Below is a list of films and documentaries that I have viewed and recommend. I’ll add to the list as I read more and add comments as needed. You may be able to find these at your local library, so always check there first, before purchasing.
Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction
Narrated by Dr. Sylvia Earle
This film focuses on sea turtle stranding on Cape Cod, a seasonal event when cold-stunned turtles wash ashore in near-death condition. The number of turtles in this event increases annually and is likely caused by global warming. Most of these sea turtles are Kemp’s Ridley, which are the most endangered sea turtle. The documentary tells the larger history of the Kemp’s Ridley and how climate change, the BP oil spill, and other human activities are endangering these beautiful and essential creatures. Available on Hoopla and Amazon. See the films’ website for the trailer and more information.
A Plastic Ocean
Starring Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter
This is a beautiful film, at times shocking, but fully informative on the issues of ocean plastic. Craig Leeson is a filmmaker and Tanya Street is a world record freediver. They travel the globe investigating and interviewing people about plastic pollution in the ocean. They expose the shocking impact that plastic is having on human health, marine life, and ecosystems. Please watch this film!
This is an excellent and funny documentary about the perils of plastic. The film is titled based on plastic bags but it delves far beyond into many types of plastic. Please see my full review of this film!
The Story of Plastic
This film is my favorite about plastic so far! “Different from every other plastic documentary you’ve seen, THE STORY OF PLASTIC presents a cohesive timeline of how we got to our current global plastic pollution crisis & how the oil and gas industry has successfully manipulated the narrative around it.”
Before The Flood
This National Geographic film “features Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, traveling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand. He goes on expeditions with scientists uncovering the reality of climate change and meets with political leaders fighting against inaction. He also discovers a calculated disinformation campaign orchestrated by powerful special interests working to confuse the public about the urgency of the growing climate crisis. With unprecedented access to thought leaders around the world, DiCaprio searches for hope in a rising tide of catastrophic news.” This description came from the film’s website, and it is one of my favorite films about climate change. It is sad at times, but DiCaprio tries to show how we can push for change, which we must do immediately. This film is beautiful, well-researched, and thoughtfully produced.
No Impact Man
This documentary shows how one family strives to have zero environmental impact for one year while living, working, and raising a family in New York City. The book is fantastic too!
This is a great children’s movie that adults will enjoy watching too. There are messages of hope and love mixed with warnings about our pollution habits. Read my full review!
Extinction: The Facts
Presented by Sir David Attenborough
This documentary was moving and devastating at times, but extremely well done and informative. From PBS’s film page: “The huge variety of life on earth, known as biodiversity, is being lost at a rate never seen before in human history. This means 1 million species are at risk of extinction. This is a crisis not just for the natural world but for every one of us. It threatens food and water security, undermines our ability to control our climate and even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases.” I highly recommend this film.
This documentary, narrated and executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres, follows conservationists working to save seven different endangered species from the brink of extinction. The film gave me a lot of hope because it shows many scientists and conservationists working hard to preserve every species around the world. Lots of people care!
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
Sir David Attenborough recounts his life, career, and adventures in the wild while filming. This Netflix film captures the evolutionary history of life on Earth, the loss of wild places, and offers a vision for the future. The film is largely based on Attenborough’s book of the same title. Read this New York Times review about the film.
This film was moving and emotional, as well as beautiful with its high-quality filmography. From the film’s website: “Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.” I feel this is a must-watch for anyone researching or learning about the state of coral reefs everywhere.
This is a fascinating documentary film about problems and the possibilities surrounding sustainability. It covers topics including agriculture, economics, energy, and education. “It offers constructive solutions to act on a local level to make a difference on a global level.”
The Story of Stuff Project
This short documentary is 10 years old but still as relevant today as it was then. It is informative and engaging and shareable! The Story of Stuff Project continues to release short documentaries about the waste crisis.
Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things
Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark
This three-part documentary series is about the Photo Ark, a project created by Joel Sartore to photo-document the Earth’s creatures before we lose them to extinction. Read my post about Joel Sartore.
Secrets of the Whales
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, this series was exquisitely and beautifully filmed over 3 years by National Geographic. The executive producer was James Cameron, who is briefly interviewed at the end of each part. National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry visited 24 locations to learn and teach us about 5 different species of whales. Whales exhibit a range of emotions including love, compassion, and grief. They are more like us than we know, and there’s still much to learn about them. This is the best series available about whales in the wild, and I can’t say enough good things about it!
