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Documentary Watchlist: Cows, Pipelines and Dams

September 3, 2014

One of the interesting insights I came to through my involvement in Blackfish, is that in the age of infotainment and cable-news superficiality, documentaries are filling an increasingly important niche. They are increasingly the best format to learn about almost any subject you choose. Not only are documentaries proliferating as film-making technology becomes more affordable and sophisticated, and as platforms on which to stream and view documentaries proliferate (making documentaries more accessible). But other news sources are becoming increasingly trivial, celebrified, and irrelevant.

So if you want facts, engagement, and inspiration, documentaries are where you should turn.

That’s what I have been doing, and I want to flag three documentaries I have recently seen that are worth seeking out and watching.

The first is Cowspiracy. It tackles an issue that is almost inexplicable, and that is the degree to which environmental organizations and nonprofits avoid educating their communities about the single most powerful choice an individual can make to protect the planet: stop eating meat.

Cowspiracy does a really nice job both explaining why this is so and calling the environmental movement out on this failure of courage. That makes for sometimes humorous, sometimes intriguing, but always enraging and enlightening viewing.

Here’s the trailer:

Cowspiracy Official Trailer from First Spark Media on Vimeo.

And here’s how you can find a local screening. I’m hoping to take my kids to the Sept. 23 screening in DC.

The second is Above All Else, which was recently screened here in DC as part of the long-running and invaluable Environmental Film Festival.

Above All Else is ostensibly about the Keystone pipeline, and the fight put up by some east Texas families whose private property was seized under the principle of “eminent domain” so the pipeline could cross their lands. But it is not really a film about climate change (though that hovers in the background, and helps makes the fight worth fighting) so much as it is a devastating exegesis on corporate power, and all the ways in which a large, multi-billion dollar entity can marshall all the resources of the legal system, the political system, and even local law enforcement to crush the rights and privacy of the individual.

If you don’t already think we live in a corporate oligarchy then this movie will slap you awake. And even if you do, the way in which the film builds your empathy for the families and individuals who painfully and inevitably get run over by the Keystone project and the corporate power behind it will hopefully sharpen your desire to take a stand against the growing imbalance between corporate power and individual rights.

And maybe the twenty-somethings who converge on east Texas to sit in trees and try to stop the shockingly efficient industrial process which clears them will both inspire you and maybe even motivate you to go sit in a tree somewhere too.

Here’s the trailer:

ABOVE ALL ELSE Trailer from John Fiege on Vimeo.

And here’s info about screenings.

Finally, make sure you also find time to check out Dam Nation. It’s a powerful film about how the relentless damming of America’s rivers during the growth of industrialization had devastating consequences for the fish (especially salmon)  and other species that happened to, um, live in and and rely on the rivers. It’s also about the inspiring movement to undo at least some of that damage.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s info about screenings.

All three of these movies will inform you, inspire you, and (hopefully) energize you. The thing I love about the documentaries that are being made these days is that they are SUPPOSED to do all those things to you. Gone are the days of droning presentation of fact, with a tedious voice-over.

Film is such a powerful medium, it is so increasingly central to how we view our lives and the planet, and we are in such crisis that it is exciting and reassuring to see film-makers everywhere trying to shock and move audiences that are being narcotized and distracted by the pablum and consumerism being spoon-fed by the corporate media.

No one should have any qualms about film-making that aspires to motivate audiences to change how they live, and take action to try and change the world around them. That’s exactly what documentary film-making should be about in this era.

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