The Top 6 Environmental Films for Beginners

We’ve compiled the top 6 environmental films for beginners. Are you an environmentalist looking for something new to watch? Writing an essay on climate change and don’t want to do any proper research? Having a movie date with your eco-friendly significant other? Looking to improve your knowledge of eco-inspired cinema? All of the above? Look no further.

First off, a quick tip; don’t put on The Day After Tomorrow.

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. Before The Flood
  3. Chasing Coral
  4. The True Cost
  5. The Return of Navajo Boy
  6. Koyaanisqatsi

PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), dir. by Hayao Miyazaki

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Possibly the best film to come out of Studio Ghibli until Spirited Away stole the limelight. The tale of hotheaded San, (the eponymous Princess Mononoke – Mononoke roughly meaning ‘vengeful spirit’ – which in this case is true), and reticent prince Ashitaka may not seem like an environmental film at first glance – a film filled with magic and spirits – who take the form of thinking, speaking animals, or ‘Forest Gods’, protecting the land they are a part of. San herself was taken in by the wolf god Moro as a child, and rides her similarly massive pups into battle with the leader of the nearby Iron Town, Lady Eboshi.

Princess Mononoke itself is constructed from a tangled web of interconnected themes, voiced expertly by a set of characters that each get their own specific screen time, thoughts, and narrative. This allows the viewer’s allegiances to change with every new line. Essentially, the workers of Iron Town want to tame and ‘destroy’ the forest gods, which will allow them to mine iron and produce capital with no interference – something the forest gods are, quite obviously, not happy about. Meanwhile Ashitaka, who at the beginning of the film fights with a demon boar and is cursed because of it, simultaneously searches for a cure for his curse while trying to create peace between the warring factions.

The most evident and overarching theme is that of progress vs. conservation – how does a human community survive, thrive, and improve it’s technological prowess without hurting the environment it exploits to further that progress? That question is only half answered in a very roundabout way – after the Forest Spirit gets it’s head severed from it’s body, spewing toxic sentient goo over the whole forest which kills everything it touches, the humans decide they need to rethink their relationship with the thing which ultimately gives them life: Life itself.

It’s beautifully written, funny and sad in equal measures, has some of most insanely gorgeous artistry of any Ghibli film, and has a wonderfully-strong female lead, and a male lead who doesn’t muscle in, acting as a stirring vision of calm masculinity (even if he has a demonic arm). Also, and this may seem controversial, but if you’re not a Japanese speaker, we prefer the dubbed version, with stellar voice acting from Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, and Minnie Driver. The subtitled version is good, but the translated lines of the dubbed version evoke a lot more beauty.

BEFORE THE FLOOD (2016) dir. by Fisher Stevens

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Actor-turned-environmentalist Leonardo Dicaprio heads up this 96 minute long environmental documentary. Fresh-faced but still bearded from filming The Revenant in 2015, DiCaprio presents the devastating impacts of climate change as they are happening, questioning as he goes humanity’s ability to reverse arguable the biggest problem we have ever faced.

The reason we add this film to the list is because of the impact DiCaprio has as both an auteur and a hollywood A-lister – who else do you think would have been able to interview both Barack Obama and the Pope in single film? Not us. Not through lack of experience we must add, but simply because DiCaprio’s name bears weight.

The film itself does not present much by the way of resolutions to the issues we face, but does a great job of visualising these issues. The film is shot over a period of three years, as DiCaprio talks to activists and dignitaries alike, from Greenland to the USA to Kiribati. He translates the complex scientific issues into easily-digestible bites, which through the film’s tone, sincerity, and cinematography, retain some of their actual bite.

The film itself isn’t groundbreaking and the choppy, Hollywood-esque cuts sometimes distract you from forming an emotional connection to what is on screen, or from receiving a suckerpunch of eco-anxious revelation. It has a few scenes that are definitely noteworthy, such as the conversation with astronaut Dr. Piers Sellers, and does a good job at providing bite-size morsels that present a much bigger, bleaker picture. A good film for beginners.

CHASING CORAL (2017) dir. Jeff Orlowski

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Coral reefs. They occupy less than 1% of the Earth’s oceanic area, but provide a home for at least a quarter of all marine animals. They are also dying. Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral sees a group of divers, scientists, and photographers from across the globe attempt to document this loss.

It’s a truly remarkable thing to see, timelapses of coral bleaching, dying, and decaying. We wouldn’t recommend this film for the date, it can be a little bleak at times. Yet, this is where Chasing Coral succeeds – it does a grand job of melting together voices, emotions, and hard facts.

