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10 Best Eco-Docs of 2014
This year brought many inspiring and educational environmental documentaries to theatres and film festivals worldwide. From the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC to Mountainfilm in Telluride, filmmakers were working hard to bring light to the most pervasive environmental issues impacting human health and the environment.
Check out my list of the top 10 best eco-docs of 2014:
DamNation explores the sea change in our national attitude toward big dams from an engineering wonder to the realization that our future is dependent on the life and health of our rivers. After watching a 30-pound salmon hurtling 20 feet into the air in a vain attempt to reach the spawning grounds that lie barricaded upriver confirmed what the creators of this film always thought to be true—too many dams for far too long have been destroying entire watersheds.
Jolynn Minnaar had no intention of making a documentary exposing the evils of fracking. In fact, the Karoo, South Africa native viewed the arrival of a shale gas extraction industry as an exciting opportunity for development and employment in home district.
Her opinion changed after visiting the U.S.
There, she learned about the fires, dark brown, methane-infused water and many more by-products of fracking. She documented her findings in the appropriately titled, Unearthed, which received its world premiere June 10 and 11 at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in Sheffield, a city in the United Kingdom’s South Yorkshire county.
Koch Brothers Exposed
Just two years after Brave New Films released Koch Brothers Exposed, the company returns with a 2014 edition of the documentary. While the Kochs’ political spending habits haven’t changed much since then, they’re all the more emboldened by the Supreme Court’s historic McCutcheon v. FEC ruling.
With individual donors no longer facing a cap on political contributions, the dark money floodgates are entirely open. That puts a new spin on Brave New Films’ hour-long examination of Charles and Dave Koch, who coincidentally happen to be tied fourth place on the Forbes 400 list.
Oil & Water
Filmmakers Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith have made a new documentary Oil & Water telling the story of two teenagers—one American, one Ecuadorian—fighting to restore the country’s rainforests and seeking justice for the indigenous peoples damaged by the effects of oil exploration and drilling. It depicts the challenges faced by the young men and their allies as they fight the power of a Big Oil company, Texaco (now Chevron), that for 28 years poisoned drinking water, destroyed the landscape and pushed the indigenous people to the edges of their lands as it drilled for oil.
Just Eat It
What happens when two filmmakers challenge themselves to survive for six months only on discarded food? You get Just Eat It, a new documentary that explores the food waste issue from the farm all the way to a Vancouver fridge.
Exposed: USDA's Secret War on Wildlife
In January, Predator Defense launched a nationwide film screening tour of their documentary detailing the secretive killings of the Wildlife Services, a department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which kills more than one million coyotes, bears, otters, foxes, birds and other animals each year without any requirement to disclose its activities to the public.
In the film, Exposed: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife, former federal agents-turned-whistle-blowers go on record to disclose their take on Wildlife Services: an unaccountable, out of control, wildlife killing machine that acts at the bidding of corporate agriculture and the hunting lobby, all with taxpayer dollars.
Burt's Buzz is a quirky portrait of the unique life of Burt Shavitz, the reclusive co-founder and face of Burt's Bees, who reluctantly struggles with fame when all he wants is to just say "buzz off."
The Trail of a Tale
The winner of this year's Action4Climate documentary competition, The Trail of a Tale by Portuguese filmmaker Gonçalo Tocha, is captivating as the narrator tells us, the stranger, how things went right. Society gathered with a fundamental belief that the “purpose of the economic system is to improve the well-being for all within the limits of what the planet can sustain … We had to deal with overconsumption first. The prices we paid for things had to reflect the social and environmental costs…” This film won the $15,000 top prize, in the 18 – 35 age category, and is a must-see.
Last Rush for the Wild West: Tar Sands, Oil Shale and the American Frontier
The Last Rush for the Wild West: Tar Sands, Oil Shale and the American Frontier, by filmmaker Jennifer Eckstrom, talks about another piece of the American landscape under assault from the fossil fuel industry: the strip mining of more than a million acres of tar sands and oil shale in eastern Utah. It addresses the wilderness landscapes that would be destroyed, increased pollution it would bring to already heavily polluted Salt Lake City and threat to the Colorado River watershed, which provides drinking water to 36 million people.
With an incredible cast of characters—Dave Foreman, Paul Watson, Robert Redford, Peg Millet, Terry Tempest Williams, Doug Peacock, Tim DeChristopher, Kieran Suckling and more—Wrenched “reveals how Edward Abbey’s anarchistic spirit and riotous novels influenced and helped guide the nascent environmental movement of the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Filmmaker ML Lincoln captures the outrage of Abbey’s friends, the original eco-warriors, through interviews, archival footage and re-enactments. These early activists pioneered monkeywrenching as a way to defend all things wild. The movement was exemplified by EarthFirst! in the early ‘80s when direct action and civil disobedience grew in popularity.
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Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation have decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive:
By Jeff Turrentine
Is it just us?
Other countries don't seem to have a problem getting their high-speed rail systems on track. This superfast, fuel-efficient form of mass transit is wildly popular throughout Asia and the European Union. Japan's sleek Shinkansen line, the busiest high-speed rail system in the world, carries an estimated 420,000 riders every weekday. In China, the new Fuxing Hao bullet train now hurries more than 100 million passengers a year between Beijing and Shanghai at a top speed of 218 miles an hour, allowing its riders to make the trip of 775 miles — roughly the distance from New York City to Chicago — in about four and a half hours. Spain, Germany and France together have more than 4,500 miles of track dedicated to high-speed rail, over which more than 150 million passengers travel annually.
By Coda Christopherson (11) and Lea Eiders (15)
Growing up in a plastic-free home, I was sheltered from the plastic waste crisis. I (Coda) went to a very progressive school that had vegan lunch items, farm animals and ran on solar power. My mom produces zero-waste events and my dad is a sailor, so we're very passionate about the ocean. When I was nine years old, we moved back to Manhattan Beach, California and I started 3rd grade in a public school. This was the first time I really understood that plastic-free living is not the norm; single-use plastics were everywhere, especially in the cafeteria. Once I recognized this problem, I knew I had to make a difference.
Henry Avocado issued the recall Saturday after a routine government inspection at its California packing facility turned up positive test results for the bacteria on "environmental samples," the company said in a statement. No illnesses have been reported.
Oil executives gathered for a conference laughed about their "unprecedented" access to Trump administration officials, according to a recording obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In the recording, taken at a June 2017 meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) at a Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, members expressed excitement about one official in particular: David Bernhardt, who had been nominated that April to be deputy secretary at the Department of Interior (DOI). Bernhardt would be confirmed the following month.
"We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues," IPAA political director Dan Naatz said in the recording.