15 Documentaries To Watch
Below are 15 documentaries that have helped shape my life into what it is at the moment. If you haven't seen some of these on my list, I encourage you to watch them. Many of them have to do with food, healthcare, ecology, or human rights - because that's what has kept me ticking recently - but there are so many other worthy topics and problems to discover and delve into. Know that these topics are not the only important issues in the world, but if you're not familiar with them or want to know more, these films may be for you. I've put them in an order that I think flows well and links for a way to watch them are included. Many are on Netflix. Some are not.
Many, or perhaps all, of these films are decidedly one-sided.
While being one-sided may be a good way to convince viewers to believe in a cause, it's not a great way for us to make decisions that frame our worldview. As with anything you watch, I encourage you to do some research after you've heard an interesting argument, especially after a documentary that riles you up and spews data at you on a screen with no opportunity to link to their references.
1 | TERRA
Terra is a beautiful place to start on a journey. It had to be put first. Narrated in french by Vanessa Paradis, it is a nature documentary, but so much more. It follows natural history from the beginning but includes our story, the story of human life, into the larger narrative of life on earth. You're studying it all, looking down at the earth from the beginning of time with your magnifying glass, seeing how it all works together - or doesn't. It's beautiful and horrifying, unbelievably depressing and invigorating. A must watch for all.
2 | THE IVORY GAME
The Ivory Game puts us into the world of African elephant poaching which, largely thanks to an extremely high demand for ivory in Asia, has almost decimated the species in the past forty years alone. 150,000 elephants were poached in the last five years, and with only about 415,000 still left in the wild, at this rate all elephants could be dead in 15 years. This film looks into the effort to protect elephants on the ground in Africa, and also at those trying to prosecute those involved in the illegal ivory trade in Asia. Warning: this film may make you cry.
3 | GMO OMG
There's been continuous talk about genetically modified organisms for years. From Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and California's failed GMO labeling referendums, to Bill Nye's newest stance in which he says GMOs "aren't riskier than other farmed foods" on his new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World, there's always some news regarding this war between companies making money from GMO seeds and consumers. One consumer, Jeremy Seifert, made this documentary to detail his family's search for information regarding what GMOs are, and whether or not they're bad for us, for agriculture, and for the earth.
4 | FOOD CHAINS
I had an assumption that workers in the U.S. were generally well taken care of and that we all at least made minimum wage. I had no idea that in some industries the loopholes are immense, that American workers who are the most vulnerable are taken advantage of. Looking into the human rights violations and controversies facing agricultural workers today, this film shows a side of the U.S. that I had never seen before. It's another reminder that we should care about where our food comes from and that real people like you and me make everything we consume.
5 | COWSPIRACY
This is probably the documentary that has changed my life the most. As someone who has considered herself an environmentalist for years, I believed I was doing my best to help the environment by curbing waste, promoting biodiversity, and buying organic food, but there was a huge gap in my ideology - animal products. "You can't be an environmentalist and still eat meat," says this doc. While you will hear enough statements in the media countering the data in this film to make you unsure, this film does an amazing job of questioning everything you've ever thought - in a good way.
6 | FLOW
Scientists have been warning that fresh water is becoming a scarce commodity. With average temperatures around the world rising every year, reliable water sources are becoming more and more valuable, which is why rich corporations are buying up water rights and selling it back to the people - for profit. "The market [for water] is amoral - and it's going to lead you to selling water to those who can buy it and not to those who need it." This film goes into water bottling controversies, human rights violations, politics, and more.
7 | FOOD MATTERS
Let's start talking about health - my other favorite thing to learn about. I first saw clips from Food Matters in a chiropractor's waiting room and was so enthralled I immediately found it online and watched the whole thing before it was even on Netflix. This film is about chronic malnutrition, poor diet and lifestyle habits, how pharmaceutical companies are profiting from our unhealthy diet, how food is not the same today as it was 80 years ago, and about how food can make you healthy or can make you sick. "Good health makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't make a lot of dollars."
