This page begins by introducing relevant feature films before moving onto documentaries.
Another Earth (2011) On the night of the discovery of a duplicate Earth in the Solar system, an ambitious young student and an accomplished composer cross paths in a tragic accident.
Avatar (2009) James Cameron’s Avatar tells the story of a disabled ex-marine, sent from earth to infiltrate a race of blue-skinned aboriginal people on a distant planet and persuade them to let his employer mine their homeland for natural resources. Through a complex biological manipulation, the hero’s mind gains control of his “avatar”, in the body of a young aborigine. Predictably, the marine falls in love with a beautiful aboriginal princess and joins the aborigines in battle, helping them to throw out the human invaders and saving their planet. At the film’s end, the hero transposes his soul from his damaged human body to his aboriginal avatar, thus becoming one of them.
Brothers of the Wind (2015) The way of the eagle is to raise two chicks. The stronger is destined always to throw the weaker from the nest. Man also has his ways, often to hurt those closest to him. Lukas suffers at the hands of a father who has withdrawn since the loss of his wife. Killed whilst rescuing the infant Lukas, the boy now carries the burden of her death. Our eagle’s story begins in the nest. The first-born chick pushes his weaker brother to a certain death on the forest floor. But fate intervenes and the chick is found by Lukas. Naming him Abel, Lukas cares for the creature in secret, finding a love and companionship denied to him at home. But when the day comes to release Abel back into the wild, will Lukas find his own release into a new life? (wiki)
Dean Spanley (2008) is directed by the New Zealand film-maker Toa Fraser. It’s set in Edwardian England immediately after the Boer War and is about the relationship between an elderly, self-centred widower Horatio Fisk and his son, the dedicated Henslowe, who seeks to console him but can’t win his love. The question of dogs being reincarnated as humans arises and they meet Dean Spanley, a dignified cleric who eventually – under the influence of alcohol – reveals himself to be the reincarnation of a Victorian spaniel called Wag. It is a heart-warming, well made film.
Fly Away Home (1996) is about the daughter of a widower who, with her father, leads a flock of Canada Geese from Canada to a wildlife refuge in the USA.The film was loosely based on the real-life experiences of Bill Lishman, a Canadian inventor, artist, and ultralight aircraft hobbyist. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lishman openly wondered if geese and similar birds could be taught new migration patterns by following ultralight aircraft onto which they had been imprinted. In 1993, after several years of logistical and bureaucratic setbacks, Lishman successfully led a flock of Canada Geese on a winter migration from Canada to Northern Virginia U.S.A. Thirteen of the 16 birds that participated in the migration returned the following year entirely on their own. (Review from Wkipedia).
Grow Your Own (2007) is a British film directed by Richard Laxton. The film centres around a group of gardeners at a Merseyside allotment, who react angrily when a group of refugees are given plots at the site, but after they get to know them better, soon change their minds. The film was previously known under the title The Allotment. (Review from Wikipedia).
Human Nature (2001) A philosophical burlesque, Human Nature follows the ups and downs of an obsessive scientist, a female naturalist, and the man they discover, born and raised in the wild. As scientist Nathan trains the wild man, Puff, in the ways of the world – starting with table manners – Nathan’s lover Lila fights to preserve the man’s simian past, which represents a freedom enviable to most. In the power struggle that ensues, an unusual love triangle emerges exposing the perversities of the human heart and the idiosyncrasies of the civilized mind. Human Nature is a comical examination of the trappings of desire in a world where both nature and culture are idealized. (Review found on IMDb) This is a really bizarre and eccentric film – but with very interesting ecopsychology themes written by Charlie Kauffman.
Instinct (1999) When a noted anthropologist who left society to live in the jungle is imprisoned for murder, it’s up to a young psychiatrist to get through to him.
Into the Wild (2007) recounts the true story of Christopher McCandless as told by his sympathetic sister, Carine McCandless. In rejection of a materialist, conventional life, and of his parents Walt McCandless and Billie McCandless, whom McCandless perceives as having betrayed him, McCandless destroys all of his credit cards and identification documents, donates $24,000 (nearly his entire savings) to Oxfam, and sets out on a drive in his well-used but reliable Datsun toward his ultimate goal: Alaska and, alone, to test himself and experience the wilds of nature. He does not tell his family what he is doing or where he is going and does not communicate with them thereafter, leaving them to become increasingly anxious and eventually desperate. The film is an interesting take on one human’s relationship to wild places; there is no idealisation here. (review from Wikipedia).
Melancholia (2011) Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with the Earth. I found this film empty, poorly scripted and acted.
