- From ocean pollution to animal cruelty and global warming, here are our picks for some gut-wrenching, eye-opening and sometimes, heart warming films.
COVID-19 has taught me a lot about life in the short amount of time since it turned the world upside down. For starters, this pandemic has taught me how much in my life I take for granted. Walks down the street with friends. Going to see a new movie on Friday night. Sitting in a park and watching the birds. Even stepping out around the corner for a cup of chai. COVID-19 has changed the way we live. But as an occasional optimist, I try to find the bright spot amidst the anxiety and panic. I am fortunate enough to have a roof over my head, enough food to eat, and the ability to self-quarantine and do my part to keep India safe. So in between working from home and reading all of the books in my library, I’ve been watching documentaries! These award-winning documentaries are my personal picks for increasing your environmental awareness and for occupying a bit of that quarantine time.
1. Netflix: A Plastic Ocean (2016)
Brace yourself for this intense exploration into the world of plastics. What starts as a search for a blue whale leads to a deep dive into the world of plastic pollution. Though I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about ocean pollution, I learned so many things from this film! For example, did you know “there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic afloat in our oceans worldwide”?? That’s an insane amount of plastic, and it’s something we contribute to on a daily basis.
This documentary elevates the conversation about plastic to the next level, taking a hard look at single-use plastics and their effect on marine life while providing a holistic picture of the problem of plastic beyond the ocean depths. I wouldn’t recommend eating while you watch this documentary because it does get a little graphic, but the scenes that are hardest to watch are the most necessary in our understanding of the severity of the problem. And if the above wasn’t convincing enough, watch for the cutest albatross you’ve ever seen!
2. Netflix: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (2019)
Before I moved to India, I had a lot of stuff. Just stuff. And even though I got rid of so many things when I moved, a lot of that stuff is sitting in storage in Denver waiting for me to scoop it up and continue living my excessive American lifestyle. But if moving to India has taught me anything (and oh has it taught me things) it’s that I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle. Less is more and having more stuff is not the key to a happy life.
This is part documentary and part reality TV but it will inspire you to live a more simplistic life. Based on the best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” this eight-episode series will have you asking “does this spark joy” about everything you own. You will probably be surprised to find that most of the things you own don’t spark any joy at all! You can donate those joy-less items to a local charity so others can enjoy them and you can focus on what really matters to you.
3. Amazon Prime: At The Fork (2016)
As a vegetarian (who is planning to become a vegan as soon as this lockdown is over) I am always thinking about where my food comes from. As I’ve developed in my journey of not eating animals, I have learned a lot about people as well as animals. Humans are surprisingly judgmental about my choice to not eat meat. The animals I have to assume are happy to still be alive though, and that’s what really matters.
This documentary explores what animals experience on their journey to get to the end of your fork. Warning: it is not a pretty journey. Most animals don’t even get to feel the grass on their hooves before they are slaughtered for food. This documentary explores the factory farming industry in the United States but India is not immune to this cruelty. Check out www.worldanimalprotection.org.in for the horrifying details after you watch this documentary.
4. Amazon Prime: Planet Earth (2006)
This documentary series is one of the most fascinating shows I’ve ever watched. Each of the eleven episodes takes you on a tour of a different part of this planet we call home. From deserts to mountains and everywhere in-between, Planet Earth explores the wildlife that inhabits each region and the intricacies of the natural world that sustain life and contribute to the healthy functioning of our planet.
Watching each episode I’m reminded of the difference I make (just as a single human!) on the great ecosystem that I’m part of. It reminds me of what I’m fighting for when I go volunteer at the #MahimBeachCleanUp or choose recycled products. This documentary series is a visual reminder of why we environmentalists do the work we do. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and the narrator has the most soothing voice! A season 2 of Planet Earth was released in 2016 but I prefer the original.
5. Disney Hot Star: Before the Flood (2016)
Superstar Leonardo DiCaprio produces and stars in this documentary that illuminates both the front lines of the climate crisis and the behind-the-scenes decisions that have put us at such risk. See how climate change affects people around the world and the ways that politicians and businesses operate to ensure progress is not made in the efforts to curb emissions, deforestation, or generally responsible use of resources (hint: it’s all about the money).
Besides giving me a glimpse into the worldwide impacts of climate change on people just like me, this documentary inspired me to take action. The struggle for a greener world goes far beyond my local neighborhood and volunteering is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to effect lasting change, governments must be held accountable to citizens demanding a better future.
6. Disney Hot Star: Global Junk Food (2016)
It can be so easy to fall into the marketing trap of big businesses who sell cheap, fast, and delicious food. Major brands like McDonald’s and KFC are money making machines and care little about your personal health, preferring their bottom line and how they can make more money off of an uninformed public. This documentary gives you a peek into these industries and what their food is actually made of. With an interesting investigation into the Indian consumer market, this documentary was truly eye opening for me.
Though the documentary mentions new legislation in India surrounding the labeling and reporting of nutritional information for fast food chains, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has been slow to make changes. These regulatory measures are also primarily targeted towards children, which ignores a huge segment of the population who may remain ignorant about the content of the foods they eat. Your best bet is always to eat whole fresh foods that you prepare at home.
Netflix: ₹ 499/- per month
Amazon Prime: ₹ 129/- per month or ₹ 999/- for an annual subscription
Disney+ Hotstar: VIP subscription for ₹ 399/- annually or a Premium subscription for ₹299/- per month or ₹ 1499/- annually
Sheena Kelly is a teacher librarian working at Ascend International School in Mumbai. For over ten years, she has worked to connect library users of all ages with the right resources. If you'd like to get in touch about this list, email her at email@example.com