There are a lot of films on about climate change. Some of them are great. Some not so much. Some think it’s an interesting topic that we should understand more about. Others flat out call it a climate crisis that we desperately need to do something about today. The only problem with this is that humans are not really wired to think about things that happen slowly over a long period, and learning about things like climate change often just leave us feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
For my new years resolution this year I made a commitment to learn everything I could about climate change, so I made a 100 day plan to watch as many documentaries as possible. (You can accomplish an awful lot in just 100 days!) So starting on January 1st I watched every documentary I could find on Sky, BBC, National Geographic, Apple TV, Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Below are some of my favourites (in no particular order) – all movies that entertained me as much as they educated me. I hope they will also inform and inspire you as much as they inspired me. Get comfy. Grab your favourite drink and settle down…
An Inconvenient Truth
- Released: 2006
- Time: 1h 58m
- Director: Davis Guggenheim
- Best quote: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so“. Mark Twain.
- Review: The documentary by which all other environmental documentaries are measured. Focusing around Al Gore’s slide show, (with keynote slides created by TED star Nancy Duarte and her team) this is a story about how you campaign to win the hearts and minds of generation who want to make a difference but often feel like they can’t.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
- Released: 19th Jan 2017
- Time: 1h 39m
- Directors: Jon Shenk, Bonni Cohen
- Best quote: “At this point in the fight to solve the climate crisis, there are only three questions remaining: Must we change? Can we change? Will we change?“. Al Gore
- Review: As much a story about Al Gores personal journey as it is an update to the Oscar-winning prequel, this is a superb behind the scenes look at the complexity of climate change from a political perspective, framed around a backdrop of the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015.
Before the Flood
- Released: 2016
- Time: 1h 36m
- Directors: Fisher Stevens
- Best quote: “I’m an actor. I pretend for a living. But we can’t look at climate change the same way“. Leonardo DiCaprio
- Review: Much like Al Gore’s Truth to Power is the follow up to a documentary which everyone took notice of, Before the Flood is Leonardo DiCaprio’s follow up to his 2007 film on climate change 11th Hour. What I loved about this film was that it portrays the journey of someone (albeit a very famous someone) as they try to understand the facts and find a meaningful way to act and inspire others, despite their lack of scientific and academic credentials. It’s a story about how to become an activist by taking the facts and packaging them in an interesting way for your own audience – and that’s something we should all learn to do.
- Released: 14th December 2012
- Time: 1h 15m
- Directors: Jeff Orlowski
- Best quote: “Knowing things is one thing. But observing it and communicating it effectively can change the world.” James Balog
- Review: This winner of over 30 awards including Sundance’s Excellence in Cinematography is as powerful and spectacular as it is challenging and engaging. It follows as a small team of environmental photographers as they voyage to collect time-lapse photos that depict the drastic erosion and disappearance of enormous, ancient glaciers. James Balog believes that if you want to engage an audience you need to make it sexy, and many documentaries full of facts and figures fail to do that. But the right image can hit you in your gut. There is not much that Balog won’t do in order to get the best shot to tell his story, which includes scenes from a glacier calving event that took place at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, lasting 75 minutes, the longest such event ever captured on film. One reviewer called Duane Dudek described watching the film as “the calving of a massive glacier believed to have produced the ice that sank the Titanic is like watching a city break apart. Sublime. Watch it.
- Released: 2019
- Time: 1h 48m
- Director: Louie Psihoyos
- Best quote: “The best way to protect animals (and the planet) is to not put them in your mouth“.
- Review: So good I watched it twice back-to-back. With executive producers Lewis Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Novak Djokovic, James Cameron and Chris Paul, this is one of those few movies that genuinely has the power to change your life (whether you care about climate change or not). Already one of the all-time top documentaries on streaming TV, Game Changers talks about how everything we think we know about the correlation between food and performance is wrong. Especially where elite athletes are concerned. And when you understand that switching to a plant-based diet is also one of the best ways to solve global warming, you start to see how you can increase your performance and save the planet at the same time.
- Released: 2017
- Time: 1h 33m
- Director: Jeff Orlowski
- Best quote: “They say it’s one of the rarest events in nature happening and everyone’s just oblivious to it. And you can’t blame them for it, it’s just almost typical of all of humanity“.
