EarthTalk: A new generation of inspiring environmental documentaries 

By GRACE LYONS

E-The Environmental Magazine

Published: 05-07-2023 10:55 PM

Dear EarthTalk: I am looking for more stuff I can binge watch on my TV. Any environmental documentaries you’d recommend? — Couch Potato, via email

The power of film is in its capacity to transport viewers to places we might not have been able to go before. Nature documentaries in particular bring us close to ecosystems and species that are beyond most people’s reach. They can reinvigorate the environmental movement, as with “An Inconvenient Truth,” or expose environmental travesties, like Blackfish’s exposé of Seaworld. Here are a few recent environmental documentaries filled with incredible footage and a wealth of information.

A documentary that touches on the powerful cross section between mental health and nature, “The Scale of Hope” centers on a former White House climate advisor, Molly Kawahata, as she prepares for an intense climb in Alaska. Kawahata examines the various ways hikers, travelers and climbers can use their passion to advocate for climate conservation in this Patagonia-produced film. Or follow Alex Honnold, a free solo climber famous for his ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite, as he travels to the Amazon with National Geographic in “Explorer: The Last Tepui.” He attempts to get biologist Bruce Means to the top of a tepui while they learn why tepuis are necessary to Amazonian biodiversity.

Take a deep dive into the lives of whales with “Secrets of Whales,” a mini-docuseries, also produced by National Geographic. Each episode looks at a different whale species and at its relationship dynamics and survival techniques. Another ocean-focused documentary is “Seaspiracy,” which examines the validity of ‘sustainable’ fisheries and advocates for a fish-free diet to protect marine environments. The filmmakers work shines a light on illegal fishing practices and the detrimental effects of ghost nets and overfishing.

For those interested in examining how their diet can affect climate change, check out “Meat Me Halfway” with Brian Kateman, an investigative documentary about mindful meat consumption. Kateman founded the reducetarian movement; this movie encourages viewers to reduce their meat intake, as total vegetarianism or veganism isn’t realistic for everybody.

“Fire of Love” is a visually stunning documentary using footage shot by the two main subjects – volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. The movie follows the Krafft’s expeditions, from Mt. St. Helens in Washington to Mt. Unzen in Japan, as they perform research on active volcanoes. This documentary also highlights the importance of preparedness for environmental disasters, as they commit to informing at-risk regions about the importance of evacuations.

Against all odds, “The Year Earth Changed” found the bright side of lockdowns, isolation and travel restrictions: Certain ecosystems thrived during the height of COVID-19 pandemic. Whales were recorded using completely new sounds, able to communicate without boat noises acting as obstacles, and female sea turtles had the benefit of empty beaches during nesting season. The documentary shows the benefits of taking a step back and offering back to nature the space that humans have dominated for decades.

And for a quick but impactful watch, try “After Ice.” This 12-minute film compares footage of Icelandic glaciers in the 21st century with archival footage from the National Land Survey of Iceland.

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After dedicating just an hour or two toward one of the documentaries, you might find yourself looking at the environmental movement with a new perspective.

EarthTalk is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at emagazine.com.

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