7 Must-See Films Inspiring a Healthier Planet


One of my favorite events of the year is only one week away—the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF), celebrating 41 years. EcoWatch is a media sponsor, once again, and thrilled to sponsor the film RiverBlue.

CIFF, one of the nation's top film festivals, will showcase 202 feature films and 216 short films representing 71 countries from March 29 – April 9. Here's a synopsis of the seven eco-related films being featured this year, courtesy of CIFF:

1. RiverBlue

Narrated by Jason Priestley, the original concept for RiverBlue was to film renowned conservationist Mark Angelo as he toured rivers across the world. Not only would the film spotlight the beauty of nature, but also it would examine the effects of pollution.

While it wasn't intended to focus on a specific cause, Angelo and the film's directors began to see a pattern as they embarked on their journey. A lot of the chemical waste spilling into our water is coming from the plants that manufacture our clothing. From the dyes used to make our jeans to the chemicals that go into producing leather—fashion comes at a cost to our environment.

As they ventured through China, India, Africa, Indonesia, and several other countries, including the U.S., they witnessed the horrors first-hand. A number of popular clothing brands are disposing of chemical waste improperly, leading to some very serious consequences. By exposing this underreported issue, this provocative documentary enlightens the public and makes a passionate plea to push the fashion industry into changing their unprincipled practices.

2. The Age of Consequences

For better or worse, we are all connected. Thanks to globalization, the ebbs and flows of a nation can be felt, to varying degrees, in communities on opposite sides of the world. Yet all these waves have one thing in common: climate change.

Compelling case studies reveal a powerful connection between climate change and global conflict that, without immediate attention, will be society's ultimate demise. When severe droughts, flooding, and natural disasters decimate the food and water supply for millions of people, these basic necessities can quickly turn into instruments of war.

Issues of poverty, mass migrations, and a limited capacity to provide international aid only intensify when combined with extreme weather's unpredictability. U.S. military veterans, who have firsthand experience with the devastating impacts of climate change on failing regions around the world, are leading the charge to take action. But they cannot do it alone. Relevant now more than ever, The Age of Consequences unveils a terrifying look at our present reality and the desperate race against time we are dangerously losing.

3. Footprint: Population, Consumption, and Sustainability

In 2011 a baby born in the Philippines marked a world population milestone: seven billion. Every life is cause for celebration, but with the population growing at a rapid speed, hitting such a high number raises serious concerns.

Does Earth have enough resources to meet each child's needs? Can it sustain the damage done by the humongous collective carbon footprint? And what do we do with all the trash?

Even more troubling is the issue of equality. The U.S. accounts for just five percent of the world's population, but uses over a quarter of the world's fossil fuel resources—clearly the pie is not being equally shared. As the birth rate rises, so will the disparity.

In Footprint: Population, Consumption and Sustainability, director Valentina Canavesio tours the planet, surveying the results of population explosions and overconsumption. This revealing film also spotlights activists who are doing all they can to limit population growth, despite the fierce opposition that such a controversial issue brings. Canavesio's exceptional documentary offers a comprehensive profile of a planet stretched beyond its limits.

4. Food Evolution

The reputation surrounding GMO foods paints a picture of chemically enhanced produce, pumped with steroids and other poisons, being conned into our children's mouths. But what if we have it all wrong? Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates this documentary, which sheds light on the fervor against food that has been scientifically altered to meet the needs of a growing population.

The fight between organic foods versus GMO foods has been raging for a few years now, enabled by passionate advocates on both sides spreading misinformation. And Food Evolution attempts to quell the biggest fears, using science, interviews with scientists, and accumulated data about modifying our crops. Yes, there are genuine concerns about agri-giants like Monsanto, but when you finally get a glimpse at the bogus claims the "other" side has been making in the name of "organic" food, you begin to wonder which side is harder to swallow.

Beginning with Hawaii's ban on all GMO products, followed by other countries (including those in Africa) that are simply not in a place to deny food to their populace, Food Evolution will open your eyes to the state of our food today—and where it will be in the years to come.

5. The University

"Discover what being exponential means to you" is the philosophy behind Singularity University, the brainchild of X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and famous inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. At Singularity grad and post-grad students—some of the smartest in the world—join together with the stated goal to use their intellect and ingenuity to create a business that will impact a billion people within ten years.

The University is a behind-the-scenes look at a think tank dedicated to using exponential technology to change the world and the young men and women who are determined to do it. Five years in the making, this inspiring film provides us with hope that our capabilities will be able to work for us and help humanity live long and prosper.

From self-driving cars, to printing tools in space, to being able to remotely deliver aid to those in need, The University is not only a glimpse at who will change the world, but also an in-depth look into our future and where we're headed as a people and planet.

6. Bugs

In recent years the United Nations has suggested that, due to a growing population, we may find ourselves dealing with a food shortage sooner than we think. One of their recommendations: edible insects. Championed by cooks for their unique flavors, and embraced by environmentalists for their small ecological impact, creepy crawlers are being hailed as the miracle cure.

In Bugs, director Andreas Johnsen teams up with researchers and chefs from Copenhagen's Nordic Food Lab to determine whether or not that's the case. Traveling to such places as Mexico, Australia, Kenya, and Japan, they encounter communities where such delicacies as grasshoppers, termite queens, and venomous hornets are eaten. That may sound unappetizing, but the film's expert chefs transform these gooey creatures into beautiful, great tasting dishes.

Along the way, however, the filmmakers discover a number of things that could dampen the U.N.'s perfect plan. They also learn the food dilemma is less about population growth and more about unfair distribution and corporate greed. This colorful documentary is powerful in its message while allowing for some incredibly fun moments
as well.

7. Tale of a Lake

A film of astonishing grandeur, Tale of a Lake takes us on a plunge into the icy waters of Finland. In this land of 190,000 lakes, endless misty forests, and burbling brooks, water is forever reborn.

English narrator Jonathan Hutchings accompanies us along the cyclical path of a tiny Finnish mythological water spirit. We learn that ancient Finnic people considered the swan their divine ancestor, the elk their guardian spirit. Miraculous cinematography by Teemu Liakka captures mysterious loons and mischievous otters, up-close and personal. We marvel at the building skills of busy beavers—the engineers of the eco-system—as well as toad wrestling matches and water insect ballets.

There is even poetry to be found in the hatching of fish eggs. Lush symphonic sound by composer Panu Aaltio adds to the thrilling sensory experience of Tale of a Lake. Not just a hydrobiologist's dream, this film will carry viewers of all ages along its course, revealing the power of flowing water that teems with eternal life.

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