Top 10 eye-opening ecological documentaries – and how to watch them easily

Images often speak better than words. Part of this blog’s aim is to contribute in raising readers’ awareness to certain issues and offer some ideas to deal constructively with them. True to this aim, we present to you today a selection of ecological documentaries that we consider as must-see. Indeed, if they are daunting, they are also eye-opening, inspirational and serve as helpful triggers for change. We assume that you’ve already watched the awards-winning An Inconvenient Truth, so we haven’t included it here. Do watch it (here) if you haven’t yet though…

To encourage you watching these 10 documentaries, we’ve also added links or given hints on how to access them easily. So that you can’t say you didn’t know! 🙂

So, here are our top 10 ecological documentaries:

1) Food, Inc. It’s a must-see. It provides a rather objective – if scary – assessment of food production in the US. I suspect anyone living in an industrialised country should watch it, not the least to understand better what one eats. Suddenly, one cannot escape questioning our food habits – as well as socio-economic organisation. Since changing our food habits is one of the most efficient ways to positively impact our planet and be healthy, one realises after watching it that organic farming, eating local and seasonal, eating less meat and other commonly heard mottos just make sense.

Here’s the trailer. Watch the whole documentary here.

2) Home. Offering stunning images of our planet, this documentary is a vivid reminder that we’d better hurry up if we don’t want to destroy it irremediably. Sadly, it sounds like a eulogy, but the true beauty of the images also gives the viewer a ray of hope – and contributes to turning despair into action. ‘Home’ has been conceived as a message of mobilisation to every human being – and it works.

Watch it here.

3) No Impact Man. It’s a rather funny account of a family who document their efforts to live sustainably. The real interest of the movie lies in the fact that the family lives in… New York. Yep. And they are quite successful despite the few challenges that they inevitably go through. The film crew follows them for a year, and while we witness their transformation, we can’t help but think that if a normal family could do it in New York, we can do it too – wherever we live. Beware though, it implies riding bikes, eating locally, using renewable energies and well, you can forget about using the fridge, lifts or toilet paper! It also inevitably implies the importance of developing bonds with family and friends, living simpler, being healthier and being happier… On the same topic, see our post about transitioning.

Be inspired, and watch it here.

4) GasLand. Another mind-boggling documentary, this film recounts  the story of a normal guy who is asked to lease his land for drilling gas. From there on, he picks up a camcorder and embarks on an epic journey to the harsh realities of natural gas. He discovers – and reveals – that the largest natural gas drilling boom in history is currently sweeping the globe, and in the US, the Halliburton-led drilling technology of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has unlocked a “Saudi Arabia of natural gas”. And as you can imagine, this has devastating effects on the environment, but also affects countless lives, including in the most remote and beautiful areas of the US. Don’t get fooled though, the drillings are not happening in the middle of nowhere, but also right in your backyards. Including in Australia and other industrialised countries. We’ve been keeping a close eye on what is going on around our current home with many farmers worried about extensive fracking and the work of a small group who are trying to stop it (check this out).

If you wonder whether you should worry that so many public city-buses are now fueled with natural gas, we strongly recommend watching it. Here.

5) Tapped. Similar to GasLand, ‘Tapped’ is a journey through the ugly world of the plastic water bottle business. It not only makes one think twice next time one wants to buy a bottled-drink, but proves also helpful in understanding the danger of plastic for the environment (think of the North Pacific garbage patch), but also for oneself. Think cancer and other nasty things you’d prefer avoiding. (we’ve previously posted some info about these, check for yourself here and here).

Watch ‘Tapped’ here. And stop buying drinks in plastic bottles! In case you are not convinced, you can also watch ‘Flow’, which reveals multinational corporations’ efforts to privatise the world’s water supply – and what this means for you… (watch it here).

6) The Future of Food. It basically shows what should every person know about the food they ingest – in particular when we talk of genetically modified food and artificial food. These are certainly profitable, but they are not the solution… Potential global dependence of the human race on a limited number of global food corporations is discussed, as is the increased risk of ecological disasters resulting from the reduction of biological diversity, in particular due to the promotion of corporate-sponsored monoculture farming. Watching in conjunction with ‘Food Inc.’ will certainly change the way you eat and think about food…

Its watchable for free on the directors’ website so don’t hesitate!

7) Manufactured Landscapes. The film is based on the work of photographer Edward Burtynsky and provides the viewer a rare glimpse of factories, shipyards and the Three Rivers dam construction sites that the Chinese government strictly does not allow documentation of. In it we see the devastating effects of strip mining, the deplorable working conditions for shipbreakers and just where all those electronic parts go when we throw them away. As you’d imagine, the news is not good, but the cinematography is stunning and lends the subject matter a great, visceral horror.

You can watch it here.