Essentially, the oceans are the biggest heat traps and always have been, and as global temperatures rise the oceans get warmer and warmer. Coral, which acts as a home for some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, is very suited to particular temperatures. As the seawater warms, the corals bleach. This is a stress response, meaning that the corals eject all of the microscopic plant-life that gives them their colour, causing them to go bright white. The corals can sometimes survive in this situation, but the plant-life acts as their main source of nutrition, and more often then not, this bleaching will eventually lead to death.

Chasing Corals is a well-shot, well-paced film. It lacks in breadth, which is not an inherently bad thing. Too often environmental films try to focus on ‘all’ the issues, ending up lacking in crucial evidence. Furthermore, this can also help to overwhelm and alienate the viewer, presenting environmental issues as insurmountable problems. In its sole on the issue of coral, this film succeeds in presenting a well-rounded approach on a singular focus.

THE TRUE COST (2015) dir. by Andrew Morgan

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Not simply an environmental documentary, The True Cost also looks into the social aspects of fast fashion; the exploitation, the consumerism, and how it all fits into global capitalism. This isn’t a tale of groundbreaking designers or fabulous models, it’s a documentary on the very beginnings of commodified and damaging haute couture.

Director Andrew Morgan was drawn to the subject after the Dhaka building collapse in 2013, where a commercial building in Bangladesh crumbled and killed over a thousand workers. These workers had been subjected to unsafe working conditions, and we’re also part of a business that manufactured for big brands such as Prada, Gucci, and Versace amongst others.

The film explores the structural poverty that comes with the fast fashion industry, looking at the unsafe conditions many workers face and how the environmental cost of the industry affects poor communities, further hinting at issues of institutionalised and environmental racism.

One of the most poignant and shocking parts of the film focuses on Indian-grown cotton. Demand for the crop led to the planting of genetically-modified cotton by larger companies, pushing the price up, leading to a number of suicides by smaller, traditional cotton farmers. The GM crops themselves needed more pesticides, leading to ecosystem damage and birth defects amongst newborns in the local Punjab population.

The main themes that run through the film are of exploitation and disposability – and not simply disposability of fashion, throwing away a top after a few wears – we are talking about the disposability of human lives and environmental security. To engage with this film is to realise that there is something truly wrong with where we source the very shirts on our collective backs. You may have spent £25 on it, but what is the true cost?

THE RETURN OF NAVAJO BOY (2000) dir. by Jeff Spitz

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Released in 2000, The Return of Navajo Boy deals with an incredibly important, but unfortunately little spoken- about issue in the modern environmentalism movement. That is the issue of environmental racism.

Environmental racism is essentially a concept that explores environmental injustices that are carried out, either through practice or through policy, with a racialised context. Think of the American Bison, who were hunted to near extinction in the 1870s by the American army in an effort to force Native Americans off of their homelands.

In the context of The Return of Navajo Boy, we see the story of the Cly family, through them exploring the unregulated mining of uraniam in Monument Valley, Utah, and how it has caused illness. It raises key issues of white supremacy, political representation, and reparation denial, all within the context of environmentally-unfriendly policy. It is a film steeped in sadness, and a must-watch.

KOYAANISQATSI (1982) dir. by Godfrey Reggio

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The word ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is a Hopi word that roughly translates to ‘life of moral corruption or turmoil’. It’s a phrase that should be on the viewer’s mind while watching.

The film is the most experimental and ephemeral of those on this list and is more art than documentary. It is an 86 minute-long visual tone poem, consisting of slow-motion or timelapse imagery of cities and landscapes across the United States. If there was ever a film to convince us of Timothy Morton’s philosophical view of ecology and environmentalism, that humans need to be convinced that they live ‘inside’ climate change, rather than climate change being something that is in ‘another place’, this is it.

It’s essentially an instrumental piece. There is no dialogue to be heard, save for choral chanting in Hopi. The music is a score by American composer Philip Glass. Explaining the choice of no dialogue, director Godfrey Reggio said, “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.” Eat your heart out Timothy Morton.

Reggio said of the film that “it is up [to] the viewer to take for himself/herself what it is that [the film] means.”, adding that “these films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It’s been that everyone: politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it’s not the effect of, it’s that everything exists within [technology]. It’s not that we use technology, we live technology. Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe …”

The film ends with a translation of three Hopi prophecies, which are chanted in their original language earlier in the film, the most poignant of which reads: “A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.”

