The best films and documentaries about sustainability to watch in 2023, recommended by sustainability thought-leaders

Finding a great film – one that inspires you, moves you, and educates you about the social and environmental issues we face today – is no easy feat.

So, to save you from endlessly scrolling through your TV for something worth your time to watch, we asked the thought-leaders, pioneers and experts in the sustainable space for their best film and documentary recommendations, which offer interesting perspectives on the world.

Here are their must-watch films, documentaries or series for 2023:

1. The True Cost

Why you should watch it: 

“It was the catalyst for so many people, including myself, to reevaluate our place and part in the fashion industry.”

Susanna Wen, co-founder of Birdsong

“This movie is for many of us the starting point of changing our shopping behaviour and a great recommendation for everyone.”

Noor Veenhoven, co-founder of Project Cece

“A really good documentary that helps you know more about the impacts of the fast fashion industry.”

Kathy Cabrera, Digital Marketer for AYA

What it’s about: 

The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?

Where you can watch it: 

truecostmovie.com, or amazonprime

Recommended by Susanna Wen, the co-founder and Cheif Executive Officer of cult feminist fashion brand Birdsong. Birdsong’s mantra is one we couldn’t be more on board with: ‘Dress in Protest.’ This means no sweatshops, no Photoshop.

Also recommended by Noor Veenhoven, one of the three all-female founders of Project Cece. It’s the largest online marketplace for stylish and ethical clothing in Europe, featuring 100 brands – and growing.

Recommended by Kathy Cabrera, Digital Marketer for AYA, an up-and-coming sustainable lifestyle brand for men and women. 

2. Artifishal

Why you should watch it: 

“Offers an insight into the atrocities of overfishing and hatcheries. One of the many reasons why all of our seafood produce is wild-caught.”

Mitch thorne, Marketing Executive at Eversfield 

What it’s about: 

Artifishal is a film about people, rivers, and the fight for the future of wild fish and the environment that supports them.

It explores wild salmon’s slide toward extinction, threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms, and our continued loss of faith in nature.

Where you can watch it:

youtube.com

Recommended by Mitch Thorne, the Marketing Executive at Eversfield Organic, an award-winning family-run farm nestled on the edge of Dartmoor delivering fresh, organic groceries to the whole of the UK.

3. Gather

Why you should watch it:

“An inspiring and emotive documentary that explores trauma – and, importantly, healing.”

Lizzie Rivera, Chief Purpose Officer of Live Frankly

What it’s about:

Gather is a documentary that tells the story of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.

The film states that 70% of all food around the world today originated from the Indigenous peoples.

“Before this whole trend of eating organic came along our ancestors built this complex food system of wild food the Apache people ate. We didn’t call it organic. It was just food,” says farmer Clayton Harvey from the White Mountain Apache Nation.

Where you can watch it:

gather.film

 

4. Don’t Look Up

Why you should watch it: 

“Especially good to pass on as a good watch to people who might find the likes of Seaspiracy overwhelming.”

Hannah Rochell, Content Lead at Teemill

What it’s about: 

Two astronomers go on a media tour to warn humankind of a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth. The response from a distracted world: Meh.

This is a fictional film and a parody of our very real response to the climate crisis.

Where you can watch it:

Netflix

Recommended by Hannah Rochell, the Content Lead at Rapanui, a sustainable, circular adventurewear clothing brand.

5. The Swimmers

Why you should watch it: 

“A powerful, deeply moving film which humanises the plight of refugees in a way that is so desperately needed.”

Francesca Carpani, Digital Marketer at Live Frankly

What it’s about: 

From war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, two young sisters embark on a harrowing journey as refugees, putting both their hearts and champion swimming skills to heroic use. Based on a true story. Directed by Sally El-Hosaini.

Where you can watch it:

Netflix

6. In Our Hands

Why you should watch it: 

“This documentary looks at how the UK food system operates and investigates why we need to be more proactive in supporting and nurturing British agriculture to create a food secure sustainable sector.”

Emma Robinson and Ian O’Reilly, custodians of Gazegill Organics

What it’s about

In Our Hands explores a quiet revolution that is transforming the way our food is produced and distributed. Our current industrial food system is a vast and wheezing giant that is only upheld by a stilted subsidy regime that pays out to landowners and leaves many farmers by the wayside.

But from the hedge-rows and by-roads, the fields and furrows can now be heard the stirring of change! Stories from the global South have inspired farmers and food workers in our snug little island, with the idea of food sovereignty and a global movement to take back control of the food system.