Blue Planet I
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough
Blue Planet II
Narrated by Sir David Attenborough
This second series addressed plastic pollution in such an articulate way that it caused a reaction from consumers. Well done, BBC and Sir David Attenborough!
Director Eli Roth; Executive Producer Leonardo DiCaprio
Though they did not mention Rob Stewart in the film, I feel like it builds upon Stewart’s work. Director Eli Roth explores shark finning and the fishing industry in depth. The fishing industry kills around 100 million sharks per day for their fins but also for sale as “fish” under other names including Catfish, Dogfish, Whitefish, Rock Salmon, and many others.1 Eli Roth wrote, “Sharks are the doctors of the ocean. They eat the sick and dying fish. Without these APEX predators to maintain, balance, the ocean will fall into anarchy and affect us all.”2 This film is expertly edited with beautiful filmography and it is a must see!
Directed by Rob Stewart
Rob Stewart, a biologist and photographer, loved sharks and wanted to show people how important and how harmless they are to people. He debunked stereotypes and media depictions of sharks. But he also exposed the shark finning industry that is killing 150 million sharks per year, throwing our oceans out of balance. From sharkwater.com: This “film brought the devastating issue of shark finning used in shark fin soup to the world stage. His multi-award-winning film changed laws and public policy worldwide, created hundreds of conservation groups. Today more than 90 countries have banned shark finning or the trade of shark products. Even so, Stewart finds sharks are still being fished to extinction.”
Directed by Rob Stewart
This sequel is beautiful, informative, sad, and even brutal at times. I enjoyed it more than Sharkwater, probably because of my deep respect for Stewart and his work in his first film. He was a true advocate and conservationist. Though his first film spawned laws and policies across the world in relation to shark-fishing and shark-finning, the practice continues as it is a multi-billion-dollar industry. From sharkwater.com: This film “is a thrilling and inspiring action-packed journey that follows filmmaker Rob Stewart as he exposes the massive illegal shark fin industry and the political corruption behind it — a conspiracy that is leading to the extinction of sharks.” Sadly, Stewart died while diving off of the Florida Keys while making this film, under somewhat suspicious circumstances.
Directed by Rob Stewart
This film, released as a follow-up to Sharkwater, first focused on ocean acidification but transitioned to the climate change crisis. From the film’s website: “Discovering that it’s not just sharks that are in jeopardy – but us – Stewart looks to the evolution of life and past revolutions in order to uncover the secrets necessary to save our world. Joining the activists and youth fighting to save their future, Stewart’s journey of hope is startling, beautiful and provocative, revealing this crisis as an opportunity for everyone to become a hero.” Stewart featured a lot of beautiful footage of wildlife, both on land and in the ocean. This has a great message and is worth watching and sharing!
Jane Goodall: The Hope
This film focuses on Dr. Jane Goodall’s transformation from a scientist to an activist and global speaker. She is determined to spread hope especially through young people and indigenous populations, believing that if you show people why they should care, they will. Her message to everyone is that one person does make a difference, even if it’s small, so never be hopeless. We can all bring forth change. This film inspired me so much that it brought me to tears.
This National Geographic film features exclusive, restored footage of Dr. Jane Goodall that was previously thought to have been lost. It is a close and intimate view of her work, the chimpanzee culture, and her relationships.
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same title, this film offers a visual insight into the book’s original research. It features interviews with farmers who work for major producers such as Perdue Poultry, shows footage of slaughterhouses, and the ethics of animal factory farming. I recommend reading the book first and then viewing the film.
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor
Based on a true story, a 13-year-old boy named William Kamkwamba built a wind turbine to save his Malawian village from famine. This is a beautiful, inspirational, and moving film.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: American Experience
This PBS documentary was released in 1993, so while it is a bit dated it offers interviews with people who knew Carson. The film also shows original footage of DDT and other pesticide treatments being sprayed over farmlands, neighborhoods, forests, and even children. Original footage and photographs of Carson are featured as well. I read the book first, but I enjoyed this film because it provided a set of visuals to enrich my understanding of her, her writing, and the people and companies who rallied for and against her.
I Am Greta
From Hulu: “The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary from Swedish director Nathan Grossman. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, Grossman follows Greta—a shy student with Asperger’s—in her rise to prominence and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with her extraordinary wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.”
