Films can be an entertaining and interesting way to learn more about important issues — and the past year has brought us so many films about the environment. As the year comes to a close, we’re revisiting some of 2021’s best environmental documentaries and movies, which tell the stories of the climate crisis, food injustice, forest fires, and more.
Here's a look into eight of this year's most popular docs and movies that taught viewers about the climate crisis, ecological destruction, animal agriculture, and more, all the while inspiring viewers to take action for the Earth.
Seaspiracy, which has been streaming on Netflix since March, has made some serious waves this year. From filmmakers Ali and Lucy Tabrizi, Seaspiracy explores the injustices within the global fishing industry, which range from environmental destruction to animal abuse to slave labor.
The documentary shows the ways the fishing industry is hurting the ocean, how business partnerships between many so-called ocean conservation organizations and the fishing industry prevent these orgs from telling the truth about how destructive fishing is, and it encourages viewers to choose plant-based alternatives instead of fish.
The Australian documentary Burning premiered on Amazon Prime Video in November, and it gives viewers a look at the bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020, as well as the ways the government and media shaped this horrible “natural” disaster. Burning also aims to warn viewers about the overall climate crisis, of which forest fires are just one of many symptoms.
Don’t Look Up
In early December, Adam McKay’s satirical science fiction movie Don’t Look Up hit limited theaters, and the film began streaming on Netflix on Dec. 24. Don’t Look Up tells the story of two astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, who discover that a comet is about to hit and destroy planet Earth. They attempt to warn humanity, but no one seems to care.
Don't Look Up is widely believed to be an allegory for the climate crisis, which, like the fictional comet in the film, many have sounded the alarm on, but many more seem indifferent about. Don’t Look Up also features performances from Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, and Timothée Chalamet.
Meat Me Halfway
No, there’s no typo in that title — Meat Me Halfway, a documentary from the reducetarian movement’s founder Brian Kateman, argues the benefits of promoting a reducetarian diet rather than a vegan lifestyle, since so many people are opposed to all-or-nothing mindsets. In the film, he sets out to find evidence of ethical meat production, and even visits a farm known for having top animal welfare standards — but it still is not enough to convince him that there’s any moral justification for a slaughterhouse.
“Factory farming is arguably the most destructive practice on the planet,” Kateman told Green Matters exclusively upon the film’s release. “At the same time, very few people want to go vegan. So, we can either throw our hands up in the air and give up, or, we can offer an alternative that might put factory farming where it belongs: in the dustbin of history. This alternative is celebrating the notion that meat consumption isn’t an all-or-nothing premise and that one can simply cut back on animal products.”
Meat Me Halfway premiered in July, and can be rented or purchased from streaming services including iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and Tubi.
The documentary River’s End premiered in November, and it tells the tale of California’s water crisis, and the ways special interests and industries are profiting off of the crisis while leaving citizens helpless. The film also serves as an example of the many other water crises around the globe.
River’s End can be rented or purchased from Apple TV and iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, and certain cable providers; it is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.
They're Trying To Kill Us
In November, John Lewis (aka Badass Vegan) and Keegan Kuhn (the filmmaker behind the popular documentaries What the Health and Cowspiracy) released They're Trying To Kill Us. The new documentary is all about food injustice in communities of color around the U.S., and the intersectionality between systemic racism, poverty, and chronic illnesses.
They're Trying To Kill Us features interviews with a number of celebrities, including Cedric the Entertainer, Mýa, Mathematics of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ne-Yo, Billie Eilish, and Chris Paul, the last two of whom executive produced the doc. As of publication, purchases and rentals of They're Trying To Kill Us are paused, but check back on the website for updates on how to watch.
Eating Our Way to Extinction
Eating Our Way to Extinction, narrated by Kate Winslet, documents the ways agriculture — particularly animal agriculture — is causing the climate crisis, and how the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting those who contribute to it the least.
Amidst shots of some of the world’s most gorgeous natural wonders, Indigenous peoples and others affected by climate change give interviews, providing important perspectives on how the climate crisis is already hurting so many. The team behind Eating Our Way to Extinction wants the documentary to “inspire millions of people to embrace a plant-based diet,” which is a much lower-impact diet than one that includes animal products.
In the documentary Milked, activist Chris Huriwai goes on a journey across New Zealand, to document the country’s massive dairy industry — and the ways it is harming our planet. “[The dairy industry] causes so much devastation and for no justifiable reason. There's not a single positive thing about the industry — it impacts animals, people, and the environment in such a negative way,” director Amy Taylor exclusively told Green Matters. “I knew the dairy industry was bad, but I had no idea it was failing in every way possible.”
Milked debuted at the New Zealand Film Festival in November 2021, and Taylor told Green Matters that people can expect an international release of Milked in early 2022.