It is strange that the urgency with which experts attempt to convey the severity of climate change to the public does not come with a string of films that accurately paint a more accessible picture. Countless films which allude to environmental destruction are almost always set in an unfamiliar, futuristic version of the civilised world we know; the truth is concealed by metaphor and histrionic action. These films seldom get the facts right – or simply abandon them entirely – favouring action-packed, CGI-driven dystopias over scientific accuracy.
Hollywood’s aversion to stories of humanity’s relationship with climate change has left documentaries with most of the heavy-lifting. Narrative films which accurately convey the extremities while also encouraging a positivity about human adaptation to it are hard to come by, but whilst we await these, there are some incredible documentaries. Below are four easily-accessible, factual films to both catalyse and continue our climate education -- without the over-dramatisation.
Although our ever-changing climate casts a long shadow over future generations’ inevitable battle with its impacts, it is film that can be a means of both preparing us for the future and remedying our emotional separation from it.
There are very few who attempt to deny that coral reefs are headed for extinction. With a 100% rating on everybody’s favourite online film reviewer Rotten Tomatoes, Jeff Orlowski’s 2017 documentary Chasing Coral stresses humanity’s role in this environmental tragedy.
With wide shots of seemingly infinite underwater worlds and the life that dwells within, Orlowski teases from us an empathy and fascination with what will be lost forever without immediate human intervention. The film follows an assembled team of scientists, divers and other experts as they explore the vanishing coral reefs, leaving its viewers itching to help fight the good fight.
Perhaps not for the faint-hearted but an essential all the same, Blackfish by Gabriela Cowperthwaite is as horribly fascinating as a true crime documentary. The film details the fatal outcome of holding orcas captive in marine parks like the infamous SeaWorld.
While the deaths of the parks’ trainers are a tragedy, the real villain remains these human captors, stressing again our haphazard interference with the natural world. The documentary leaves no stone unturned as it tells the stories of killer whales driven to madness by being used as attractions. Blackfish may have been particularly brutal in its exposure of SeaWorld, but it has led to a change of CEO, the phasing out of orca shows and an emphasis on education over spectacle.
THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WATER
In this film, actor Elliot Page looks into his home province Nova Scotia’s own environmental crisis. There’s Something in the Water explores environmental racism; when people of colour (and people in lower socioeconomic groups in general) are forced to bear the burden of large toxic wastes or rubbish dumps simply for the misfortune of living where they live.
The film confirms what many people across the globe already experience: that politicians and corporations care little about black and indigenous people, and continue to benefit from their hardship and from our ailing climate. This film serves as good grounding for understanding that humanity is not only harming the planet but themselves too, teaching us love and protection for our planet and our fellow humans.
Finally, Our Planet. While the already hugely popular David Attenborough-narrated tribute to the natural world doesn’t deal with hard-hitting stories of human corruption and devastation, it is simply a stark reminder of what we must keep fighting to save.
Sweeping aerial shots of rainforests and cameras plunging deep into dark, desolate oceans force us to consider our place in the world and the almost irreversible damage we continue to do, with Attenborough himself warning: “the stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted”. Whilst the docuseries has us marvelling at our planet, it also acts as a glimpse at what can continue to thrive if humanity eases its harsh unfeeling interference with it.
By Louder Than The Storm contributor Libby Fennessy