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17 Environmentally Conscious Films We’re Watching This Earth Day

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“Waste Land”

Nate von Zumwalt

The way I tend to contemplate environmental protection is analogous to the way I think about investing in a retirement plan. Is it convenient or instantly gratifying? No. Is it necessary? Most likely. Could it hurt? Absolutely not. Sure, it’s not the sexiest juxtaposition, but you can’t reject the pressing relevance of our planet’s well-being. For years, cinema has offered a platform for filmmakers to assume an activist role in confronting the environmental challenges of our time.

Despite some progress in remedying issues such as resource depletion, pollution, and climate change, there remains a schism between camps who are effecting change and those who refuse to accept the environmental realities. That’s where we hope our list of environmentally conscious films will lend a hand, or at least get you in the spirit of thinking about the issues facing our time.


WASTE LAND

“Brazilian artist Vik Muniz creates photographic images of people using found materials from the places where they live and work. His “Sugar Children” series portrays the images of deprived children of Caribbean plantation workers using the sugar from their surroundings. When acclaimed filmmaker Lucy Walker trains her camera on Muniz, he is cultivating a new idea for a project. He knows the material he wants to use—garbage—but who will be the subject of the new series of works?”

ABOVE ALL ELSE

“One man risks his family and future to stop the tar sands of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from crossing his land. Shot in the forests, pastures, and living rooms of rural East Texas, the film follows David Daniel from the moment that he discovers survey stakes on his land, through years of activism and civic engagement, to four climatic days in September 2012.”

A RIVER CHANGES COURSE

A River Changes Course intimately captures the stories of three families living in Cambodia as they strive to maintain their traditional ways of life as the modern world closes in around them.”

THE MOO MAN

“In the bucolic English countryside, Stephen Hook runs the family dairy farm, Hook and Son, a lo-fi anomaly resisting a hi-fi world. Farming is a hard life and an even harder business, but Stephen and his family make it work by staying small and offering services like home delivery.”

YAKONA

Yako­na, meaning ‘rising water’ in a Native American language, is a visual journey through the crystal clear waters of the San Marcos River and its headwaters at Spring Lake. The film takes the viewer from prehistoric times through the modern era on an impressionistic journey from the perspective of the river.”

EARTH DAYS

“Director Robert Stone concocts an inspiring and hopeful work in Earth Days, a documentary that recounts the history of the modern environmental movement from its beginnings nearly four decades ago. Environmental activism really began with the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and precipitated an unexpected and galvanizing effect on the national psyche.”

THE LAST MOUNTAIN

“It’s easy to forget that each time we turn on a light, we are contributing to the ecological damage caused by the coal that generates electricity in this country. The Last Mountain gives us plenty of reasons to remember. Contaminated air, soil, and water; coal dust, cancer clusters, and toxic sludge are all by-products of this widespread energy source. Focusing on the devastating effects of mountaintop coal removal in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, filmmaker Bill Haney illustrates the way residents and activists are standing up to the industry and major employer that is so deeply embedded in the region.”


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