8 | SICKO
Sicko, and Michael Moore in my opinion, is pure brilliance. So funny, so shocking, so informative, so intelligent - all my favorite things. The first part of this documentary focuses on the corruption involved between the pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. government, and the second part (my favorite part) is a look at socialized medicine in places like Canada, the U.K., and France where, hey ... don't shoot me, but ... it seems to work pretty well. Moore addresses common concerns like "But they don't get to pick their doctor," "They get taxed so high that they don't have discretionary income," "The doctors make no money there," "The care there is so poor," etc.
9 | THE TRUE COST
We have a new relationship to clothing these days. Our clothes are cheap, rarely ever get repaired, and have become, in a sense, disposable. Clothes are thrown out or donated when they go out of style, and clothes go out of style fast. The True Cost takes a look at this new tendency which has been consciously created by the fashion industry and capitalized upon. Is it better for the consumer? We are in fact spending more money on clothes now than we did before fashion was cheap because we are buying more and buying constantly. It's not great for us, and it's especially bad for the environment and the millions of workers who are employed throughout the industry as the human rights violations will tell you.
10 | MISSION BLUE
This film follows around Dr. Sylvia Earle, renowned marine biologist, activist, explorer, and general Wonder Woman-type. She explains her love for the ocean, and its importance for the life of the earth as a whole. As an explorer of depths unknown for over 50 years, she has seen an amazing abundance of life below the surface, but that life is dwindling. She comes to us pleading for our help. The rising of global temperatures, the acidification of the ocean, and a severe overfishing habit is killing habitats and many species of animal life. As an expert in ocean life, her opinion is that the ocean is in a dire condition, and each of us can do something about it. And yes, she's stopped eating fish for good.
11 | THE GREAT INVISIBLE
The Great Invisible explores the fallout from what is considered the greatest environmental disaster of all time. In April 2010, a state-of-the-art offshore oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, burned for two days, sank, and then gushed hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the fragile ecosystem below for almost three months straight. Eleven crew members died, and local fishing operations in Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas were devastated. This is a look at the people inside the story, from industry insiders and leaders, to the workers who were there the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded, to people in the communities affected by the spill.
12 | DAM NATION
The boom days of dam building in the U.S. are decades behind us and there is now a growing movement to remove dams where the costs – economic, environmental, safety, and cultural impacts – outweigh the benefits of maintaining and retrofitting an aging dam. This documentary maintains that dams are dated technology and, in many cases, cause significantly more problems than they solve. For me, this film was an in-depth look into an industry that I didn't know much about.
13 | REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM
You may have to be a nerd who loves politics to enjoy this one, but it's become a fast-favorite. This film is a simple interview with Noam Chomsky, the renowned philosopher, linguist, cognitive scientist, historian, and political activist, in which he discusses the impact of the concentration of wealth and power on democracy and our political system. While watching someone talk for 75 minutes might not seem the most stimulating, I felt like a kid sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of this grandfatherly character gazing admiringly into his face, waiting expectantly for the next epiphany. It couldn't be more timely.
14 | WHERE TO INVADE NEXT
Michael Moore's most recent feature-length documentary follows him to nine countries around the world where he shows us alternative methods of dealing with the social and economic ills experienced in the United States. He looks at Finland and its secret to having the best public education in the world, Portugal's successful decriminalization of drug use, Norway's rehabilitative prison system, Italy's guaranteed seven paid weeks of vacation time for all, and more. Moore's look at these countries is an optimistic view and leaves out many of their faults, but their successes remain successes, and I think we would be smart to follow in their footsteps.
15 | TERMS AND CONDITIONS MAY APPLY
This film is a look into what we're really getting ourselves into when we click "Agree" to all those Terms and Conditions documents on the internet. It's a look into how much power these companies and the government have over our "private" data (f.y.i - nothing's private anymore), and it shows us the consequences of giving up our privacy. If you've ever said "I don't have to worry about them seeing my online activity because I have nothing to hide" this film will make you rethink that. I rethought it so much I downloaded the Tor browser stat and gave up Gmail. I'm now a legitimate conspiracy theorist, but oh well.