- Review: Made by the same team that brought us Chasing Ice, this is the story of a London based advertising exec who decided that he had enough of selling toilet tissue and wanted to commit the rest of his career to protecting the ocean and talking about climate change. In this visually stunning and powerful documentary, you learn the facts about how coral (like ice) is like an early warning system for what we are doing to the planet and how it sustains over 500M people globally – a huge problem when you discover that the earth has already lost 50% of its coral in the last 50 years.
Climate Change: The Facts
- Released: 18th April 2019
- Time: 57m
- Featuring: Sir David Attenborough
- Best quote: “Things are going to get worse – not a message we like to hear, but denial is no longer an option. Bold action is.” Sir David Attenborough
- Review: It’s by David Attenborough. What more do you need to know? This documentary was created by the BBC amid much media hype, partly because it was also released at the same time as London’s Extinction Rebellion climate protests. The activists on the bridge even showed the documentary on a large screen on London’s Waterloo Bridge before the police kicked them off. I was there and it was a sight to behold. This is a brilliantly short and punchy film which tries to give a balanced perspective by focusing on four stories from different perspectives, piecing together many years of research and packaging it in a way that is both educational and entertaining.
- Released: 2017
- Time: 1h 34m
- Directors: Christopher Dillan Quinn
- Best quote: “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” Jonathan Safran Foer
- Review: Based upon the best-selling book by Jonathan Safran Foer and narrated by Natalie Portman, this film does an amazing job of revolting viewers into rethinking their food choices, shaking any faith in the USDA and Congress and mourning the loss of the American farmer.
This Changes Everything
- Released: 2015
- Time: 1h 36m
- Directors: Fisher Stevens
- Best quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it“. Naomi Klein
- Review: This film is based upon Naomi Klein’s 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism v Climate. Like me, you may have first been inspired by her No Logo book which tells the story of modern day capitalism in a way that makes you take an awkward look at your own behaviour. Unfailingly polite (in a way that all Canadian documentaries are!), this tells a series of unsettling stories from the perspective of the people who live in the communities who are most being hit by corporate capitalism. My favourite review called it “Thoughtful, compelling, and beautifully put together, this film offers hope and a positive outlook for a world in which even a mention of climate change can elicit both despair and controversy”.
- Released: January 2010
- Time: 1h 29m
- Directors: Michael P. Nash
- Best quote: “A resounding wake-up call for every human being”. Robert Redford
- Review: Climate Refugees is a Netflix documentary by filmmaker Michael Nash and producing partner Justin Hogan who traveled to 48 countries in search of stories about the human face of climate change. With contributions from several politicians, scientists, and environmental activists, including House Speaker John Kerry, Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, the film brilliantly documents the human plight of climate change with a focus on the intersection of over population, lack of resources and climatic change.
- Released: November 2019
- Time: 1h 32m
- Directors: Damon Gameau
- Best quote: “This is journey to explore what the future could look like by the year 2040 if we simply embraced the best solutions already available to us“.
- Review: A gorgeously optimistic film about what the world could look like if we all equally committed to solving the climate crisis. Concerned about his young daughter’s future, filmmaker Damon Gameau travels the world in search of new approaches and solutions to global warming. Unlike the many films on climate which can leave you feeling helpless and overwhelmed, this movie does a wonderful job of raising your spirits and giving you a positive perspective on what we are capable of as humans.
- Released: 19th May 2007
- Time: 1h 32m
- Directors: Nadia and Lelia Conners
- Best quote: “We are now products of $500Bn of advertising each year” and we must “understand that things are thieves of time.” Nathan Gardels
- Review: Remember the saying “we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like?”. Leonardio’ DiCaprio’s first film about climate change is a wakeup call to the impact of consumerism and how each of us could make tiny changes to our lifestyles in order to help fight the greatest challenge of out time. It’s quite depressing to think that this film was released 12 years ago and speaks about how if we don’t act within 12 years things could start to turn irreversible. Even though it’s a little dated, and a bit too Hollywood at times, I love this film not just because it is beautifully well made, but because it gives us more recent historical context to many of the arguments we are still making a decade later.