Maybe not the best film for a date.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Into The Wild (2007), Interstellar (2014)Minimalism (2016), The 11th Hour (2007), Chasing Ice (2012), Climate Refugees (2010), Cowspiracy (2014), Under The Dome (2015), Erin Brockovich (2000), Silent Running (1972), WALL-E (2008), Pom Poko (1994), Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984).

Anonymous artivist ‘Gray’ sculpts life jackets from ice to highlight the link between migration and climate change

This morning, 15 life jackets appeared at the front of the Tate Modern and in Parliament Square. They were all made of ice. You may ask yourself, why make life jackets out of ice? The link and reason that anonymous artivist ‘Gray’ wants you to see is this: Climate Change.

The piece, which has been created in support of environmental activism group Extinction Rebellion is called ‘Tipping Point’, and has been designed to highlight the link between current and future immigration and the ecological emergency that we find ourselves in. It is fairly evident to say that the use of ice is to emphasise that these issues are inherently stuck to a finite timescale.

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Photo credit: @SnowflakeFoxtrot

“‘Tipping point’ is about the relatively untalked about link between migration and climate change.” Stated the artist behind the piece.

“As 300,000 – 400,000 people lose their lives annually due to climate change, many more in climate change hot-spots are already left with no choice but to move, including some of those who have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean.”

“I am part of a grey artivist group who invite others to participate and enter into a safe exchange using art to reflect on what is happening in society. This artivism is part of a new movement which invites collaboration across the arts, advocacy, policy & education to respond to today’s unprecedented challenges. As Western-based artists we are keen to hear more from people with lived experiences of displacement.”

“Amitav Ghosh in his essay on the subject ‘Confluence and Crossroads’ has said ‘… experts estimate that by 2050 there will be as many as 700 million climate change refugees across the world.’”

Migrations of peoples north from both the Central Americas and the Middle East that have been occurring within the last decade have been directly contributed to, if not exacerbated by, climate change.

In Syria, from 2006 to 2011, large swaths of land suffered through extreme droughts which in turn lead to increased poverty and relocation by rural people to urban areas “That drought, in addition to its mismanagement by the Assad regime, contributed to the displacement of two million in Syria,” said Francesco Femia, of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security.

“That internal displacement may have contributed to the social unrest that precipitated the civil war. Which generated the refugee flows into Europe.”

The 2014 IPCC report, known as AR5, defined climate change as a ‘threat’, in that it could be either responsible for political and security risks, or exacerbate political and security risks that are already commencing.

The research on climate-related migration is still imprecise. The number of predicted migrants moving as a repercussion of  climate change over the next 40 years varies from 25 million to 1 billion. While climate change does incur the increased possibility of migration, it does not guarantee it. What climate science does suggest is that those in poorer countries that lie on and around the equator will be incredibly vulnerable to the effects of a warming climate.

In some cases, while climate change may influence poorer communities, who exist on a subsistence income, to move, their financial situation may not allow them the ability to migrate. Relocation costs would vary in each circumstance, and some families who rely on income from agricultural production (an industry that would be greatly affected by climate change), simply may not have the money to move.

The World Economic Forum wrote in 2015 that “Middle-income countries show a (small) positive correlation while poor countries show a negative correlation between temperature and emigration rate changes.”

The migrant caravans that are currently travelling from Guatamala, Honduras, and El Salvador, into North America may have been influenced by the exacerbating climate change in those countries, as communities experience crop failures and other issues. This in turn may have affected the rise of far-right politics within the US.

One report estimates that there could be 150 million to 350 million people displaced by climate change by 2050, so a new system would have to be put in place to manage that amount of migration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the ice before it is gone: Olafur Eliasson brings Arctic icebergs to London

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Danish geologist Minik Rosing have brought twenty-four blocks of Arctic ice to London.

The work, entitled Ice Watch, has been set up outside of the Tate Modern. The small icebergs were taken from the Nuup Kangerlua fjord in Greenland after becoming separated from the main ice sheet. It has been created to increase awareness of man-made climate breakdown.

More and more icebergs are being produced as the planet warms due to man-made climate change, which in turn contributes to rising sea levels, which poses a threat to wildlife and low-lying coastal human settlements.

The hope is that Ice Watch will help people to conceive of the reality of climate breakdown and global heating. The general public has seen photos and videos of ice breaking from sheets, glaciers receding, animals such as polar bears forced to swim for miles as they have no ice to walk across, and yet in this country we never get the full effect from these pieces of evidence. We rarely have that first-hand experience.

The point of the project is interaction. “Put your hands on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it” says Eliasson. “Witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.”