This film is about fracking and the natural gas industry. Description from their website: “The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown.” This film is a must-see!
This film “is a provocative follow-up to filmmaker Josh Fox’s award-winning feature debut Gasland. The new film continues to explore the controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, arguing how dangerous the process is, and how pervasive the gas industry’s influence on public policy has become…Gasland Part II pierces prevailing myths by arguing how and why fracked wells leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the Earth’s climate with methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. It also sheds light on the global consequences of fracking, as more and more countries are following the U.S.’s lead in drilling for gas.” I also consider this film must-see, as it was eye-opening.
Profit, Pollution And Deception: BP and The Oil Spill
This documentary addresses the deception of the BP Oil spill from the failure of the Deepwater Horizon. The company spent countless dollars and efforts trying to make it look like they addressed the spill appropriately. Unfortunately, they didn’t take the right actions and the scandal still scars the Gulf of Mexico.
After The Spill
Produced 6 years after the spill, this film looks at BP’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the effects on the Gulf of Mexico. BP and other petroleum companies consistently violate environmental laws and regulations and the federal government does not enforce those laws. BP’s ‘clean-up efforts’ were more for public relations than actual environmental care, as they still refuse to assist coastal areas destroyed by the spill. They also refuse to assist with healthcare needs after exposing people to toxic materials that caused illnesses. The Gulf of Mexico is still suffering from BP’s oil spill, the petroleum industry’s activities, and coastal erosion. It will be years before we know the full ramifications of BP’s irresponsibility.
Oil Spill of the Century
This National Geographic film covers the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of Brittany, France. It was the most damaging oil spill of the 20th century, even more so than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The tanker broke apart and dumped 220,000 metric tons of oil into the water and surrounding environment. The documentary covers changes in cargo transportation in the years since and touches on plastic pollution in the ocean at the end.
The Monsanto Papers
Another eye-opening film, directly related to the yards we treat and the food we eat. But the chemicals used are not safe for humans or the environment. “Glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup®, is the most widely used herbicide on the planet. It’s also the central cash cow for the agrochemical giant Monsanto. Undeniably effective in controlling the growth of crop-destroying weeds, the chemical is also the main culprit in a series of suspected risks to humans, animals and the environment in general. The Monsanto Papers outlines these dangers, and the devious tactics employed by the company to evade responsibility.”
Semper Fi: Always Faithful
From the filmmaker: “Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger was a devoted Marine for nearly twenty-five years…When Jerry’s nine-year old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed. As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened. His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of one of the largest water contamination incidents in U.S. history. Semper Fi: Always Faithful follows Jerry’s mission to expose the Marine Corps and force them to live up to their motto to the thousands of soldiers and their families exposed to toxic chemicals. His fight reveals a grave injustice at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune and a looming environmental crisis at military sites across the country.”
This is the true story of Tilikum, the famous orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld and died in captivity. More than that, it is an overview of orcas’ natural behaviors, intelligence, and emotions. The film explores how these whales are captured, trained, and exploited. Many former trainers were interviewed for the film, although SeaWorld declined requests for interviews. SeaWorld has not taken responsibility for its treatment of these beautiful animals but ended its orca breeding program, and then ended its orca theatrical program in recent years. They do still offer an orca encounter and allege that they provide the animals with the best care available. This film left an impression on me that I just can’t shake.
The Walrus and the Whistleblower
Phil Demers had his dream job as a trainer at Marineland, the marine amusement park in Niagara Falls. For over a decade, he trained seals and walruses, and even swam with killer whales. He was especially close to a walrus named Smooshi. Over time, Demers recognized the abuse and mistreatment of the animals at Marineland and called for change. The park did not make changes so he quit and became a whistleblower and now calls for an end to the 60-year-old practice of keeping marine mammals in small pools and tanks and requiring them to perform for audiences.
Captain Paul Watson was the cofounder of Greenpeace and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. This film tells the story of his life, but more importantly, it showcases the amount of change, influence, and the impact that one person can have by standing up for their beliefs. Watson has fought for conservation and the end of illegal fishing and illegal activity in the oceans for more than 50 years. FYI, though rated PG, it does have a few scenes where people physically hurt animals, and it was included simply because of the nature of Watson’s work. This is an excellent film and I do recommend it!