From the grazier reviving the art of pasture, to the grower erecting a poly-tunnel in the heart of East London or the farmer saving a handful of ancient grain, a new agricultural landscape is emerging. Here rural traditions meet modern innovations in a new food system that will bring back life to the soil, a fair wage to the farmer and a flavour to the tomato!

Throughout the tumultuous summer of the Brexit referendum the Landworkers’ Alliance joined forces with two film-makers, to unearth the farms and faces that are making this change happen.

We stand on the brink, the future is uncertain, but the seeds of a better food system are “In Our Hands”.

Where you can watch it:

landworkersalliance.org.uk

Recommended by Emma Robinson and Ian O’Reilly, custodians of Gazegill Organics, your one-stop-shop for sustainable and organically farmed Raw Organic Milk, meat and deli produce. Their low-intensity and organic approach to farming boosts soil health and wildlife diversity.

7. Blackfish

Why you should watch it: 

“This film shows the ignorance of mankind and the importance of connecting with nature. As long as we consider nature a distant problem for scientists to fix, we won’t look after it. We need to realise that we are part of the ecosystem – and this film helps us do exactly that.”

Caroline Bennett, founder of Sole of Discretion

What it’s about: 

A mesmerising psychological thriller with a killer whale at its centre, Blackfish is the first film since Grizzly Man to show how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits. 

Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry. 

This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.

Where you can watch it:

blackfishmovie.com

Recommended by Caroline Bennett, the founder of Sole of Discretion, a fish delivery service that goes above and beyond to make sure of its fish and seafood is sourced sustainably. Caroline is also the owner of the UK’s first Japanese-style conveyor belt sushi-joint Moshi Moshi.

8. 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible

Why you should watch it: 

This is the film I enjoyed most this year. I found Nims Dai monumentally inspirational. What an incredible achievement. If only we could be as determined and single-minded in our goal to reduce our impact on the planet, then yes, perhaps nothing is impossible…”

Lucy Todd, founder of My Little Green Wardrobe

What it’s about: 

Fearless Nepali mountaineer Nimsdai Purja embarks on a seemingly impossible quest to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in seven months.

This documentary follows his journey and puts the Nepalese Sherpas – whose efforts have gone unrecognised for too long – front and centre of the story.

Where you can watch it:

Netflix

Recommended by Lucy Todd, the owner and founder of My Little Green Wardrobe (MLGW), the new website that exclusively features pre-vetted ethical and sustainable children’s clothing brands.

9. The Shepherdess

Why you should watch it: 

“A short film by Katie Falkenberg about a Navajo shepherdess who perseveres through the extreme drought brought on from climate change. Poignant.”

Ed Ayton, Sustainability & Communications Officer at Abel & Cole 

What it’s about: 

A Navajo shepherdess perseveres despite extreme drought in this poetic short film about a rapidly vanishing way of life.

“We didn’t even go up the mountain because there’s no water,” she recounts.

“Hardships are just lessons and challenges in life and you just can’t dwell on it, you have to live through it.”

Where you can watch it:

katiefalkenberg.com

Recommended by Ed Ayton, the Sustainability & Communications Officer for organic food delivery company Abel & Cole. Everything Abel & Cole sell matches its sustainable, local and seasonal ethos.

10. Blue Planet series 

Why you should watch it: 

“It’s certainly not an easy watch, but the visuals linger and we all know a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Sally Ellis-Rudd, Ecommerce Manager at Helen Browning

What it’s about: 

The legendary David Attenborough narrates a natural history of the oceans.

Although 70 per cent of our planet is covered by water, the oceans and many of their inhabitants – such as the blue whale – remain an unexplored mystery.

This edition travels to the very depths of the seas to reveal a spectacular variety of life – from alien monsters of the deep to pack-hunting killer whales attacking a grey whale calf.

Where you can watch it:

BBCiPLAYER

Recommended by Sally Ellis-Rudd, the Ecommerce Manager at Helen Browning’s Organic. Helen Browning’s farming philosophy is to grow the best quality crops and animals while making space for nature, and their produce is all the better for it.

Main image: Photo by Ron Lach

About the author

Francesca Carpani

Francesca Carpani

Francesca Carpani has a First-Class Joint Honours Degree in English and American Studies. Particular areas of interest are socio-political topics including feminism, racism, multiculturalism, immigration, and media representation. She cares strongly about creating a fairer, more sustainable world and is passionate about spreading positivity.

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