My Neighbour Totoro (1988) tells the story of the two young daughters (Satsuki and Mei) of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. Dir. by Miyazaki. (Animation, and great for children).
Princess Mononoke (1997) is set in the late Muromachi period (approximately 1336 to 1573) of Japan with fantasy elements. The story follows the young Emishi warrior Ashitaka’s involvement in a struggle between forest gods and the humans who consume its resources. The term ‘Mononoke’ (物の怪 or もののけ?) is not a name, but a Japanese word for a spirit or monster. Dir. Miyazaki.
Red Dog (2012) This film tells the story about a relationship between dog and human community. Based on a novel by Louis de Bernières which in turn was inspired by a real incident, Red Dog is the most popular Australian movie of the past year. Told in flashback as the eponymous pooch lies sick in the back room of a remote pub in Western Australia, a variety of tough guys relate how the Red Dog became a local legend around the remote coastal town of Dampier and brought together a community of lonely working men. (Guardian Review).
Spirited Away (2001) tells the story of Chihiro, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba (Natsuki), Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world. An animation written and directed by Miyazaki, it became the most successful film in Japanese history. (Great for children).
Temple Grandin (2010) A docudrama about the life of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who could feel the fears of animals in farms, and who changed the course of the industry through humane methods of handling animals.
The Fox and the Child (2007) A young girl of about 10 years lives in a farm house in the Jura Mountains in eastern France. One day in autumn, when she rides her bicycle to school through the forest, she observes a hunting fox. Of course, the fox escapes, but the girl yearns to meet the animal again. And so the adventures of the fox and the girl begin…..and ends with a hard lesson.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008) has stood the test of time and its remake is far more than that, and well worth seeing. Both touch on timeless mythic themes: destruction and redemption, death and resurrection, mortality and immortality, individual liberty and group unity, national sovereignty and global community, and, of course, scientists playing God and technology run amok. Myths, whether in written or visual form, serve a vital role of asking unanswerable questions and providing unquestionable answers. Most of us, most of the time, have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to reduce the cognitive dissonance of not knowing by filling the gaps with answers. Traditionally, religious myths have served that role, but today—in the age of science—science fiction is our mythology.
The Road (2009) John Hillcoat’s superb adaptation of the prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy leads its audience on a road to nowhere. The route takes us through blighted forests and past derelict homes, all the way to a grey and barren ocean that breaks against the shore. …….At such moments The Road paints a brutal portrait of a dying planet stalked by starving, desperate men. And yet there is a tenderness here too, and it shows its hand in the subtle, moving interplay between the two main characters. Mortensen is perfectly cast as the gaunt, wasted hero, while Smit-McPhee copes well with a demanding role as his soulful offspring, forever willing to share his meagre meal. Although they walk together, we have the sense that these two are ultimately headed in opposite directions. Born into the old world, Mortensen’s father starts out strong and then begins to fade. Born into the new, his son grows in stature and picks up the baton. He presses on down the road, hungry, filthy and wonderfully sane; a glimmer of hope for the human race. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/sep/03/the-road-adaptation-cormac-mccarthy
The Song of the Sea (2014) Ben and his little sister Saoirse-the last Seal-child-must embark on a fantastic journey across a fading world of ancient legend and magic in an attempt to return to their home by the sea. The film takes inspiration from the mythological Selkies of Irish folklore, who live as seals in the sea but become humans on land. (Animation, and great for children).
The Story of the Weeping Camel (2004) is a lovingly observed and fascinating journal of day-to-day survival in the Mongolian Gobi desert. For a family of herders who happily eke out their living in this remote dustbowl, crisis comes in the shape of a newborn camel rejected by its mother after an agonising birth. They undertake to rear the calf by hand, but the longer he’s denied his mother’s milk, the more likely it is the little camel will die. After failed efforts to reconcile mother and baby, the family dispatches young Dude and his little brother Ugna to ride across the plains and fetch help. But rather than a veterinarian, it is a violinist who’s called upon to conduct an ancient ritual thought to inspire a maternal instinct. Review from www.bbc.co.uk/films/
The Tree (2010) A touching story about the grief of a family after suddenly losing Peter, the father. Dawn, his wife, is left to look after four children. Simone, the youngest daughter, finds comfort in the large fig tree outside the house. She can hear and sense the spirit of her father in the tree, and invites her mother to join her. Fate intervenes when the tree starts to damage the house and a cyclone arrives.
