The Sustainability Oscars 2019: Celebrating the best of climate activism
The film awards season reaches its grand finale for 2019 on Sunday in the form of the Oscars. But for those wanting an alternative to "Black Panther," and "A Star Is Born", edie has created a - by no means official - round-up of the best climate-related films and documentaries.
Compare these scenarios. First, an innocuous African country is secretly developing and wielding futuristic technology capable of near-unimaginable feats. Secondly, all of humanity has collectively consumed the entirety of Earth’s resources by 1 August. Which one is science-fiction, and which one is reality?
3D-infused trips to Black Panther’s Wakanda or trips down memory lane through Rami Malek’s transformation into Freddie Mercury have provided cinema-goers with some much-needed escapism from the ongoing political, social and environmental trends of the past two years.
Humanity is now at a point where it consumes the resources of 1.7 Earths in a year. If this were an action movie, Liam Neeson would be glaring at a digital clock that was counting down from 12 years – which is the timeframe humanity has been given to avoid catastrophic climate impacts including increased risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
With the Oscars set to celebrate the best of the big screen on Sunday (24 February), edie has put together its own ceremony to celebrate films and documentaries that not only highlight the severe threat of climate change, but also the solutions to alleviate it. Grab your popcorn and enjoy…
The Sustainability Oscars 2019
Best political documentary: An Inconvenient Truth/An Inconvenient Sequel
Former US Vice President Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth won Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song in 2007 and placed a high-ranking politician at the heart of its agenda.
Al Gore then returned in 2017 with the sequel to Inconvenient Truth, as the cameras follow him around the world to showcase first-hand the impacts of climate change. The two documentaries work well together as they showcase the contrast in the global climate debate before and during the signing of the Paris Agreement. The sequel, “Truth to Power” follows Gore’s efforts to mobilise investments into renewable energy up to and beyond the signing of the historic agreement.
Best human-focused documentary: The Age of Consequences
Described as “The Hurt Locker meets An Inconvenient Truth”, The Age of Consequences focuses on how resource scarcity, water stress, food shortages and extreme weather events have created friction and instability and acted as a catalyst for global conflicts.
While it may be hard for the “person on the street” to resonate with far-flung climate impacts, The Age of Consequences makes humanity its protagonist to ensure that the correlation between sea level rises and human prosperity can’t be missed.
Best plastics documentary: Drowning in Plastic
You thought this would be Blue Planet 2. While the widely popular BBC series to ignite unprecedented levels of awareness and action on the global plastics scourge, it did very little to inform viewers of solutions.
Enter wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin, who traversed pristine and isolated coastal environments to highlight how a plastic bottle or a soup sachet can be utterly destructive for fragile ecosystems as part of the BBC’s follow-up documentary Drowning in Plastic. It is everything that Blue Planet II could have been and is unapologetic in its portrayal of the harm that plastics can cause and has the potential to act as a catalyst for real public understanding of the severity of the plastics issue.
Best family-friendly documentary: Arctic Tale
If the climate strikes from schoolchildren over the past few weeks have taught us anything, it is that younger generations are interested and concerned about climate change. But while the Greta Thunberg’s of the world can discuss climate change at a UN level, some children might need something a bit more engaging and easy to understand.
National Geographic Society’s 2007 Arctic Tale does just that. Footage used in Arctic Tale was filmed over the span of 15 years to highlight how climate change was wreaking havoc on the habitats of polar bears and walruses in a story format.
Best animated film: Moana
Last year, edie highlighted Disney hit Moana for its portrayal of Island nations, which are the ones most at risk from climate change. That is no different in Moana’s home of Motunui, where dry fisheries and failing crops provide the backdrop for the protagonist to go on a journey to appease nature.
As a film, Moana highlights how dependent some communities are on the immediate environment around them, and how global warming can drastically impact their everyday lives. What’s better is that Disney has presented this tale to Western audiences in a light-hearted fashion. The key is in the subtlety.
Best environmental documentary: Chasing Coral
In 2012, a climate sceptic photographer headed to Greenland and Iceland to capture time-lapse evidence of global warming. Five years later, the award-winning sequel, Chasing Coral, appeared on Netflix.
The documentary depicts how coral reefs are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. Divers, photographers and scientists are all at hand to uncover how climate change and ocean acidification are affecting underwater habitats. The documentary is one of a very few number of films ranked with a 100% fresh rating on review platform Rotten Tomatoes.
Best consumer-focused documentary: Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets
This award could well have gone to the popular Cowspiracy, but with such a heightened focus on the environmental impacts of fast fashion, Stacey Dooley’s expose into the disturbing practices of some renown brands takes the top spot.
In the documentary, Stacey swaps the high-street for the rural areas in the developing countries where the clothes we wear are grown, uncovering alarming facts and figures that showcase how traditional fashion practices are straining natural resources including water and land use.
Best comedy documentary: Carbon Nation
Carbon Nation from 2010 isn’t actually a comedy, but it does use wit expertly to educate, inform and offer solutions to help combat the changing climate, even if you don’t believe in climate change.
As a crash course in articulating sustainability to an unengaged audience, Carbon Nation explores trends and technologies that have only just started to become mainstream solutions today, including electric vehicles and geothermal energy.
Best director: Leonardo DiCaprio
Better known for being in front of the camera rather than behind it, Leonardo DiCaprio has not only been vocal about his concerns for climate change, he’s been an innovator. The Before the Flood documentary of 2016 was produced by none other than Leonardo DiCaprio. It captures the actor's travels across some of the most vulnerable parts of the world including Greenland, the Pacific islands, Sumatra and China to examine the impact of climate change, as he comes to the realisation that this may, in fact, be the last generation that can limit the damage.
The eye-opening documentary draws on opinions and exclusive interviews with the likes of Al Gore, Elon Musk and Barack Obama to highlight the humanitarian and business opportunities that come with limiting global warming. Ahead of the October launch, DiCaprio interviewed Obama during the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas to discuss how businesses can "build a bridge to a clean energy future".
Lifetime Achievement Award: Sir David Attenborough
No round-up of on-screen climate activists would be complete without the legendary broadcaster that is Sir David Attenborough. While we’ve already mentioned the transformational impact of the Blue Planet series, Sir Attenborough himself has become much more vocal about climate change, dominating mainstream news headlines when he chooses to speak out.
The beloved broadcaster is returning again this year in collaboration with WWF. The eight-part Our Planet series will air on Netflix in April to “showcase the beauty and fragility of our natural world”. A heavy focus will be given to ongoing conservation efforts that are attempting to alleviate climate change.
Do you have a favourite climate-based film? Leave your suggestion in the comments.