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At the Movies: The Top Ten Environmental Films That Have Impacted Our Culture

In recent years, getting the message out about Global Warming has been at the forefront of documentary film. The best of them can inspire appreciation for the planet as well as motivate viewers to step outside their comfort zone and contribute in any way they can.  Perhaps this means that many of the most effective docs in this area aren’t really docs at all but message delivery systems.  Here are ten great films to illuminate your Earth Day.

 1. The most popular of these, and the one that probably changed more minds than any of the others, has to be Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  David Guggenheim collaborated with Gore on the project, which is about the former Vice President’s lifelong dedication to bringing awareness to Global Warming.  Anyone who watches the film and walks away unconvinced is someone who just doesn’t want to get rid of his or her SUV.  If anything, though, the film can be so overwhelming that it can lead many to figure, What’s the point?  Still, An Inconvenient Truth is one of those films that everyone should see at least once.  If you know anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, force them to watch it with you.  

 2. Another film, though, that has stood the test of time for those who remember it is Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, released way back in 1982.  The film is a visual array of nature at its most impressive and mankind at its most destructive.  Directed by Godfrey Reggio and written by Ron Fricke and Michael Hoenig, this film is most remembered for Phillip Glass’ pulsating score.  The film was ahead of its time, as enviro-docs wouldn’t come into vogue until recently.  It is something to see, though, as it makes its point with visuals and music alone.  For that reason, perhaps, it’s nearly impossible to forget.

 3. Out of Balance: ExxonMobile’s Impact on Climate Change.  If there is a big bad corporation to focus our blame and hatred upon it would have to be one of the largest and most devastating companies in the world.  With its chokehold on our corporation-controlled government, the film asserts, Exxon continues to do irreversible damage unchecked.  The film also offers ideas for global change.  This film is available for purchase online by going to worldoutofbalance.org/.

 4. Who Killed the Electric Car?  Does it shock you to see gasoline over $4 per gallon?  Now that everyone is jumping on the hybrid bandwagon, this is a film that takes a look backwards at a time when there was a chance for an electric car.  Remember some people drove them, and there were electric car hookups put in place that never got used?  It should come as no surprise, given our current administration and our involvement in Iraq, that electric cars are mostly gone.  It’s the oil, stupid. 

 5. The Planet Earth was one of the most breathtaking pieces of film ever made. It was truly a magnificent thing to behold.  An eight-part series narrated by Richard Attenborough, it showed parts of the world rarely seen and served as a necessary reminder of the dazzling diversity of life on our lovely blue planet.

 6. The 11th Hour.  Sure, it was more about how cute Leonardo DiCaprio was than anything environment related, but once you get past the part about it being DiCaprio, The 11th Hour is quite informative.  If it takes a celebrity to remind us of the urgent crisis, so be it. 

 7. The Unforseen.  Directed by Laura Dunn and Executive Produced by Robert Redford, this gem depicts a community fighting it out with a developer to preserve a limestone aquifer and a spring-fed swimming hole. 

 8. Darwin’s Nightmare.  While not technically an environmental documentary, it is a must-see.  It isn’t only Americans that are polluting the world, and, in fact, what is happening in the poorer countries is disgraceful.  This film, though a tough sit, reveals the dirty practices of the Western world.

 9.  King Corn.  Perhaps we won’t really get down to it until we discover for ourselves where our food is coming from, where our water and trash go, and what kind of air we’re really breathing.  Two college buddies set out to start with some corn and take it from seed to crop to food for America.  It raises some troubling questions about what we eat and how we farm. 

 10. Radiant City. A satiric look at the threat of urban sprawl, which appears to be eating up our coastlines right here in California.  Canada’s Gary Burns and Jim Brown illuminate the ugly truth of how we live and why we live the way we do with humor, which is really the only way to take in such depressing facts about our culture.  It is not to be missed.  This, and most of the documentaries listed here, are widely available on DVD.

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