The artist is known for large installations employing natural materials such as light, water, and air temperature, which are used to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Increasingly warmer global temperatures causes the Greenland ice sheet to lose around 200-300 billion tonnes of ice each year, which is a number that is expected to increase dramatically in the future.

“I’ve been studying behavioural psychology, and looking into the consequences of experience,” says the Icelandic-Danish artist. “What does it mean to experience something? Does it change you or not change you? It turns out that data alone only promotes a small degree of change. So in order to create the massive behavioural change needed [to tackle climate change] we have to emotionalise that data, make it physically tangible.”

Both Eliasson and Rosing believe that when it comes to making the public more aware of climate breakdown, narratives based on fear or worst-case scenarios are the wrong way to go. “Instead of fear-based narratives, you need a positive narrative to make people change their behaviour,” says Eliasson, “and that’s why I think the culture sector has a strong mandate to take on some leadership here.”

“We have to provide a glimpse of hope,” adds Rosing. “People think the scientists come with the bad news about climate change but actually we come with the good news. We understand what’s happening, we know exactly what needs to be done and we actually have the means to fix it. The only reason we’ve been able to upset the global environment system is because we have enormous power. If we direct that same enormous power to improving the system, we can get it back on track.”

The temporary sculpture of Ice Watch, itself almost an homage to ancient sacred stone circles, allows us to see a fragile and yet powerful reverence that this environment has. As we engage with the ice directly, experience it’s cold, it’s age, it’s melting, we are transported to the areas where this happens unseen.

The artwork coincides with COP24, the meeting of United Nations delegates in Poland to determine how to employ strategies to keep to the climate regulations agreed at the Paris Climate Agreement three years ago.

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An unfortunate side effect of this installation is the environmental cost. The estimated energy that it cost to bring one of these blocks to London was equal to one person flying from London to the Arctic and back again.

What this temporary sculpture creates is a sense of time, or, more accurately, the knowledge of a time that is running out. Just as the sculpture is only in London from today to the 20th, giving audiences a small time-frame to experience it, so too is the amount of time we have left to limit the damage to ice sheets and their corresponding environments globally.

Ice Watch will be exhibited from the 11th December to 20th December. Well, they will be there until they melt away.

Find more information here.

Environmentalism and club music: Inside the world of Eco-Grime

You may not have realised, but there has been an incredibly long trend of environmentalism within music. Tracks like ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver, ‘Earth Song’ by Michael Jackson, and ‘Blackened’ by Metallica all represent the influential wave of environmentalism (If we conveniently forget the hunting passions of Metallica frontman James Hetfield).

Classical music has always had a strong connection to the living planet. From Vivaldi’s lush, sweeping, magnificent Four Seasons, to the more contemporary classical, such as John Cage’s ‘Child Of Tree’, in which the composer amplifies the sound of cactus and pea pod shakers to add to the timbre of the piece. More obviously an environmental piece is Ludovico Einaudi’s 2016 ‘Elegy For The Arctic’ – a stunningly beautiful piano composition, which you can watch below. What makes this recording even more awesome and shocking is Einaudi plays while on a raft, as large chunks of ice break off the glacier around him and tumble into the water. It’s almost as if nature is supplying the percussion to it’s own destruction.

Now environmentalism, or the inspiration that comes from the living planet, has seeped into the realms of contemporary electronic music. The netlabel Eco Futurism Corporation – a group of forward thinking artists and producers, have even come up with a name for the genre, and it is exciting: Eco-Grime.

Eco Futurism Corporations is a label dedicated to artists such as HERBARIUM, tropical interface, SHYQA, Gem Thee, LORD Ø, and soullets, and proclaims itself as ‘Wrapping ‘anti-club’ tunes and abrasive sound design around CGI-inflected visions of the organic.‘ Our first listens have introduced us to a rapturous, mutating, bio-mechanical, elated, and yet also dark, twisting anthemic landscapes. This is no everyday club music. It is the cousins of Bjørk’s 2016 album, Utopia, produced by both the Icelandic auteur and the Venezuelan producer Arca, which proved to be a scintillating look at when an album surpasses itself to become a soundscape, sort of a aural version of the lengths Tolkien went to in creating Middle Earth (a work itself steeped in environmentalism), and just as intricate. These artists make their own languages.

