10 Heartfelt Yet Heart-Breaking Films You Should Watch About the Planet and Conscious Living

Savant handpicked 10 sustainability-themed films for the autumnal movie nights, some visually astonishing and heartfelt, some frightening and heart-breaking.

Curated by Meri Frig

1. Before the Flood (2016)

Before the Flood is Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary film about climate change, presented by National Geographic. DiCaprio produced and narrated the film. The star, entitled 'Hollywood’s leading environmental activist' today, discusses this most important issue of our time with the most powerful influencers of our time. The film aims to show the devastating impacts of climate change, using The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch as an analogy of the present course of the world, as well as possible solutions.

2. Chasing Ice (2012)

Melting glaciers commonly serve as symbols of global warming. In Chasing Ice, the National Geographic photographer James Balog shows how glaciers across the Arctic are rapidly disappearing. The time-lapse pictures of the changing glaciers compress years into seconds and result in an incredibly beautiful, yet heart-breaking film.

3. Chasing Coral (2017)

Following the footsteps of Chasing Ice, a team of divers, photographers, and scientists show the world in Chasing Corals how coral reefs around the world are dying at an unprecedented rate - 29% of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016. We do not just witness a death of a species, but a collapse of the ecosystem.

The director Jeff Orlowski ponders in the film: “One of the biggest issues with the ocean is that it is completely out of sight and out of mind. Without a healthy ocean, we do not have a healthy planet. How do you communicate these issues?”. The team of coral nerds, the modern-day superheroes, set out on a mission with the belief that visualising the change and sharing it though a captivating visual form can change the world.

4. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2015)

“Imagine a life of less: less stuff, less clutter, less stress, and debt, and discontent. A life with fewer distractions. Now imagine a life with more: more time, more meaningful relationships, more growth, and contribution, and contentment,” Ryan Nicodemus ponders. The main message of the film is: Love people. Use things. The opposite never works. As the quotes imply, minimalism is essentially about happiness and wellbeing. The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, define minimalism as “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.”

5. The True Cost (2015)

The True Cost sheds light on the problems that take place in the fast fashion supply chain, not only in sweatshops. The film does document the horrors exemplified by the Rana Plaza collapse and heart-breaking stories of garment workers. The problems start already with the seeds and the production of fabrics, such as cotton, and continue still after the use and disposal of clothing items. It must also be mentioned that increased mass-consumption is not making us any happier, quite the contrary.

However, the film also suggests solutions, presenting organic cotton farmers, new business models, and influencers that have a positive effect on the industry, such as the executive producers of the film, journalist Lucy Siegle and eco fashion influencer Livia Firth, the Creative Director of Eco-Age and founder of the Green Carpet Challenge.

6. Planetary (2015)

Planetary is for the fans of mindfulness and philosophy. It shows how we are all interconnected: how the globe is one single organism, how the idea of the separate self is an illusion or, in modern terms, a social construct. Quotes from Zen priests, anthropologists, artists, Buddhist teachers, indigenous leaders, eco-philosophers and other environmentalists follow one after the other. The Planetary collective believe passionately that creative works can change perspectives, lives, and ultimately the planet. Plus points go for the visually beautiful frames.

7. Home (2009)

With beautiful aerial footage of various places on Earth, Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand tells us the story of the Earth and its current state. It depicts the Earth as a miracle, life as a mystery. It reminds us of the four-billion-year-old legacy humans benefit from, highlighting how modern humans have had the most influence on the state of the Earth in only the past fifty years. The beginning of the documentary film rather unexpectedly lists luxury brand names from Gucci to Yves Saint Laurent – the movie is in fact financed by a corporation behind the luxury brands, a fact that unsettled many critics.

8. Earthlings (2005)

Earthlings is categorised under the genres ‘documentary’ and ‘horror’ on IMDB: The film shows how horribly humans have been witnessed to treat animals as pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and for scientific research. With many references to the Holocaust, the film takes a strong stand against speciesism. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, the actor has commented that “For every one person who sees Earthlings, they will tell three.". Worth trying out. 

9. Wall-E (2008)

“I don't want to survive. I want to live!”. Wall-E, the lovable robot that was left on this deserted planet to clean the abandoned Earth, immediately won the hearts of environmentalists, just as the film won the hearts of critics. The animated film presents the globe, smothered in junk, in the year of 2805, where Wall-E treasures a seedling that emerges from the waste. Arguably, Wall-E is one of the most, if not the most, powerful environmental film that has raised awareness about overconsumption.

10. Okja (2017)

Described as an ecological action movie, as well as a family-friendly thriller, Okja is a story about how animals can at the same time be our beloved pets or end up in our shopping carts. Director Joon-ho Bong aimed to expose how meat is mass produced - many have even speculated if Okja will turn some of its viewers vegan. While perhaps an impact this strong could be a slight overreaction, Okja is a beautiful story and a thought-provoking film to watch.