There’s few things I love more as a treat than to snuggle under a blanket on the sofa and watch a great documentary. Films are a great way to learn without really trying when you’re having a lazy day, or introduce friends or family to new concepts without feeling like you’re lecturing them. These are some of my favourites, covering plastic pollution, simple living, waste, the ocean, climate change and fast fashion. All of them are beautifully made, by passionate, interesting people who will (hopefully) leave you feeling inspired and ready to take action.
The freebies – films freely available online (legally!)
A Plastic Whale: This is part of the series of short films made by Sky. It is the story of the body of a whale that washes up on the coast of Norway, found to have died as a result of consuming so much plastic. The documentary follows a team of scientists and interested members of the public as they look to use the tragedy to highlight the growing effects of plastic on ocean creatures.
A Plastic Tide: Another Sky documentary. This one follows a team of awesome women as they sail around the United Kingdom to bring the message of plastic pollution to the British population. Along with the environmental message, this film is a really great account of female solidarity and learning to work together (including overcoming mass seasickness on a very crowded boat).
Sky seem to be taking a really serious approach to ocean plastics, and have a series of short films on their Sky Ocean Rescue website that are all well worth a watch.
A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity: Made by the Simplicity Institute, an organisation interested in eco-communities, the concept of ‘degrowth’, and creating new systems and structures to support a simpler way of life. The film follows the progress of a community who come together to collaborate on building a simple, sustainable community in Australia. A great watch for those dreaming of a life of growing your own food, building your own home and finding a new way to live.
Films on Netflix
In the UK (and perhaps elsewhere), you can get a month of Netflix free, so these can be watched without spending money if you sign up for the trial period.
A Plastic Ocean (website), Netflix link: This film has had a more profound effect on me than any other. Presented by Tanya Streeter a world champion freediver, and the film’s director Craig Leeson, it is a passionate, breathtaking look at the effects of single-use plastic on our oceans and our health. If you’re inspired to take action after watching it too, have a read of my blog posts (part 1 and part 2) for ideas on moving towards a plastic-free lifestyle.
The True Cost (website), Netflix link: There’s a good chance you’ll shed a tear or two watching this film. The True Cost covers fast fashion, society’s addiction to buying more and more, and meeting survivors of Rana Plaza, a factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in 2013 killing more than 1,130 people. This film is a heartbreaking, powerful account of how cheap clothes come at a huge human and environmental cost. Watching this film led me to a ‘no new clothes for a year’ experiment, of which I have one month to go – watch this space for an update in January.
Chasing Coral (website), Netflix link: Coral reefs take up less than 0.1% of the ocean, but help support around 25% of ocean animal life. Simply speaking, they are hugely important and yet they are under pressure from ocean acidification and climate change more than has ever been known in recorded history. This film covers work by scientists and film makers to document the phenomenon known as ‘coral bleaching’, a phenomenon which makes the coral more susceptible to disease and death.
Mission Blue (website), Netflix link: This film documents the amazing life of Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer and explorer, and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A great watch as a biography and science documentary rolled into one.
Films to purchase online
Before the Flood (website), purchase link: As you might expect from a documentary starring Leonard di Caprio, this is big budget and high impact. The film is an intense look at climate change and what government and citizens have to do to stop the world reaching dangerous levels of warming. The soundtrack is by Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame), Atticus Ross, Gustavo Santaolalla and Mogwai and is therefore predictably excellent.
Trashed (website), purchase link: An in-depth look at the huge, growing problems of waste. This documentary tackles a wide range of issues, including incineration, landfills, pollution, health problems and a myriad of other issues relating to all the rubbish we create. Bonus cameo by the wonderful Rachelle Strauss, founder of Zero Waste Week and all round eco-superwoman.
Plastic Paradise (website and purchase link): A trip in search of finding and understanding the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this film visits some of the remotest places on the planet, discovering that plastic pollution has got there before we ever could. Good luck getting through this one without swearing you’ll never buy a plastic bottle again!
Just a quick note to say that none of the links above are affiliate links, and I have no interests to declare in any of these recommendations (and neither can I take any responsibility for your streaming or downloading shenanigans)! They really are just great documentaries that may well change how you see our shared planet.
What are your favourite environmental documentaries? Any recommendations to add to this list? Please share your comments and recommendations in the comments form below!