Environmental Film Reviews

Ice on Fire

Twelve years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio teamed up with Leila Conners to blast an environmental wake-up call to the world with “The 11th Hour,” warning of the dire consequences of unchecked climate change. More than a decade later, the political leaders most able to do something continue to ignore the issue, but while the cataclysmic effects of global warming become ever clearer, scientists and significant swathes of the public are trying to make a difference. That’s the focus of “Ice on Fire,” a deeply conventional though attractive documentary designed to reinforce just how bad things are getting while offering hope by concentrating on realistic proposals that can reign in climate change and even reverse its effects. Premiering at Cannes in advance of its June 11 launch on HBO, the film will likely garner a decent viewership via the network’s streaming platforms. Read more

Kiss the Ground

The actor Woody Harrelson narrates the documentary “Kiss the Ground,” a frenetic but ultimately persuasive and optimistic plan to counter the climate crisis. Streaming on Netflix, the film makes a case for the healing power of soil, arguing that its capacity to sequester carbon could be the key to reversing the effects of climate change.

Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, whose credits include other socially conscious documentaries such as “The Big Fix” and “Pump,” “Kiss the Ground” takes a wide-ranging approach. The film begins by examining how tilling and the use of pesticides have led to soil erosion, and then traces the damage done to our ecology, health and climate. The filmmakers find a solution in regenerative farming, an ethical practice designed to restore degraded lands and facilitate carbon drawdown.

Traveling around the world, the directors frequently employ juxtaposition to showcase the beauty of soil health. In North Dakota, a regenerative rancher stands at the boundary between his lush acreage and his neighbor’s denuded farmland; footage of the Loess Plateau in China before and after restorative methods reveals how dust bowls can become a Garden of Eden.

Pedagogic sequences about science and agriculture are punctuated by short profiles of celebrities involved in climate activism, including Jason Mraz, Patricia Arquette, and Ian Somerhalder. They lend a friendly face to the fight for climate solutions, and like Harrelson as our narrator, their intermittent presence serves to ground the documentary as it zips from topic to topic. Read more 

The latest environmental films to add to your watch list

A scene from the documentary We the Power. Courtesy of Mountainfilm

We reviewed movies from this year’s Mountainfilm Festival to find out which ones are worth your time.

More people are getting vaccinated, summer is on the horizon, and the Mountainfilm Festival is back. After going virtual last year, the annual event is combining the best of both worlds in 2021. There will be a small, in-person festival in Telluride, Colorado, over Memorial Day weekend, as well as a weeklong virtual festival starting on May 31.

As a media sponsor for this year’s event, Grist reviewed seven documentaries and shorts of the more than 120 featured at the festival, available to stream for a fee. These pieces explore racism in outdoor adventure culture, chronicle the next generation’s fight for a livable planet, and lay out the story of how evangelicals came to politically oppose environmentalism. Some were deeply moving, others left something to be desired — read on for our take on which films are worth your time. Read more

‘My Octopus Teacher’ Review: An Eight-Legged Freak Becomes a Friend in Netflix’s Gorgeous Hit Nature Doc

Presenter-producer Craig Foster imposes his own story somewhat heavily on this underwater spectacular, but it’s hard not to be won over.

What “Charlotte’s Web” did in the popular imagination for the humble, much-maligned barn spider, “My Octopus Teacher” sets out to achieve for the eight-limbed mollusc of its title — a creature of great, shimmery beauty and mystery regarded by many with more bemusement than affection. That’s a PR status that has kept hungry humans high on the octopus’ long list of enemies, but Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed’s engaging, massively crowdpleasing Netflix documentary goes out of its way to humanize these amorphous aliens of the sea: both through standard anthropomorphic techniques familiar from the nature-doc playbook of Attenborough and Disney alike, and through the empathetic presence of its producer-narrator, South African filmmaker and conservationist Craig Foster.

Foster’s unexpected kinship with a single octopus, encountered while diving in the richly populated kelp forest of South Africa’s Cape of Storms, gives this simply framed doc its narrative thrust and emotional heft. Cynics might balk at the film’s aggressive manipulation of the heartstrings, but there’s little denying the combined effectiveness of its ravishingly filmed underwater observation and its unabashed but earnest psychological projection. A word-of-mouth phenomenon since its Netflix premiere in September, “My Octopus Teacher” is a surprisingly rare example of an international South African hit centered on the country’s richly diverse environmental tapestry: One can only expect a trail of comparable works in its wake. Read more

Something worth fighting for

Two films tell contrasting stories about the struggle against nuclear power

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Note: Beyond Nuclear, Goethe-Institut, DC and Heinrich Böll Stiftung, DC are making The Beekeeper and 33 Days of Utopia available free to screen at home until April 6. On Tuesday, March 30, at 1pm Eastern US time, please join us, the filmmakers and protagonists for a live discussion about the films and the culture of resistance to nuclear power. Register here.

“And at that point,” says Katie Hayward, halfway through Will McGregor’s short film, The Beekeeper, “I went cold”.

Hayward, the beekeeper of the film’s title, had just seen a news report showing the expanded footprint of the proposed two-reactor Wylfa B nuclear power project on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. Hayward’s home, which her family had tenanted since 1532, was right in the plan’s crosshairs. It would be bulldozed, and the farmland paved over.

Hayward’s fight to save her bees, her home and her rescue animals escalated, while her physical and mental health plummeted. As the farms around her sold out to Horizon — the nuclear subsidiary of site owner, Hitachi — Hayward found herself almost alone, a one-woman David against a corporate Goliath.

Read more at Beyond Nuclear