearless and courageous individuals and groups that have got the environmental movement to where it is today.
You can watch the trailer below or rent the film on Amazon here.
How to Change the World
This engrossing documentary film tells the origin story of Greenpeace through a mix of narration, archived footage and interviews with its founding members. How to Change the World traces the organisation’s roots in the early 70s to a counterculture group of friends in Vancouver, British Columbia – who sailed into open seas to protest against Nixon’s nuclear tests in Amchitka. Their story made headline news across the globe and the group succeeded in the battle to stop the government from testing in the Aleutian Islands. The group, led by journalist and Greenpeace’s first president, Bob Hunter, learned the power of images to help stir emotions and win public support for their environmental campaigns. Greenpeace then turned their sights to whaling.
While some find this documentary disappointing in its focus of infighting rather than on the organisation’s many achievements, I felt it showed a side of environmental advocacy that we rarely see – how difficult it is to do ‘good’ as a collective in the face of personality differences, clashes of opinions and individuals’ egos, but that ‘good’ can still prevail even when tensions are high. It’s in this film that I was elated to learn that one of the founding members, Paul Watson, later went on to form one of my favourite direct-action ocean advocacy groups, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. If you’re keen to understand what it takes to really build an environmental movement, this doco is essential viewing.
Watch the trailer below or click through to YouTube to make a purchase if you’d like to watch the entire film (it’s about the cost of a cup of coffee – cheap!)
Disobedience is a 2016 documentary film produced by activist organisation 350.org that focusses on the battle to keep fossil fuels in the ground. It shares the David versus Goliath tale of social justice and eco-crusaders across the globe using the weapon of civil disobedience in their quest to save the planet and communities, against corporate greed and government inaction. It begins with the Paris Agreement and the organisation’s disappointment in the lack of clear political strategy and climate action. So 350.org uses the medium of film to focus on the individuals and groups on the frontline, inspiring the world through direct action and doing what the politicians aren’t: passionately protesting and using civil disobedience – blocking activity with their human bodies – to stop major fossil fuel projects in countries like the Philippines, Canada, Germany and the United States. It interviews eco-activists such as journalist and author of ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate‘ Naomi Klein, and Lidy Nacpil of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. If you’re keen to see an uplifting doco film about ordinary citizens advocating to preserve their environment for the sake of their families and communities, this 41-minute film is good viewing.
Now your turn: What are some of your favourite environmental advocacy films and docos? Feel free to share them below.
Loved this post? You’ll probably love this one too: Must-See Green Films: 8 of the Best Environmental Documentaries