Celebrating Earth Day on the couch just got a little more legit, thanks to these six environmental documentaries. Helmed by award-winning directors, each film honors the movers and shakers that are fighting to change the fate of the planet. Their stories are dire, but wonderfully exhilarating on any sized screen.
James Bond was never this green. From famed photographer Louis Psihoyos— director of The Cove—comes a behind-the-scenes film about the illegal wildlife trade. It follows OPS, a covert team on a guerrilla-style mission to expose the seedy side of global animal trafficking.
High-tech equipment in hand and getaway driver in tow, OPS builds a testimony of what’s happening to disappearing species, such as whale sharks and manta rays. Racing Extinction explores the possibility of a sixth mass extinction on Earth—one that could be prevented if we band together and beat out time.
Showing in limited locations; wider release later this year.
Rob Stewart’s documentary Revolution was supposed to be about saving sharks. But that changed when Stewart realized that threats to sharks are threats to all living things—humans included. So instead, he set out to make the case that conservation is really about the preservation of our own race. “We have a decision to make, and we don’t have much time,” he says in the film. “This is no longer just about saving the oceans. It’s about saving ourselves.”
What Stewart’s trying to say is that everyone needs to pitch in, even if it means less dramatic, more delicate work, like advocacy and political campaigns. It’s not the typical environmental warrior’s tale, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
Showing in limited locations; DVD out June 2nd; download on Yekra.
Tyler Christensen didn’t need a diploma to validate his love for birds; despite not having a college degree, Christensen launched his own ornithological mission in Costa Rica. Field Biologist is the raw biography of this renegade scientist—seen through director Jared Flesher’s lens—who at 22 already has a glum view of the future. “I’m a pessimist,” he says. “I don’t think humans are able to get their act together quickly enough to save most of the species in peril.”
But Christensen wants to be proven wrong. After all, the odds are in our favor: We are the first species to have the choice of preserving or destroying biodiversity. He leaves his home in New Jersey and settles into the Costa Rican jungle, where he studies migratory songbirds and aims to save the endangered Mangrove Hummingbird. Fighting for the earth requires no credentials—just the ambition to solve a global crisis, one species at a time.
Download or buy the DVD here.
"Emptying the Skies"
Time is running out for the migratory songbirds that fly through Southern Europe every spring, and right into the nets and glue traps of poachers. Jonathan Franzen has been the rallying voice against the deadly practice here in the States, ever since his exposé on bird poaching was published in the New Yorker in 2010. Now, Emptying the Skies, from directors Douglas Kass and Roger Kass, takes Franzen’s message and turns into a heart-wrenching, 78-minute investigation on the bird hunters of Mediterranean countries like Malta and Cyprus.
The documentary features a group of bird lovers, including Franzen, on a quest to end poaching. Their fight enters dangerous territory as they secretly free trapped birds to save them from the bleak fate of being sold and slaughtered on the black market. The documentary is a call to action, making it clear that it’s our responsibility to stop the devastation before it’s too late.
Download on iTunes.
In 2010, John James Audubon’s Birds of America was auctioned off at $11.5 million as the most expensive book in history. Director Al Reinett takes a look at what made this book so special in Rara Avis, a biographical documentary about Audubon himself. Featuring his best work and childhood drawings, this film is an intimate look at the Frenchman who made it his life’s work to catalogue the birds of North America.
Audubon’s diary comes to life in this movie, revealing the mind of a major conservationist. “I felt a great desire to make choice of a style more particularly adapted to the imitation of feathers [and] to complete a collection not only valuable to the scientific class, but pleasing to every person,” he wrote. Two hundred years later, Audubon’s legacy still resounds loud and clear through bird lovers everywhere.
Showing in limited locations.
Listen carefully: Birds are telling us something about our future, but their message is fading away quickly. Su Rynard’s documentary The Messenger unveils the complex effect of disappearing forests on migrating birds. While building windmills and skyscrapers has been great for life in the 21st century, we are inadvertently interfering with these birds’ ancient rite of passage. The changes in tree-lined landscapes are causing the decline of many songbird species—especially the Cerulean Warbler, Purple Martin, and Olive-Sided Flycatcher.
Rynard uses a unique combination of animation and breathtaking cinematography in her film to show that these birds’ journeys are not only beautiful, but also important to the ecosystems that humans inhabit. “You can’t just take birds out of the picture and expect the rest of it to keep working,” Rynard says in the movie. That’s something we can wholeheartedly agree on.
Set for release this spring.