Whale Rider (2002) is set in New Zealand, where the legend has it that the native people came there following their leader, a boy who heroically rode on the back of a whale. It is a well-made film, a coming-of-age tale of sorts, not only for one young girl, but also for a people struggling to maintain an identity and cohesion. It’s recommended to anyone who doesn’t mind a slow drama with mythical components, which is as much about the people and their beliefs as it is about the central storyline. http://www.qwipster.net/whalerider.htm
Wild (2014) A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.
Films for Children
See above: Fly Away Home; My Neighbour Totoro; Princess Mononoke; Spirited Away; The Fox and the Child; The Song of the Sea.
Ancient Futures (1992) Ladakh is one of the latest victims of the onward march of globalization. Ladakh is a formerly isolated Himalayan territory of two districts, one primarily Buddhist, the other mostly Muslim. This book focuses on the Buddhist community and how their lives have been blighted by this attempt at westernization. We might view this attempt more kindly if we believed it was genuinely directed at improving the welfare of local residents, but capitalist philosophy being what it is, it is almost certain that the prime concern was exploitation to increase profits.
An Ecology of Mind (2011) An Ecology of Mind is a film portrait of Gregory Bateson, celebrated anthropologist, philosopher, author, naturalist, systems theorist, and filmmaker, produced and directed by his daughter, Nora Bateson.
Farm for the Future Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key. It was shown on BBC in 2008/9
Grizzly Man (2005) is a documentary by Werner Herzog about Timothy Treadwell, an endearing man who spent years living alongside grizzly bears in Alaska. Treadwell had taken years of his own film footage about his relationships with bears before he and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear in 2003. Herzog also includes interviews with people who knew, or were involved with Treadwell. It is a very interesting account of a man who had a very powerful relationship with the wild but at the same time was very confused about it.
In Transition (2009) is the first detailed film about the Transition movement filmed by those that know it best, those who are making it happen on the ground. The Transition movement is about communities around the world responding to peak oil and climate change with creativity, imagination and humour, and setting about rebuilding their local economies and communities.
Journey of the Universe An Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth, and Human Transformation (2012) Written by Brian Swimme & Mary Evelyn Tucker
Microcosmos (1996) original title Microcosmos: Le peuple de l’herbe — Microcosmos: The grass people, is a documentary by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou and produced by Jacques Perrin. Set to the music of Bruno Coulais, this film is primarily a record of detailed interactions between insects and other small invertebrates.
Our Generation (2011) Hidden from the eyes of the world, Australia’s First Peoples are fighting for freedom. Our Generation is their call to the nation, a fresh and unflinching look at unresolved issues, driven by the Yolngu of Northeast Arnhem Land.
Paul Hawken at Bioneers (2006) A very moving 6 minute commencement address.
Project Nim (2011) Tells the story of a chimpanzee taken from its mother at birth and raised like a human child by a family in a brownstone on the upper West Side in the 1970s.
Riding Giants (2004) The film begins with a historical overview of surfing, then moves on to focus on the dangerous lure of big-wave surfing. What I found very moving about this film was the relationship between men and sea/water. Beautiful. (M J Rust).
Samsara (2011) Filmed over a period of five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on 70mm film, Samsara transports us to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders. It’s a relief to find a film without words and you are taken from one extraordinary big picture to another, piecing together weird and wonderful images of the human collective.
The Age of Stupid (2009) is the new cinema documentary from the Director of ‘McLibel’ and the Producer of the Oscar-winning ‘One Day in September’. This enormously ambitious drama-documentary-animation hybrid stars Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055, watching ‘archive’ footage from 2008 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change while we had the chance?
The Animal Communicator An extraordinary film which follows Anna Breytenbach as she is taken by a rather skeptical film-maker into various animal sanctuaries to see if she can understand why certain animals are distressed. In every case she is proved right when then hearing the animals’ histories from the sanctuary keepers.
The Corporation (2003)This Canadian documentary is critical of the modern-day corporation, considering its legal status as a class of person and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person. This is explored through specific examples.
The Economics of Happiness (2011) describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization. Read more on www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org
The Horse Boy (2012) fascinating documentary about parents who decide to take their autistic son to Mongolia in search of healing from the Reindeer tribe. Actually it’s less about the boy’s relationship with horses and more about his relationship with shamans. What results is quite astounding.
The Natural World: The Wilds of Essex A touching documentary exploring the question, what is wild nature? Narrated by Robert McFarlane, author of Wild Places.He finds a wonderful weaving together of wild nature with human impact.
The Power of Community: How Cuba survived Peak Oil (2006) When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens.
The Salt of the Earth (2014) For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty. Absolutely extraordinary images and film made by Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado.