So many amazing documentaries are coming out all the time about vegan diets, animal welfare, and the environment. In my previous post about documentaries Must-Watch Documentaries, I listed some of the absolute must-see films about these topics.
However, there are many more documentaries that I consider to be essential viewing. So if you’ve watched Forks Over Knives, Eating, Earthlings, Blackfish, Conspiracy, etc. definitely move on to these ones. Several of these films got a fair amount of press and are available to stream on either Amazon Video or Netflix. Others like I am Animal, The Witness, and ALF: Behind the Mask are more fringe films that weren’t as widely promoted, but are available for free on YouTube.
None of these documentaries are always enjoyable to watch, in that they examine disturbing issues in our society – whether it be animal exploitation and abuse, environmental destruction, corporate malfeasance, or cover ups within the government and the media. That being said, they do tend to be riveting and entertaining, not unlike a good mystery or thriller. After watching them, we feel more knowledgeable and enlightened, as well as more eager to share what we’ve learned with people we know or meet. We become more committed to seeking out truth and justice, and doing our part to no longer be complicit in crimes against humanity, the environment, and animals.
This is one of the most fun, playful, and fast-paced animal rights documentaries I’ve seen. Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is an unofficial animal activist group that is listed as the #1 Domestic Terrorist Organization – a designation that should seem extreme and unwarranted given that they act purely by compassion for the animals, and have never harmed anyone. At great risk to themselves (many ALF members have been imprisoned for 5-6 years at a time), these individuals carry out acts of sabotage to entities such as fur farms and scientific laboratories engaged in egregious cruelty towards animals.
Available on YouTube.
What is speciesism? A young and endearing college student, unfamiliar with the worlds of veganism and animal rights, takes it upon himself to answer this question as a part of a self-initiated school project. He films this journey, in which he interviews animal rights experts and organizations, and eventually comes to see our society’s attitude towards animals in a completely different light. The protagonist’s quirky sense of humor helps to make the documentary more lighthearted and fun despite the at times difficult subject matter.
This documentary offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and psyche of Ingrid Newkirk, founder and president of PETA. Love PETA or hate them, you have to admit they’ve helped to put animal rights on the map in our society. I am an Animal highlights the achievements of PETA over the years, while also allowing us to see Newkirk in her day to day life and watch some of PETA’s more exciting recent campaigns unfold.
Available on YouTube.
Virunga National Park in the Congo is home to some of the world’s last mountain gorillas, which are critically endangered due to loss of habitat and poaching. At the beginning of Virunga, we learn about the people who work at Virunga National Park, committed to preserving the sanctity of the biodiverse park. There’s André Bauma, the loving caretaker of orphaned gorillas who lost their parents to poaching, some of which suffer PTSD from their encounters with violent humans. Then there’s Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, a park ranger who daily risks his life to protect the gorillas. Since the 1990s, 130 park rangers have been killed at Virunga National Park. We also meet several other interesting characters as the documentary progresses, such as Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian of royal descent who serves as warden of the park, and Melanie Gouby, a young undercover french reporter. Meanwhile, a British oil company called SOCO is establishing a presence in the area, with designs on infiltrating the park in search of oil. While some locals are averse to the idea of SOCO coming in, others think that the oil company will bring money and progress. Towards the end of the film, civil war literally breaks out as rebels attempt to take over the park. Bauma, Katembo, and de Merode courageously hold down the fort, prepared to die in order to protect the gentle gorillas and the park itself.
Watch this inspiring clip of Andre Bauma and his gorilla family here.
Available to stream on Netflix. Watch the dramatic trailer here.
In the US, corporations are protected as persons under the 14th amendment, and yet they are not subject to the same rules and penalties as normal citizens. Companies have no moral or social obligations; their only obligation is to make money. As a result, they have been able to get away with murder, literally and figuratively – exploiting the environment, people, and animals, without having to account for their actions.
Viewing corporations through the lens of a psychological evaluation, the film demonstrates that if corporations really were persons the vast majority of them would fall under the criteria of psychopaths. We come to understand that in giving corporations supreme power and not requiring them to have a social conscience, America effectively created a monster.
Photographer and director Louie Psihoyos undertakes an investigation into the Holocene Extinction, the greatest mass extinction since the K/T event extinction 66 million years ago. The Holocene Extinction is different than the extinction events in the history of earth in that it’s caused by human activity – i.e. us. We see Psihoyos going undercover in China where the illegal wildlife trade is completely out of control. We also learn about some of the disastrous effects that industry – and animal agriculture in particular – has been having on the environment and wildlife.
Psihoyus and his team ultimately decide to create an exhibit of sorts in New York City where the images of endangered species are projected onto important landmarks, with animal sounds playing in the background. The interactive exhibit aims to inspire people to start caring about the precipitous loss of biodiversity our planet is undergoing, and take steps such as adopting a more plant-based diet to reduce their environmental footprint.
As Psihoyus says, “When you’re talking about losing all of nature it’s not a spectator sport anymore. Everybody has to become active somehow.”
This is a short (45-minute) documentary about a tough Brooklyn construction contractor who went from being completely apathetic towards animals to becoming an ardent animal activist. Eddie Lama explains that he never really cared much for animals until he adopted a kitten and had a dramatic change in perception that deepened his compassion for all animals. It was only a matter of time before he started caring for neglected dogs and cats, and using unique and clever tactics to spread awareness about the brutality of the fur industry.
The film is unique and refreshing in that it shows how even a hardened New Yorker can expand their circle of compassion given the opportunity to see animals through a different lens, and that sometimes the most unlikely individuals can make some the best activists.
Available on YouTube.
Max Gerson was a German-born American doctor who discovered the fact that cancer could be cured through dietary changes. After immigrating to the US in the 1930’s, he began treating cancer patients using his method – which involves a vegan diet, juicing, and supplements – with successful results. He published his findings in a book called A Cancer Therapy: Results of 50 Cases. However, his work was discredited and silenced by the medical establishment, and he was later poisoned to death.
In Dying to Have Known, documentary filmmaker Steve Kroschel sets out to figure out whether or not the Gerson therapy is effective and to understand why Gerson’s method was so aggressively maligned by the medical-pharmaceutical industry. We are given the testimonies of patients, doctors, nutritionists, and scientists, which point unequivocally to the truth that the Gerson therapy works. Kroschel must then ask, “Why is this powerful curative therapy still suppressed, more than 75 years after it was clearly proven to cure degenerative disease?” The answer is disturbing, to say the least.
Available on YouTube.
What is the earth and what is our relationship to it? Using stunning aerial cinematography, Home conveys the story of planet earth and how humans, animals, and nature are interdependent on one another. With Glenn Close narrating over a dramatic score, we learn of the insidious ways we humans are ravaging the planet and its resources, and the catastrophic consequences this is beginning to have, not only for ourselves but for the other beings we share the planet with.
As Glenn Close, the narrator says, “Everything is linked. Nothing is self-sufficient.”
The documentary is directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who is famous for his aerial photographs and book Earth from Above.
Available on YouTube.
Also directed by Yann Arthrus-Bertand, Planet Ocean focuses exclusively on the ocean: how it developed, how the organisms within work synergistically to support one another, and how we ourselves are utterly dependent on it for survival. As in Home, we are presented with the great irony that although we need a healthy environment for our survival, our society aggressively seeks to plunder and destroy it at every opportunity.
Like Home, Planet Ocean is beautifully shot. But while Home relied primarily on aerial footage, Planet Ocean’s cinematography takes place mostly under water.
Available on YouTube.
I believe that humans owe a massive apology to all animals for how callously and cavalierly we’ve treated them over the millennia. Still, it is worth noting that elephants have in many ways been singled out by humans for mistreatment and exploitation. We’ve killed them by the millions just for their tusks; we’ve taken them out of their natural habitat and put them in concrete prisons so that we can see them at our local zoo; and we’ve subjected them to cruel training methods that they can perform silly tricks for us at the circus. Narrated by Lily Tomlin, this 40-minute HBO documentary accounts for some of the hardships elephants have had to endure, simply to satisfy our whims. It also sheds light on some of the remarkable characteristics of elephants such as their intelligence and the strong emotional bonds they share with one another.