Nature documentaries are an ever-popular genre, one that seems simple on the surface but requires real talent to manage effectively.
The key feature of nature films is the ability to craft a narrative out of natural events that aren’t stories with a traditional, linear path. When done masterfully, the result is a truly enlightening and often charming piece of film. Read on to discover a few such works.
Our Planet is a recent Netflix documentary which focuses on the diversity of Earth’s ecosystems. The film explores more than 50 countries, showcasing all kinds of climates and lifeforms that emerge from them. Each episode is dedicated to a particular habitat, with three different episodes dedicated to aquatic habitats.
The series is eight episodes long, and each is practically a full-length film of its own. Our Planet has been praised by critics for its cinematography and skillfully crafted environmentalist approach.
Planet Earth was released some ten years prior to Our Planet, but operates with a similar goal. The film was produced by the BBC, and later went on to screen on a number of networks and streaming platforms, including Discovery and Netflix.
The film is made memorable by amazing narration from natural historian David Attenborough. It boasts innovative camera work, managing to showcase the animals in an epic scale while maintaining an intimate, close-up approach.
Chasing Ice is a documentary film with a runtime of around 1.5 hours. It follows a celebrated photographer from the National Geographic, as he documents several years of climate change through the use of time-lapse cameras. The result is both beautiful and depressing. Chasing Ice was praised by critics and viewers alike, for its hard-hitting, effective approach.
Blackfish released in 2013 and sparked a massive outcry, leading to real change in the ways animals are treated in our zoos and aquariums. The treatment of animals in captivity was already a part of our public discourse, but rarely applied to the treatment of aquatic animals.
The film follows the story of a performing orca named Tilikum, highlighting the species’ intelligence and the impact of a lifetime in captivity.
The Ivory Game
The Ivory Game is a documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, in collaboration with Netflix. Filmmakers go undercover to report on the trade of ivory, from both its legal and illegal sectors. The film showcases the awful practises of elephant tusk poaching, sparking a call to action and change in international policy.
Encounters at the End of the World
Encounters is a film produced by Werner Herzog, using nature and scenic landscapes as a backdrop for the telling of the human story. Herzog serves as both narrator and guide on a trip to Antarctica, weaving an intricate and slightly odd tale of our impact on the environment.
Now 15 years old, the film still holds up in terms of its themes and use of hauntingly beautiful cinematography.
Which films would you add to today’s list, and why?