environmentalism

6 Environmental Documentaries to Watch on Earth Day

For nearly fifty years, Earth Day has been celebrated worldwide to demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection. Originally, environmental issues ranged from cleaning up air pollution and acid rain to safety oversight over fossil fuel companies. The last few years has seen more of a concern of global climate change and the wide-ranging effects warming and acidifying oceans will have on both weather and sociopolitical dynamics around the world.

Environmental topics have been the focus of countless films, including narrative disaster films like Waterworld and The Day After Tomorrow, which sees the world overtaken by everything from giant tornados to tsunamis that freeze over. Even Pixar film WALL-E features a garbage-covered Earth that is no longer habitable to life.

Perhaps the most interesting environmental films of all are the true ones though—documentaries that portray the delicate balance of natural life on the planet, and all the ways society can upset that balance.

Here are just a few documentaries you can check out this Earth Day:

The 11th Hour

Directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, The 11th Hour gained a lot of buzz when it was realized for its association with producer, co-writer, narrator, and creator of the film—Hollywood megastar and noted environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. The 2007 film interviews a murderer’s row of scientists, politicians, and activists, and places a focus on the myriad problems that pose dangerous threats to the planet, while offering possible solutions that are just as varied in their strategy.

Our Planet

The high profile docuseries Our Planet is Netflix’s own take on the Planet Earth series—Netflix went as far as working with Planet Earth producers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and hiring David Attenborough to narrate this series as well. Each of the eight episodes of the series focuses on a specific part of the planet, from seas to deserts to forests and everything in between. The docuseries has become event television this spring, with an early Hollywood screening in February moderated by NYFA Acting for Film alum Lana Condor giving Our Planet some early buzz.

Everything’s Cool

Everything’s Cool was directed by Dan Gold and Judith Helfand and was first shown at Sundance in 2007. Unlike many other environmental films, the documentary focuses more on the politics and public perception of climate change, rather than the science behind it. This important angle is especially key at a time when the world’s scientists have come to a consensus that action needs to be taken to prepare and respond to climate change, while the laws and practices of nations and private corporations have yet to catch up.

Gasland

The 2010 film Gasland was directed by Josh Fox and showcased harrowing footage of local families dealing with the disastrous effects of corporate fracking—the process of stimulating natural gas production by injecting the ground with copious amounts of liquid chemicals. The film made fracking a hot button issue to this day, and brought to light some of the shocking side effects of the drilling method, such as water coming out of kitchen sink taps that could be lit on fire with a match.

An Inconvenient Truth

The 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth helped kickstart the latest wave of environmental activism, as well as a slew of environmental documentaries that followed in its wake. Based around a slideshow given by former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, the film focuses on carbon dioxide’s effect on climate change, and won two Academy Awards for its efforts—Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song.

Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi is an experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio from 1982, with a score by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke, who mostly used slow motion and time-lapse footage of both urban areas and natural landscapes. The avant garde film is very much open for interpretation, allowing its viewers to lose themselves in its sometimes haunting imagery and music. While nothing is told outright to the audience, the relationship between humanity, technology, and nature is clearly the focus of the film, raising questions about how these connections affect the world around us and will affect the world around us for decades to come.

With every passing Earth Day, these questions are becoming more important than ever.

Stars Protecting the Earth: Celebrities Who are Environmental Activists

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Summer is a time for playing in Earth’s beautiful spaces, near oceans and lakes or in mountains and forests, so we thought we would pause to honor those celebrities who look beyond their own star-status to protect our environment.

By using their considerable wealth and influence to create public awareness, create organizations, make films to highlight dangers, or teach by example with glamorous green homes and environmentally friendly vehicles, celebrities who care make a big difference! Today, we celebrate the environmental contributions of some names and faces you’re sure to recognize.

Matthew Modine

NYFA Board Member and award-winning actor Matthew Modine is a passionate crusader for protecting the earth. The actor, who currently stars in Netflix’s Original Series “Stranger Things,” has actively promoted environmental causes in many ways, from serving as a guest editor for Metro’s Earth Day edition to founding the Bicycle For a Day movement. As Modine said in his Metro piece, “Environmental compassion, if it is to have any tangible significance, requires vigorous minute-by-minute action by each and every human we share the Earth with.”

Ted Danson

Beaches on oceans and lakes are prime spots for summer fun, and there is perhaps no one on this list who has dedicated himself so consistently to issues concerning Earth’s water than Ted Danson, the man who won our hearts as the lovable recovering alcoholic bartender on “Cheers.” Danson focuses his environmental attentions on all aspects of this life-sustaining natural resource. He even helped write an educational book on the subject called “Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them.”

Daryl Hannah

She’s the iconic mermaid of “Splash” and an activist who’s not afraid to create waves! Hannah has been arrested several times for her activism, including during protests against the Keystone Pipeline. She lives off the grid, drives a biodiesel car, and blogs about environmental issues at DHLoveLife.com. She was also the executive producer of “Greedy Lying Bastards,” a 2012 documentary that hits hard at climate change denial.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Following the tremendous success of “The Titanic” (1997) and his leap to superstardom, DiCaprio established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, “dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants.” The non-profit organization focuses on global warming, preserving Earth’s biodiversity and supporting renewable energy. It also produces web documentaries to promote public awareness such as “Water Planet” and “Global Warning.”

Pearl Jam

It’s not only actors who’ve embraced environmental concerns, but also bands like Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam crisscrosses the globe on tours, doing their best to minimize their negative impact. According to One Green Planet, “Pearl Jam has also partnered with numerous organizations to help offset the carbon emissions of the estimated one million fans driving to and from the band’s concerts and provides information about other initiatives on their website. In 2011, Pearl Jam was named 2011 Planet Defenders by Rock The Earth for their environmental activism and their large-scale efforts to decrease their own carbon emissions.”

Cate Blanchett

In the land down under, the Elvin ruler of “Lord of the Rings” fame “lives off the grid in a ‘green’ house.” During her time as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company, Blanchett “spurred the installation of solar panels on The Warf Theater,” according to One Green Planet. “She is also responsible for the theater’s installation of one of the world’s largest rainwater collection systems.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many celebrities in the entertainment industry that have used the spotlight to promote environmental activism. Margaret Atwood, Robert Redford, Sting, and James Cameron are just a few of the other names that could have been on this list.

Tell us your favorite environmental celebrities in the comments, and we at NYFA wish you a green summer!

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