Every day should be Earth Day. But I believe it is important to have this particular day to acknowledge the fragility of our planet and that what each one of us does for Her good is not nearly enough. Here are six environmental documentaries I recommend.
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, 2017, directed by Nari Kye and Anna Chai
The amount of food wasted in the developed world in a single day is staggering and the impact on climate change is shocking – some forty percent of food that Americans buy is sent to landfills, contributing to a toxic environment. This insightful documentary, produced by Anthony Bourdain, explores the reasons for this problem, but, most importantly, offers a series of practical, easy-to-adopt everyday solutions. Prominent chefs from around the world such as the late Anthony Bourdain himself, Dan Barber and Massimo Bottura offer advice on improving the way we eat and how we can reduce waste. It is engaging and urges you to take action yourself. Think global, act local.
Side note: Two books that are about so much more than food: Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain, and The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber, an advocate for farm-to-table cuisine. Barber has also hosted wastED pop-ups in New York City and London, showcasing scraps in creative dishes.
The Salt of the Earth, 2014, directed by Wim Wenders
This documentary is an impressive and beautiful visual homage to the life’s work and passion of photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has been traveling the world for more than 40 years, chronicling the human condition. But the most lasting impression about the Brazilian photographer is his project Instituto Terra. Together with his wife, Léila, he set out to regrow the drought-stricken remains of his family’s once-thriving farm and the Brazilian rain forest of his youth. They did an experimental program of replanting millions of trees and their technique proved so successful that Instituto Terra has now reforested parts of Brazil’s Mata Atlantica and is a model for similar efforts worldwide. His work should give every human being hope and faith and the impulse to make an effort.
Untamed Romania, 2018, directed to Tom Barton-Humphreys
The uniqueness of Romania is in its natural, raw, untamed beauty that still exists, the kind that is extinct in many Western European countries. The documentary Romania neîmblânzitã (Untamed Romania) is a beautiful homage to my country, and I imagine that, for many people who have never visited Romania (and one can not say they have visited Romania unless they have gone into its rich wilderness), it will be a revelation. I appreciate the positive view on Romania shown in the film (because I believe that sometimes this is the kind of approach that can inspire positive reaction more than harsh reportages ever have or will) just as much as I appreciate the signal of alarm at the end – a call to acknowledging the environmental threats our country, as the rest of the world, has been facing, and to taking the necessary steps against them.
Jane, 2017, directed by Brett Morgen
Jane Goodall, now one of the world’s most admired primatologists and conservationists, was 26 years old, had no scientific university degree, or training in the field when, on July 14, 1960, she embarked on a lifelong dream: living in the wild and conducting a pioneering study of chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania. Her discoveries were revolutionary, her passion for her work was monumental, and her study of the chimps is the longest continuous study of a wild animal in history. But, for me, the beauty of the documentary Jane is not about scientific facts, it’s about Jane’s love of the wild life, of nature, of discovery. “As a child, which was before tv and computer games, I loved spending time outside,” says Jane when she recounts the beginning of her passion for animals and nature. I hope every parent and every child gets to see this film, because, if not anything else, it fosters a love for nature, for the wild, and for the wild at heart, summoning you to live free and in perfect symbiosis with your natural surroundings.
Chasing Ice, 2012, directed by Jeff Orlowski
This affecting documentary captures the longest glacier degradation event ever shown on film. During repeated expeditions to Greenland and by using time-lapse photography, environmental photographer James Balog and his team of researchers on the Extreme Ice Survey captured the receding glaciers of Greenland, showing the effect of global warming, a visual proof of a changing world to climate change skeptics. The power of images is tremendous and it should be the most effective motivator for change. Seeing is believing, right? So how come that, in 2019, Chasing Ice is unfortunately, tragically another sad reminder that, in the years since it premiered, not much has changed for the better?
Virunga (2014), directed by Orlando von Einsiedel
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and called by Jane Goodall a “wake-up call for anyone who cares about the future of the planet,” Virunga is about the world’s last mountain gorillas who live in the Virunga National Park in Congo and the park rangers dedicated to saving them. Virunga National Park is one of the most bio-diverse places in the world, a UNESCO world heritage site, but one that is threatened by armed clonflicts and oil exploitation. The park rangers have to protect it and its innocent inhabitants from armed militia, poachers and the powerful forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. Compelling, suspenseful, powerful and lucid, Virunga gives a human face to a very complex problem.