Marie Claire is supported by her audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to purchase.
Bookmark this for later.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the search for environmental documentaries is about to break out. Why? Simply because, as the UN’s recent IPCC report has shown, we are facing a worse climate crisis than ever before and change is needed to save planet Earth.
With the collective carbon footprint through the roof and greenwashing at an all-time high, it can feel like living sustainably — well, confusing at the best of times.
That’s where environmental documentaries come in handy. Many filmmakers have taken it upon themselves to emphasize how dire the current climate situation is – and no, we’re not just talking about David Attenborough.
We asked Transition movement author and founder Rob Hopkins to share his top recommendations for eco-documentaries to inspire you to think bigger, do better and do more for the planet.
After all, every little bit helps.
11 environmental documentaries to add to your ‘to watch’ list
Not sure where to start? “With environmental disaster stories in the media so often, it’s easy to get discouraged,” explains Hopkins.
“It’s crucial that you don’t lose hope – our ability to be imaginative about the future is completely dependent on the amount of exposure we’ve had on creative ideas, bold activism, brilliant campaigns and real, solid examples on the ground,” he continues.
Like it? Environmental documentaries, for starters. “Good films about the environment can shock us, but they can also take us by the hand and lead us into the future, that is still possible – only”, shares the activist. “They can spark our imaginations to create positive changes in our lives that benefit the environment.”
Keep scrolling for Hopkins’ top picks of the best environmental documentaries to watch now or bookmark for later.
1. We the Power – The future of energy belongs to the community
Watch because: It is one of the newest documentaries on climate change. “The latest film from Patagonia highlights the citizen-led community energy movement that is making waves across Europe,” said Hopkins.
“The film follows that pioneering community energy as they break down legal barriers and take power back from major energy companies to put it in the hands of the locals. It’s an inspiring watch that shows the true power of community action and how community energy has the power to benefit the environment and build healthier, financially stable communities,” he says.
Available on: YouTube.
2. An Inconvenient Truth
Watch because: It emphasizes the need for everyone to make small changes. “Al Gore’s famous movie about global warming really had a big impact on me,” Hopkins said.
“Indeed, when all the glaciers were melting, my wife and I decided to stop flying, a decision I have never regretted for a moment.”
3. Demain (tomorrow)
Watch because: This was one of the first environmental documentaries to focus on climate solutions rather than problems. “This was released in 2015 and was the first sustainability film to focus so fully on climate solutions,” he explains.
“The success surprised everyone. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that I am in this movie. It remains a powerful reminder of the world we need to build.”
Available on: Amazon Prime rent.
4. Placing Faces
Watch because: It is very emotional and a powerful commentary on humanity. “This beautiful French film is about legendary filmmaker Agnes Varda and street performer JR,” Hopkins said.
“It tells so beautifully and movingly about the transformative and radical power of art, aging and humanity,” he explains. “It’s really about that service to people and the planet is an art, and it made me cry several times.”
“Charming, deeply uplifting and as radical as you can get.”
5. In great danger of falling food
Watch because: This was one of the first documentaries to challenge the system. “Made in the 1980s for Australian TV, this documentary was the world’s first introduction to permaculture – an approach to land management and philosophy that adopts arrangements observed in thriving natural ecosystems – and from co-founder Bill Mollison,” he explains.
“It’s irreverent, anarchic and filled with a can-do spirit that really changed my life.” But be warned: You’ll never look at lawns the same way again, Hopkins warns.
Available on: YouTube.
6. The Man Who Planted Trees
Watch because: You have to convince that one person can change the world on your own. “Frédéric Back’s incredible animation of Jean Giono’s classic book is about a shepherd’s mission to reforest an arid valley,” Hopkins tells us.
Available on: Vimeo.
7. Captain Fantastic
Watch because: It is a beautiful feature film, according to the activist. “It shows Viggo Mortensen as a father raising his children in the forest and homeschooling them in a completely immersive way. It explores fascinating themes of nature, education, imagination and how really pure principles fit in with modern society – it’s beautiful.”
8. Garbage fighter
Watch because: It’s imaginative and makes you think outside the box. “It’s a wonderful film about Michael Reynolds, the mastermind behind the concept of Earthship, which is houses built with natural resources, old tires and junk,” Hopkins said.
“He is a complex, driven and creative man who has envisioned something incredible – a maverick who inspires people by doing. The film really helps you to rethink what shelter could be,” he continues.
Available on: on thought maybe, an independent, non-profit project that aims to take free action on issues surrounding modern society and industrial civilization.
9. The Age of Stupidity
Watch because: It gives you a glimpse into the future – if things don’t change. “This groundbreaking film is set in 2055, where the world has been devastated by the effects of climate change. It still stands the test of time — it’s really powerful,” Hopkins says.
“If only people really listened when it was first released.”
10. The Big Short
Watch because: It helps even those who are not financially interested in understanding global finance. “The Big Short is a great film that helps even the most illiterate of economics understand how global finance works and why the 2008 financial crash happened,” he explains.
“It’s hilarious, outrageous and terrifying, and a hugely enjoyable film that also offers tremendous education. It’s very important to understand how global finances are managed, and this is the best place to start.”
11. Unstoppable Youth
Watch because: Not a choice of Hopkins, but a MC entry to complete the list. WaterBear, the free streaming-for-impact platform dedicated to the future of our planet, documents the rise of the youth climate movement and has just released its first original feature documentary, Youth Unstoppable.
Directed and narrated by Canadian filmmaker and climate activist Slater Jewell-Kemker, Youth Unstoppable follows her growing up from a grassroots teenager to an eco-activist adult, documenting her journey over the course of twelve years and nine different countries. The target? Simple: to revive the energy of the climate change movement and unite youth around the world in combating the greatest challenge facing humanity.
Jewell-Kemker said: “We need stories to help us adapt and rethink our relationships with each other and the planet as we move forward in a world forever changed by the climate crisis. After 12 years, the global youth climate movement Having documented this, I am excited to bring the film to a wider audience with the help of WaterBear, a platform that understands this need for connection.”