Long Gone Wild
This was an excellent documentary that would be a great film to pair with Blackfish. Here’s the summary from IMDB: “Despite key concessions by SeaWorld, its orcas are still performing every day, and in Eastern Russia the magnificent killer whale is hunted for sale into the exploding marine theme park industry in China. Witness an in-depth look at the case against captivity, The Whale Sanctuary Project, and covert missions on the high seas and in search of nine orcas held captive at a secret Chinese location.” I highly recommend this film!
A Fall From Freedom
This Discovery Channel comprehensive documentary film is about the history of dolphins, orcas, belugas, seals, and other marine mammals living in captivity. It explained how these animals were captured, bred, and treated by the various aquariums and theme parks across the world. It was well-researched and featured interviews with the world’s top dolphin, whale, and marine mammal experts. While parts of the film appear dated, the information is still relevant and important. I found this film enlightening, educational, and heartbreaking at times.
Keiko: The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy
This is a happier story than Blackfish, as Keiko was the only captive orca ever to have been set free. The Free Willy movie series started a movement to free Keiko. However, Keiko had to have human involvement while free for the remainder of his life, as he had become reliant on humans for social interactions. It’s a moving, true story about a beautiful movie star and worth watching!
This documentary is about Luna, the orca who permanently lost contact with his family at a young age, near the coast of British Columbia. He tried to make friendships with humans in the absence of other killer whales and became famous but controversial. Humans struggled to determine whether or not human contact was good for Luna. It seems that many understood the beauty and power of two very different species forming friendships. This film is heart-warming and inspiring.
This Academy Award-winning film heightened public awareness of the global problems surrounding dolphin captivity. From the Oceanic Preservation Society: “A team of activists, filmmakers, and freedivers embark on a covert mission to expose a deadly secret hidden in a remote cove in Taiji, Japan. By utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, they uncover a horrible annual tradition of unparalleled cruelty. A provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure, and arresting imagery make this an unforgettable and courageous story that inspires outrage and action.” I appreciate this film and think it offers valuable insight, but it was difficult to watch at times due to the graphic nature of the content. The team of people was amazing and they risked their lives at times to capture the footage and expose the mass murders of dolphins.
To The Orcas, With Love
A filmmaker’s relationship with orcas inspires her to restore a loving relationship with herself and this remarkable planet.” This documentary was filmed in British Columbia featuring the resident orcas that live there. It addresses the environmental challenges and presents stories about our connection with the natural world and with orcas. The film interviews environmentalist and CBC Broadcaster, David Suzuki, whale researchers Alexandra Morton and Paul Spong, totem carver Wayne Alfred, and lifelong resident of the Broughton archipelago Billy Proctor. The film was inspired by filmmaker and environmentalist Rob Stewart. “What we do to nature, we do to ourselves.”
A Plastic Whale
This film begins with a dying whale in a bay in Norway, and scientists wanted to salvage the skeleton for the local museum. But they found over 30 plastic bags in its stomach and intestines and that story became global news. The plastic bags and plastic film caused the whale to slowly starve to death. This film seeks to discover how the whale swallowed so much plastic. This is indicative of how much plastic is in our oceans. The film features interviews with local Norwegians, scientists, former whalers, and government officials and shows the extraordinary public response. This film ends with a feeling of hope, but overall I was struck by the amount of plastic found on just one small country’s shores and its effects on our beautiful wildlife.
My Octopus Teacher
This film was moving and featured fascinating footage. It documented the daily dives of Craig Foster, who befriended an octopus. He filmed the life of this octopus over the course of one year, and in the film described what he learned from her. From the film’s website: “This beautiful record of an animal’s entire life—something seldom achieved in the wild, let alone underwater—was shot over a full year and explores the habits and personality of a strange, undulating creature that most of us have only ever eaten. Beyond intelligent, dextrous and resilient, the cephalopod shares her secret world with Foster as they develop a touching bond.” I cried at the end of this film but loved it immensely.
One Lucky Elephant
Filmed over the course of 10 years, this film documents the journey of an elephant named Flora. Circusmaster David Balding adopted Flora when she was a baby after her mother was killed in front of her and she was shipped to the United States. Flora was the star of Circus Flora for more than 16 years, when Balding realized and took responsibility for having made mistakes with having Flora as a sole, captive, performing elephant. He wanted to retire her and the journey to finding a place for her to go encompasses the film. Flora eventually moved to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where she still resides today. The film features interviews with Balding, his wife, circus staff, and Elephant Sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley.