Must-Watch Documentaries

It’s no small secret that I like documentaries. I keep tabs on sites like Top Documentary Films and Vimeo for new (free) releases, and almost my entire Netflix list consists of docs. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve got a personal list of required watching for anyone interested in Zero Waste or learning about what the hell is going on with environmentalism these days and the geo-political forces it often goes toe-to-toe with. Here’s that list.

Blind Spot

There’s a lot of environmental films out there that while not painting a rosy picture still want us to feel a sense of hey things will still be ok, not so with Blind Spot. Director Adolfo Doring has, along with many of the scientists, economists and other experts, wisely decided that the time for coddling us is past, perhaps even too long past.

This is my number one. It’s incredibly sobering – perhaps especially for those of us drunk on mantras of “saving the world” – packed with facts, good cinematography, a whole rogues gallery of highly educated people with the ability to see the bigger picture. It touches on every other subject in this documentary list at least once, and it has no time to cater to assuaging eco-guilt. As one of the interviewees says at both the beginning and end of the film: “The world’s saying: look, you’ve got a choice. Either you can fix it, or I can fix it. And if I fix it, you’re not going to like it, because I’m going to throw everything away.”

Free to watch online.

No Impact Man

A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year.

The book is much better, but if you’re going to try and convey to someone what the ZW thing is in a short amount of time, this is it. It’s humanizing, inspiring, and even a little enlightening sometimes. Most importantly, though, the Beavans eventually learn that living like self-flagellating eco-monks doesn’t actually accomplish all that much, and wind up picking and choosing aspects of the lifestyle that are sustainable for them in the long run.

Preview only.

A Farm for the Future

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realizing that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

Free to watch online.

Flow: For the Love of Water

Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.

Interviews with scientists and activists intelligently reveal the rapidly building crisis, at both the global and human scale, and the film introduces many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while begging the question “CAN ANYONE REALLY OWN WATER?”

Free to watch online.

Sea the Truth

This is the planet we still know so little. We call it Earth but less than 1/3 is land, over 2/3 is water and we use that water as a dumping site for our waste and as if it’s an inexhaustible “horn of plenty” for humans. Our most important ecosystem is on the verge of collapse unless we act now. At this very moment the main problem with the oceans is that they’re getting emptier and emptier. If we don’t do anything then we face one of the biggest disasters in history of mankind.

If you look at the predators only about 90% of all predatory fish is gone. Then from all the other commercial fish species almost 80% is gone. The best thing to do to solve the problem is to quit eating fish.

Free to watch online.


This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.

Preview only.

Maxed Out

Per its title, James D. Scurlock’s virulently angry muckraking documentaryMaxed Out examines the many problems associated with escalating U.S. consumer debt. Scurlock places his weightiest emphasis on the ends of the spectrum rooted in extreme evil (read: abuse) – such as the capital lenders who wheedle poor farm families into assuming unmanageable loans and college students into placing massive amounts on credit cards.

Free to watch online.

The Ascent of Money

Professor Niall Ferguson examines the origins of the pillars of the world’s financial system, and how behind every great historical phenomenon – empires and republics, wars and revolutions – there lies a financial secret.

This is a longdocumentary (though not the longest on here), told in six parts and coming in at around 5 hours long. Its different segments cover the history of credit, the rise of the bond market since the Italian Renaissance, the whys and wherefores of boom and bust cycles, the origins of insurance, an inside and historical look at the US housing crisis, and the current financial relationship between China and the US, respectively.

Free to watch online.


Meet Michael Ruppert, a different kind of American. A former Lost Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, he predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter. From the Wilderness, at a time when most Wall Street and Washington analysts were still in denial. Director Chris Smith has shown an affinity for outsiders in films like American Movie and The Yes Men. In Collapse, he departs stylistically from his past documentaries by interviewing Ruppert in a format that recalls the work of Errol Morris and Spalding Gray.

Full disclosure: I liked Michael Ruppert. He did important work in the peak oil scene, and the world lost a good voice when he took his own life a few years ago. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of his thoughts and predictions, and come away from this piece a little depressed and a little disoriented, but pay attention to the things he says at the end, because community and friendship will be the things that get us through whatever is it that will come our way, whenever it comes.

Free to watch online.

Counter-Intelligence: Shedding a Light on Black Operations

If you can argue that this is one long documentary rather than a series, then it’s definitely the longest I’ve ever sat down to watch. All together, it’s just short of 7 hours, and in my opinion, it’s required viewing. The general thrust is that it lays out the history of the CIA since it grew out of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, during WW2. Geo-political relationships are an absolutely vital key to understanding why it seems nations the world over pay little more than mere lip service to the collapse of our biosphere, and understanding the CIA is key to understanding those relationships. From covert projects in oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, to the deliberate manufacture of state enemies (Does anyone reading this remember or know about the green scare? I sure hope so!) and black flag operations used to discredit enemies and provide reason for invading, the CIA has played no small part in ushering in the age of oil, consumer capitalism, perpetual war, and ecosystem destruction.

Free to watch online.