- Released: 6th December 2018
- Time: 1h 26m
- Directors: Carl Fechner & Nicolai Niemann
- Best quote: “I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world, it is impacting us right now“. Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Review: Climate Warriors is a German documentary (it’s in English – no subtitles – so don’t let that stop you watching it) which focuses on one key factor: the energy transition. The film presents people from diverse backgrounds who show resistance against the adverse and devastating effects of climate change on our planet. Those climate warriors are strongly aware that we need a fast transition in order to save the environment and keep the human rights in balance in favour of peace. I’m sure we’ll see an Extinction Rebellion documentary at some point, but as with that movement, this movie does really well to capture the energy of a younger generation who refuse to stand around while adults and politicians refuse to act fast enough.
- Released: January 2008
- Time: 1h 52m
- Directors: John Tickell
- Review: Winner of the audience award at Sundance Film Festival in 2008 (a big deal), Fuel tells the story of director John Tickelsl’s 11 year journey around the world to find solutions to the world’s addiction to oil. Shrinking economies, failing auto industries, rampant unemployment, out-of-control national debts, and an insatiable demand for energy weigh heavily on many countries, not least of which America. Fuel tries to show possible solutions to help us get out of the mess we’re in by explaining how to replace every drop of oil we now use, while creating green jobs and looking after local economies. I like that the film never dwells too much on the negative, but instead shows us the easy solutions already within our reach. It also features Jay Inslee, the congressman from Seattle who ran for President in 2019, who challenges us to reach like we did during our quest for the moon. It’s a great piece of film-making. And don’t think that just because this film was released over 10 years ago, doesn’t mean that it isn’t as relevant as ever today. It is.
The Island President
- Released: 13th November 2012
- Time: 1h 41m
- Directors: Jon Shenk
- Review: The Island President is the personal story of then-President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed who was fighting to tackle rising sea levels resulting from climate change. The beauty of The Maldives is also it’s biggest weakness – the island is only 1.5m above sea-level making it one of the most vulnerable locations on the planet in relation to rising sea levels. The film is set alongside a backdrop of Nasheed’s political campaigning as he tries to raise awareness globally for the plight of his island. It’s a heart-warming and at times, politically frustrating story about what it takes to win hearts and minds in the battle against climate change.
Catching the Sun
- Released: 12th June 2015
- Time: 1h 13m
- Directors: Shalini Kantayya
- Review: This feisty little film from eco-activist and first time filmmaker Shalini Kantayya starts with the 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California and contrasts the possibilities for Richmond of an energy sector based on solar installation versus continued pollution and economic stagnation from an energy industry rooted on the oil refinery. The film gives a short history of solar technology in the United States, and the road not taken when, on his first day in office, Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels Jimmy Carter had placed on the White House, and abandoned policies to further solar development. Shalini works hard to debunk the false dilemma that clean energy requires sacrificing economic prosperity. Thomas Edison called solar one of earth’s most promising opportunities over 100 years ago, and when you still have visionaries like Shalini, Elon Musk and Al Gore repeating the same thing today, you realise it’s a subject that we should pay much more attention to.
The Future of Energy
- Released: 2013
- Time: 68 mins
- Directors: Brett Mazurek
- Best quote: “It’s a love story about the renewable energy revolution.”
- Review: One mans journey to tell a more positive climate change story – with the help of a crowd-funded campaign by Theo Badashi. [I wrote a bit more here]
Merchants of Doubt
- Released: 30th August 2014
- Time: 1 Hour 36
- Directors: Robert Kenner
- Best quote: “I’m not a scientist. Even though I usually pretend to be one on TV.”
- Review: Those experts you see on the nightly news challenging everything the scientists say? This is a story about them. The spin-masters, communicators and political strategists. It will open your eyes. and probably piss you off. Both in a good way.
Extinction Rebellion ~ “Act As If The Truth Is Real“
Not strictly a film film. But just because it doesn’t have an IMDB reference or an official media house behind it doesn’t make it any less a documentary that you need to watch. You’ve heard of them. Probably seen their tweets. Marched with them. Or maybe even hung out on a bridge with them. But what do they really want, why do they want it and how did their movement get started? This short movie with some of those closest to the Extinction Rebellion movement give you the low down.