These languages entertain multiple stories; the wilful destruction of humanity by AI in an effort to save nature, the evolution of animals to survive off plastic, the discovery of human life being the evolution of biological contaminants left behind by extraterrestrial travellers, a.k.a. ‘Garbage Theory’. The stories, while surrounded by beautiful, fragile melodies and samples, are themselves dark and foreboding. These are the inventions of the Eco-Grime proponents, inspired themselves by ecological themes, crafting music to score the slow and wilful eradication of the living planet by the consumptions of modern life.

Sounds of chimes, birdsong, waterfall, the chirps and chirrups of birds, insects, and other creatures. The music of these artists present full and biodiverse environments of sound, championing the natural samples they compose around. Like the water used in many of the tracks, these artists have fluidity. The soundscapes ebb and flow into one another while remaining very much autonomous. It is exciting stuff to listen to.

“Roots of such ecologist utopias unconsciously existed all this time in the field of eastern way of harmony with surrounding against western anthropocentrism, which crystallized into architecture, infrastructure design, human relationships and many other things, including Eco Futurism Corporation.” The label explained about it’s origins in an interview.

“It’s expressed in samples from cult films of the future like “Blade Runner” or “GITH” and ends with the title tracks. From the other side, eco futurism have a positive outlook for the future, utopia, the opposite post-apocalyptic and alternative to cyberpunk. We suggest another way.” EFC shares on the influences of eco-futurism expressed within their work.

In a Facebook post about their album, ВЕЖЕСТЬ (Freshness), HERBARIUM wrote “The main idea is to immerse the listener in different scenes using the contrasts between artificially created effects, ‘computer’ synths, and common sounds that surround you in real life. The process is more like painting; I’m trying to create a unique atmosphere for each track and transform it into dynamic futuristic collage.” This phrase seems to be emblematic of the whole subgenre itself.

The Ecomodern series, a mixture of different contributing artists, is itself an incredibly biological work, a work that would class itself as symbiotic. It is not a mixtape, it is an ecosystem. The track ‘eco world’ by tropical interface could itself act as the grim anthem of this movement, containing an artificial voice that declares “Welcome to the new world, the world of ecological future / High technological artificial intelligence had to take over nature to exterminate humanity, because nature has a higher priority than humanity.” This mixes with powerful beats, trickling water sounds, and undulating synth beds that project a sort of serenity that jars with the AI’s proclamation. It almost surrenders you to this hypothesised end to humanity. The soundscape created helps you to accept.

Earlier this year, Prague-based label Genot Centre released a limited-edition cassette of Plastisphere by the Finnish producer Forces. Within the work, EDM is deconstructed into a medium that can be used to explore the lives of organisms who have been affected by climate breakdown, most specifically, plastic pollution. Eco-grime seems to focus itself as mood board, mirror, and social commentary on the environmental catastrophes we face. In an interview, Forces said “I don’t know what would be the solution out of this mess we have made. I can only try to circumvent the issue with my music and art.” Plastisphere was created in part in reaction  to an ecological disaster near his home, where toxic cyanobacteria blooms grew off the Scandinavian coast, rendering swimming in those waters impossible.

The Eco-Grime movement is constructed of a thriving community of artists and auteurs, who are currently pushing against the creative grey areas of underground club music, representing the more contemporary, niche side of environmental advocacy. Whether it is a city commute, an afternoon desk-bound work, a casual jaunt through a local green area, the environments that this movement creates are ones well worth getting lost in.

For an in-depth look at key Eco-Grime tracks, check this article from Bandcamp Daily.

 

 

Welcome To Deeply Good

Welcome to Deeply Good Magazine.

We’re a fully-independent ecological and cultural journal, hoping to develop into a published quarterly magazine at some point in the future.

Deeply Good Magazine is written, designed, and contributed to by a diverse bunch of thinkers, writers, and creators. We believe in the majesty and fragility of the ecological world, and through our work, want to help to preserve that world.

We align ourselves with the concept of ‘least-impact’, in that the best way for us to live in the 21st century with the amount of environmental strain our societies place upon the Earth, is to produce the least impact, if not no impact at all.

Hopefully what we create, what we share, and what we contribute can help and inspire our audiences towards a greener way of living, one that doesn’t compromise on creativity, self-expression, and autonomy.

Deeply Good was first conceived in early 2018. Our initial idea was a pipe dream, a good ‘feeling’ combining a love of creativity and the need for environmental protection and sustainability. We are still figuring out what that dream is, but for every new thing we write or create, the image becomes a little more clear.

You can find out more about our ethos on our About page.

We hope you enjoy and resonate with what we have to say.

Stay eco x

Jack Andrew Cribb
Deeply Good Founder & Editor

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