Lesser-Known Environmental Films

Rather than share information about bigger environmental documentaries that already have worldwide acclaim, like Food, Inc., The Cove or An Inconvenient Truth, I am presenting an alternative documentary list to view. Here are 10 lesser-known environmental documentaries released between 1982 and 2016. These are listed in chronological order.

Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011)

All three films share the same cinematographer and the latter two share the same director. They use nontraditional storytelling methods to connect worldwide visions — nature and nurture and the greatness of it all, with the transcendental musical backdrop of musicians like Philip Glass and Dead Can Dance.

Blue Vinyl (2002)

A heartfelt and quirky look at the world of vinyl. It’s not about long-lost record shops, but the long-term health effects of polyvinyl chloride in homes as well as its production, use and disposal in small communities in Louisiana.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005)

A quirky man who chooses to work the fields, yet could wear a feather boa as easily as a pair of jeans. Illinois farmer John Peterson rises out of both bankruptcy and depression to resurrect Midwest farm communities in the 1980s, and soothes his soul with his passion for reaching people through organic agriculture.

Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

Explore the history of this once-promising technology, from creation to destruction of the battery electric vehicle in the US, specifically the General Motors EV1 model of the mid-1990s.

Half Life: A Journey to Chernobyl (2007)

A poetic and haunting look at reactor four from 1986 at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which exploded, sending an enormous radioactive cloud over northern Ukraine and neighboring Belarus. The effects of this tragedy have been long-lasting and are presented here via the poetry of Mario Petrucci.

Vanishing of the Bees (2009)

Follow beekeepers as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the US. Through powerful imagery and commentary, voiced by Ellen Page, witness the struggles beekeepers face as they plead their case and travel across the Pacific Ocean in their quest to protect their honeybees.

Chasing Ice (2012)

Acclaimed photographer James Balog deploys revolutionary time-lapse cameras capturing a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. The film meshes his challenges to produce his beautiful videos, compressing years into seconds and capturing ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at an alarming rate.

Blackfish (2013)

With the recent death of Tilikum in January 2017, we are reminded of her story in this documentary. She was a tormented captive killer whale that took the lives of several people, shedding light on the problems within the sea park industry of keeping orcas in captivity, as well as man’s relationship to nature and how little we know about these highly intelligent creatures.

How to Change the World (2015)

Using previously unseen archive footage to bring their fascinating tale to life, this is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and helped define the modern green movement. From their humble start in 1971, it shows their gradual shift in tone and focus over the years.

When Two Worlds Collide (2016)

Audiences are brought directly into the line of fire between powerful opposing Peruvian leaders who will stop at nothing to reach their respective goals as they take on large businesses that are destroying the Amazon. On the one side is President Alan Garcia, who begins aggressively extracting oil, minerals and gas from untouched indigenous Amazonian land. Opposing him is indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, whose impassioned speeches against Garcia’s destructive actions prove a powerful rallying of opposition, bringing a tense war of words erupting into deadly violence.