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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Five hard-hitting feature documentary films to watch

The films, designed to change our habits and lifestyles, are becoming more commonplace

A scene fom 'Chasing Coral'. Courtesy of Netflix
A scene fom 'Chasing Coral'. Courtesy of Netflix

If you’ve found yourself scrolling through the myriad viewing choices on the streaming service Netflix (or Amazon Prime or Starz Play), you won’t have been able to avoid the wide selection of documentaries available. Covering subjects such as health, diet, the environment, politics, crime and corruption, they pull no punches and have been responsible for the rise of what’s known as the Netflix Activist.

The truth is that, to get the masses to open their eyes to real problems that affect this planet, sometimes a famous person needs to get in front of the cameras and tell us how it is. This month, actress Natalie Portman has been talking about the new film she has narrated, Eating Animals, which shows how modern factory farming methods have strayed so far from tradition that they are unrecognisable and unnecessarily cruel. A bit much to watch on an Imax screen, perhaps, but the constant procession of these films, which invariably win great critical plaudits, seems to be causing a seismic shift in our habits for the better. Here we detail five of the hardest-hitting examples.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

A winner of two Academy Awards, this Davis Guggenheim-directed film brought the reality of climate change on to our theatre and television screens. Highly respected film critic Roger Ebert said that “you owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have ­grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to”, which succinctly captures its huge impact on the global conscience. Inconvenient ­indeed, it has been the subject of heated ­debate between environmentalists and ­climate change deniers for 12 years, but revisiting it, you realise the film doesn’t apportion blame to anyone or anything. Rather, it poses questions that have us pondering on what we can individually do to minimise our carbon footprints.

Cowspiracy (2014)

By turns shocking, disturbing and exceedingly funny, Cowspiracy is the cinematic journal of an aspiring, ­slightly naive environmentalist called Kip Anderson, who recently went on to produce the vegan-inducing What the Health. It turns a glaring, unforgiving spotlight on the subject of sustainability and how governments, big business and the world’s best-known environmental organisations are in collusion, actively damaging the planet. If you’ve ever felt pangs of guilt for driving when you could walk, or not turning off the bathroom light, this film might help to ease your conscience as it shows the appalling destruction brought about by unsustainable agriculture.

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Read more:

Palm oil: what it is, why it's killing our planet, and how to avoid it

How veganism can save the planet

The social and environmental reasons why people are giving up meat

Diabetes: two types, one global problem

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Chasing Coral (2017)

If you have an affinity with the ocean, this multi-award-winning feature film will break your heart – but that’s no reason to not watch it in disbelief. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, who also put together the 2012 film Chasing Ice, which dealt with the rapid melting of polar glaciers, this 93-minute shocker veers away from argument in favour of irrefutable visual proof of how rising sea temperatures are devastating Earth’s precarious and precious eco-systems. A visual sucker-punch, the cinematography is simply breath­taking and, through months-long time-lapse recordings, the evidence as clear as the tropical waters that are now little more than vast graveyards.

Eating You Alive (2018)

James Cameron, Suzy Amis and Samuel L Jackson are just three of the Hollywood heavyweights to have contributed to this highly publicised eye-opener about how what Americans eat is the root cause for most of the country’s chronic diseases. And, as you might expect, big pharma gets it with both barrels, for filling its pockets by providing drugs to simply keep people alive without helping them to heal by changing their lifestyles. Experts in plant nutrition explain the physiological effects of following a bad diet, and the evidence was so convincing that the entire production crew permanently ditched meat and dairy products.

Dominion (2018)

Following in the bloody footsteps of Earthlings, the 2005 documentary ­narrated by actor Joaquin Phoenix, comes Dominion. Using a similar ­narrative, it exposes the horrors ­experienced by animals in Australian factory farming and industry, and features Phoenix on narration ­duties along with actress Rooney Mara. The impact of this film is yet to be felt globally, but with the use of drones and high-definition cameras, it delivers a discomforting exposure of practices that are legal and commonplace all over the world. It had a limited theatre release this year, and will no doubt end up on Netflix very soon. You might want to put down that burger.