Thursday 10 January 2013

10 must-see (eco) movies for 2013

I was hoping to start this blog post with the movie I saw last night: Samsara, the latest offering from the makers of Baraka (which was released way back in 1992). I was expecting to be wowed, to be reminded of the wonders of this planet we call home. And there were some stunning images - the sun and stars moving in time-lapse across a desert landscape, fields of pagodas (in Burma, I learned later from the website) shot from the air, intimate portraits of people in faraway places.

Mursi girl from Ethiopia, in Samsara
But what was billed as a guided meditation felt like an aimless tour of 25 countries without a guide at all. I guess I love the documentary format too much - and this wasn't a documentary, far from it.

It was a bit all over the place - images oddly juxtaposed, vast parts of life on Earth left out (no wildlife, no oceans that make up 70 per cent of the globe), contrived shots of indigenous people staring for minutes at the camera, scenes that seemed to shame contemporary society (gun factories, cubicle workers, overcrowded chicken farms). There might not have been any commentary but the filmmakers were commenting nonetheless.

And yet, they seemed absent too. It was like someone putting a whole lot of ingredients on the kitchen counter and calling it a cake.

Samsara did tell me one thing: the world has changed since Baraka. We're better travelled than ever before, better informed, more globally aware - because of the internet (the "world wide web" was still in its infancy in 1992) and because of so many excellent documentaries in recent years.

Stepping out into the late-night heat after the movie, I started thinking of all the great eco-themed movies I've seen. Sure, they all say, things are bad (then they tell you how bad) but they usually end on a positive note (we can do something about this).

Here are my top 10 eco-movies - have you seen them all?

1. An Inconvenient Truth (2006) - is it really seven years since former US vice president Al Gore opened the world's eyes to the prospect of climate change and what we can do about it? The facts might be dated, the message more urgent, but it's just as watchable today as it was in 2006.

2. No Impact Man: The Documentary (2009) - one of my all-time favourites and the inspiration for No Impact Girl, it's the story of Colin Beavan and his one-year experiment to live with no net environmental impact, not off the grid but in the middle of New York City. See also the No Impact Project.

3. The Burning Season (2008) - did you know Indonesia has the third highest emissions in the world, because of logging, or that deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of the world's carbon emissions? This is about an Australian entrepreneur, Dorje Sun, setting up a rainforest-protecting, orangutan-saving carbon-trading scheme.

Born free, wild dolphins
4. The Cove - Academy Award winner for Best Documentary in 2009, this is an eco-adventure about a stealth operation, led by former Flipper trainer and dolphin activist Ric O'Barry, to film (and expose) the slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins a year in a quiet cove south of Tokyo. The website also shows how you can help save Japan's dolphins.

5. Food Inc (2008) - one of the more shocking docos since it touches on something so close to home, in fact right on our dining tables: what we eat (though it is America-focused), how it is produced and the environmental cost of the over-mechanisation and over-corporatisation of the US food industry.

Rob Stewart & friends
6. The End of the Line (2009) - "The Inconvenient Truth about the oceans" this is the first major film about the devastating effects of overfishing, the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna and the possibility an ocean devoid of life by 2048 if commercial fishing continues unsustainably. As exciting as it is enlightening.

7. Sharkwater (2006) - another multi-award winner, this time by Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart who debunks myths about the ocean's most maligned fish and explains why they need protecting. It's a film of two parts: one is about the beauty of sharks, the other about the barbaric practice of shark-finning and Stewart's adventures to stop it.

Monolithic dome, Fort Worth USA
Pic by Peter Byck
8. Carbon Nation (2010) - a doco about solutions to climate change (mostly in America) such as the US Army greening its operations in Iraq, cotton farmers becoming wind farmers, the Empire State Building in New York being retrofitted to be more sustainable. Ultra pragmatic and uplifting.

9. Who remembers Soylent Green (1973)? Starring a young Charlton Heston, it's a "sci-fi" movie about a dystopian future where the world is suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted oceans and global warming due to the greenhouse effect - sound familiar?

10. 180° South (2011) - one of the "wow" movies I saw last year, about a surfer/climber (Jeff Johnson) who sails to Patagonia and meets Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia outdoor gear, and Doug Tomkins, founder of The North Face, who travelled down to Patagonia by road in 1968. Epic footage of incredible natural places, inspirational people, cool music and a strong environmental message. What more could anyone want in an eco-movie?


  1. Great list Lou!

    I'd like to add: Suzan Beraza's Bag It -
    It's a really good look at how plastic has taken over our lives, and Planet OCean - Yann Arthus Bertrand's latest offering.

    1. Thanks for reminding me, Deb. Bag It was good, and we mustn't forget the scourge of plastics.

      I totally forgot Yann Arthus Bertrand's HOME - the perfect blend of beautiful imagery and enlightening commentary. Planet Ocean is now on my must-see list!

  2. Great list and i remember Solyent green and the shock I had finding out where the food was coming from. Food inc. brilliant but The Cove drove me out half way through - a couple of scenes did me in - too shocking for me.

    1. The Cove is pretty confronting, definitely one of the most disturbing of the eco-movies. Food Inc is actually screening on SBS this Sunday night, 13 Jan, at 9.30pm.

  3. A lovely blog, lady! I saw Samsara the other day and felt the same. It had the potential to do so much, but kind of failed beyond being something pretty to watch.

  4. You may not have come across this one yet. Ocean Frontiers: The Dawn of a New Era in Ocean Stewardship,

  5. Thanks! Ocean Frontiers sounds great - I'll definitely put it on my must-see list for 2013 :)