5 Films to Celebrate Earth Day: “Protect Our Species” Edition

recommended image width: 1088px

“One half for me, one for you,” repeats Hatidze to her bees in Honeyland, winner of the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Festival. In taking only half of their honey, she explains, she sustains her hives and ensures their future wellbeing.

Honeyland is in good company of Festival documentary films dedicated to demonstrating the need for human restraint to ensure species’ protection and illuminating the struggle for survival amidst climate change, poaching, and other looming threats. Alongside Honeyland, The Elephant Queen, which documents a herd of endangered African elephants as they trek across the desert in search of a nurturing home, and Sea of Shadows, a documentary-thriller about the race to save the endangered vaquita whale from the Mexican cartels and Chinese traffickers who threaten it, also premiered in 2019. While we keep an eye on when this year’s films get released (Neon, Apple, and National Geographic have each acquired one), we’ve come up with a list of Sundance-supported classics for you to enjoy this Earth Day.

Chasing Coral

Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski’s follow-up to Chasing Ice and winner of the 2017 Festival’s U.S. Documentary Audience Award, Chasing Coral documents environmentalists’ efforts to record coral bleaching—a result of rising ocean temperatures—to better publicize this pressing environmental issue. While the team encounters numerous technical difficulties, their time-lapse photography produces undeniable evidence of the phenomenon that threatens to kill coral reefs worldwide.

Watch on Netflix


Racing Extinction

The second film from the Academy Award–winning director of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos’s Racing Extinction delves deep into humankind’s role, through both climate change and poaching, in precipitating the greatest mass extinction in 66 million years. The eye-opening, thrilling film follows Psihoyos and his team as they repeatedly put themselves at risk to expose illegal animal trade and pollution and inform the public.

Watch Now

March of the Penguins

This Academy Award–winning documentary from director Luc Jacquet intimately reveals the fragility of the emperor penguin and its constant struggle for survival. Though the film does not explore climate change’s effects on the species, it shows the precariousness of the threatened species’ existence that now seems all the more impossible with rising ocean temperatures and melting ice.

Watch Now


The End of the Line

An exposé on the impacts of overfishing, this film adaptation of Charles Clover’s book, directed by Rupert Murray, reveals how fishing has decimated fish populations and wrecked aquatic ecosystems across the globe, upending the myth that farm fishing is a sustainable solution to the problem.

Watch Now

Ranger, Farmer, Fisherman

Susan Froemke’s documentary adaptation of Miriam Horne’s book, Ranger, Farmer, Fisherman spotlights three Middle Americans who uphold conservation in their daily work. They recognize the necessity of preserving species, land, and seas to protect the ecosystems and environmental resources that sustain their work.

Watch on Hulu


Lead photo: