An overview of sustainability films

Some of the most inspiring films I've seen about (ecological) sustainability.

Published March 10, 2017 Updated 1 year ago

Nowadays, films and documentaries are more easily consumed than books. Here I'd like to share a few that helped me to become more aware of (ecological) sustainability and animal rights issues.

Environment, ecology & economy

Demain / Tomorrow (2015)

A French documentary film that explores possible transitions to sustainable food production, economies, communities and education. It is a refreshing watch because for once it does not portray the end of the world, it rather gives a glimpse of a hopeful new age for mankind. Both grassroots and large-scale sustainability initiatives are discussed in a compelling way.

HOME (2009)

A documentary film with a narrative explaining the evolution of the earth and its inhabitant species to the state in which it is today. It starts with a broad perspective on the origins of life, and progresses towards an overview of the environmental issues caused by humanity. This is a beautiful and educational watch. And the best part: the whole film is published for free on YouTube!.

Cowspiracy (2014)

The most influential documentary for me until now! An exploratory documentary with a mind numbing amount of statistics and figures, following the journey and discoveries of the maker. He first discovers some shocking facts about the huge environmental impact of the meat and dairy industries and then looks for related statements by leading environmental organizations. Unsuccessful in this endeavor, he investigates why this is being covered up.
A new cut directed by Leonardo DiCaprio is available on Netflix!

Before The Flood (2016)

In my opinion, this looks like Leonardo Dicaprio's effort to create an unofficial An Inconvenient Truth 2. The focus of the film is showing that we still have a very real climate problem and that we're still not dealing with it. The problems are presented in a compelling way while following Leo's story of discovery. Discussion about ways to prevent the projected climate apocalypse however is lacking. It is reserved to some very, very short scenes with high-level concepts and vague or limited recommendations like "make better choices".

The storytelling and cinematography on their own are very nice. This, and the fact that it is being starred and produced by Lovely Leo, has its merit. For some previously unconcerned acquaintances, Before The Flood was an accessible movie that served them as an eye-opener!

Politics & Business

Merchants of Doubt (2014)

A documentary exposing the existence of corrupt individuals and institutes controlled by corporate interests that try to counter scientific consensus on global warming and other issues. Publicly, they cause mass confusion in order to deliberately slow environmental or health policy changes. Wondering why some groups in the USA still deny climate change? This one can give you some valuable insights!

Food, Inc. (2008)

A documentary exposing social, environmental and political injustices done by the large American food corporations.

The Corporation (2003)

In this documentary film the corporation is first defined and then analyzed historically using examples. It exposes multiple inherent ethical problems with this business form, while mentioning some positive characteristics. How can a corporation commit 'psychopathic' acts without its employees or even managers being necessarily psychopathic?

Animal Rights & Compassion

Earthlings (2005)

A notorious documentary explaining human exploitation of animals for companionship, food, clothing and entertainment. It is somewhat controversial, because it features graphic hidden camera footage of (extreme) animal mistreatment. It is often accused of not being representative for the meat industry as a whole, but it's worth to watch it and judge it for yourself. It's probably more representative than you'd like.

Worth a mention

Baraka / Samsara

"An image tells more than a thousand words." A dilogy without spoken narrative. These films explore the life of various cultures, both of the past and the present, and show how these cultures connect with their environment. The topic sustainability is only implicitly present, but well chosen images make you think twice about the way we're living now. I personally find these films astonishingly beautiful. If you think slowly moving images of sceneries in nature are boring, they might not be your cup of tea however.

The Zeitgeist Trilogy

This freely accessible series bombs you with conspiracy theories on religion, society, governments et cetera. I did not take the time to verify any of the statements, but these films certainly provide food for thought!

Super Size Me

What happens when you go on a McDonalds-only diet for a month? Quite obviously, that's a bad idea. It will make you gain weight and bad stuff. Apart from this groundbreaking observation, the movie also tries to explain the causes of America's fast-food addiction.

Thanks to WWOOF host Viktor Säfve for mentioning a lot of these!