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Six must-see documentaries about sustainability and the environment

6 must-see documentaries

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth made waves around the world when it burst onto screens in 2006. It won the 2007 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and spurred the creation of non-profit organisation Climate Reality Project, which unites people around the world to share the message of climate change.

Film is a powerful medium to share important messages about the environment, sustainability and human or animal rights. Here are six documentaries that turn the spotlight on important environmental and ethical issues facing us today.

The True Cost (2015)

The True Cost brings to light some shocking facts about the fashion industry that beg the question: who really pays the price for our clothes? It looks at everything from the environmental impact (the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world), to labour rights abuses in developing countries, to how genetically modified cotton is related to cancer incidence and suicide. The Western world’s demand for cheap, disposable fashion is destroying the planet and lives.

Fashion aficionados shouldn’t panic though. Rather than demanding a halt to shopping altogether, The True Cost offers suggestions for how to use our consumer power to make a positive impact on the fashion industry.

You can read Good On You’s review here, or watch the trailer.

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2013)

Midway Atoll, an ex-military base in the North Pacific Ocean, is remote, uninhabited except by workers of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and not open to visitors. Yet animals in the area are dying, their insides clogged up by plastic debris and rubbish.

Because of the atoll’s unique location, ocean currents are dragging marine pollution to the region, resulting in the Great Pacific garbage patch. But the garbage is only an indication of a much bigger problem.

Plastic Paradise is American journalist/filmmaker Angela Sun’s journey to uncover the phenomenon of the Great Pacific garbage patch. Through encounters with scientists, researchers and volunteers, she shows us that the problem – our reliance on, and consumption of, plastic ­– is more insidious than we think.

Watch the trailer.

Chasing Ice (2012)

In 2005, environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic for a National Geographic assignment. His job was to take photos to show how the earth’s climate is changing. What he saw made him, for the first time, truly believe in climate change.

Chasing Ice is the story of what came after. Banding together a team of adventurers, Balog decided to install multi-year time-lapse cameras across the inhospitable Arctic landscape to capture images of the glaciers crashing to the sea, ice melting at a terrifying rate and irreversible changes to the landscape.

The documentary has been called “a solitary quest with global implications” (New York Times), “a lesson to both filmmakers and climate-change deniers” (NPR) and “a film so eye-opening and socially important that it demands to be seen” (Sundance London).

Watch the trailer.

More than Honey (2012)

What would happen if bees disappeared from our world? According to Einstein, “mankind would only have four years left to live”. Swiss documentary More than Honey charts the alarming rate of deaths of bee colonies around the world, from Europe to Australia to China. It examines the possible reasons for the deaths ­– a combination of parasites, viruses, pesticides and stress.

There’s some bleak footage of Chinese workers pollinating flowers by hand against a stark backdrop, which asks the question: who’s better at pollinating, man or bees?

Watch the trailer.

Food, Inc (2008)

While Food, Inc is focussed on American industrial food production, it’s still relevant to Australians in that we face some similar issues in our society. The documentary explores how food systems are controlled by supermarkets and multinational companies like Monsanto, and how governments have a stake in food policy (spoiler: they don’t have our best interests at heart). The industrial food system is designed to grow everything “faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper”, impacting our health and environment.

Featuring interviews with Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) Food, Inc will inspire you to consider your food choices, and how to change the irresponsible behaviour of supermarkets and corporations.

Watch the trailer.

Earthlings (2005)

Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and with music by Moby, Earthlings is a must-see documentary that takes an unflinching look at our treatment of animals used for food, fashion, science and entertainment.

Powerful, graphic and provocative, it’s guaranteed to change the way you view your consumer choices and even humanity itself.

Watch the trailer (warning: contains distressing and explicit footage).

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