8 ) The Power Of Community – How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. I’m sure you all know that Cuba had to face a number of challenges, including a stricter embargo and limited energy resources – following the fall of the Soviet Union. This documentary presents how Cubans have adapted to these drastic changes – in particular by transitioning from a highly mechanised, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. With the on-going and coming energy global crises, we can only recommend you to watch it, as it will give you plenty of good and inspiring ideas! Not to mention it will provide you with some good rebuttal against all those who believe that factory farming and fields of monoculture crops are the only way to feed the world.

The trailer is here, and you can find it on youtube.

9) The End of the Line. Have you noticed how fish we eat have shrunk in size compared to only a few decades ago? Did you know that 80% of fish are overfished? That the number of dead zones – where nothing lives or grows – in our seas has dramatically increased? You could be forgiven for thinking that there is a surplus of fish in the world given the stocked shelves in the supermarkets, but the reality is that our oceans are far from healthy and abundant, and this documentary is exactly what you need for a reality check.  So if you want your children and grandchildren to be able to eat fish too, we greatly recommend watching this documentary…

You will find it here. (trailer)

10) A Crude Awakening – Peak Oil. Sadly, cjg and I have realised a number of times that there are quite a few people out there who haven’t heard of the Peak Oil concept, so we feel obliged to include an excellent documentary tackling the subject in our top 10. It recalls that a) oil doesn’t only fuel our cars, but is also a key component of many, many items we use daily including our toothbrush, our pesticide, our kids’ toys or our computer; b) that oil is included at nearly every stage of industrial production, from planting to harvesting to building and transporting, etc… and c) that the world’s reserves of oil are not increasing, but decreasing – rapidly. Yes, oil is a the basis of our societies, but it is becoming scarcer every year. (The documentary focuses mainly on oil, but one could also mention that we are actually approaching the ‘peak everything’ phase – end of oil, of gas, of clean water, of a heap of minerals, etc… but that’s another story).

Anyway, check the website, and watch the documentary here.

This post is a top 10, but we cannot resist adding Dirt, the Movie, into the list. Dirt feeds us and gives us shelter. Dirt holds and cleans our water. Dirt heals us and makes us beautiful. Dirt regulates the earth’s climate. Dirt is the ultimate natural resource for all life on earth. Yet most humans ignore, abuse, and destroy it. Believe it or not, but floods, drought, climate change, even wars are related to the way we are treating dirt. But to see the connections, we first need to understand the key role of soil. We’ve actually written a few posts touching on some of these issues (here and here). As the movie reminds us, “the only remedy for disconnecting people from the natural world is connecting them to it again.” Indeed. So watch Dirt here.

A last thing. Cjg and I want to stress that although many of these documentaries will sound utterly depressing to some viewers, our aim is not to scare anyone – merely to inform about what is actually happening. We then also try hard to provide a realistic account including positive stories and directions for constructive changes.

As proof of our efforts, we also encourage you to watch In Transition 1.0. This low-budget short documentary made by the Transition Network is a inspiring description of on-going and glocal (global+local) efforts to improve the state of things. It shows heaps of community initiatives, projects, and stories that are already happening… and that you can join! Watch it here then.



  • Eva

    Great post!! Really useful!! Thank you very much, you are so wonderful.

    Give you another nice documentary, Top 11? 😉 with people in action, I hope you can enjoy that: Hope in a changing climate

    Cheers, eva


    cjg Reply:

    I watched “Hope in a Changing Climate”.. was excellent, thanks Eva!


  • jsr

    Thank you Eva, we hadn’t heard of it! It definitely looks worthwhile!

    I take this opportunity to encourage other readers to complete the list if you feel the need to do so.



  • Jeremy

    Good list, thanks. I’d also recommend ‘The Vanishing of the Bees’, and maybe ‘Our Daily Bread’, although that’s more of a leftfield choice. It has no narration or music, it’s just long shots of industrial food processes. It’s almost a meditation on modern farming, and it’s great if you’re in the right frame of mind and terrible if you’re not.


    jsr Reply:

    Thanks Jeremy, I haven’t heard of these so will definitely check them out. I can already imagine what is the bee one about and I guess you are right, it should be on the list!
    As per the Daily Bread, the meditative aspect sounds good to me. I’ll track them down then!


  • Suggestion

    I’d suggest adding “Darwin’s Nightmare” to your list. It is an excellent movie about over-fishing in Africa. You might not see it as stereotypically environmental; however, it is important to keep in mind is that the environment and society are incredibly intertwined and it is difficult, if not impossible, to simply talk about one of them and not the other.


  • frflyer

    Great source. I have watched HOME and have been recommending it to people.

    You left a comment at my blog long ago, and I just now re-read it and came here. Somehow, I missed the link before.


  • Making Sense of Things

    Hello frflyer, yep, HOME is definitely a good documentary – and thanks for your comment.
    Don’t hesitate to share your own suggestions about eye-opening documentaries if you have some!


  • Stella

    Interesting and thoughtful list. I’d also like to suggest “Inequality for All.” Not necessarily a food or ecology oriented movie, but examines how we view work, value the “common person’s” labor, and how that impacts our overall economy and other values.


    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Thank you Stella, it certainly the sort of documentary we would want to watch too 🙂


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