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Weekly Challenge: Socially Conscious Netflix-And-Chill

Weekly Challenge: Socially Conscious Netflix-And-Chill

Everyone’s accounted for, seating arrangements fought for, and the television is on. And yet, there’s one problem left – what to watch tonight?

I’ve got an idea, and a new weekly challenge for you. Rather than diving into your fourth round of The Office, or Friends, or Sex and the City, or Game of Thrones (okay make that your sixth round of GOT), how about diving into something real.  Louis Psyhios, director of the hit documentary Racing Extinction, said once: “sometimes your heart can take you places your mind can’t yet go.” You now have the power to grow your perspective with the click of your remote on Friday night.

How awesome is that?

Documentaries aren’t just for science class any more. In fact, they offer the most compelling plot line we’ve got – the theater of our own lives. New-age journalism is thrilling, heart wrenching and hilarious, and captivating. And in so doing, modern documentaries have the power to expose larger audiences to issues they may have otherwise never have been exposed to. 

I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite social-good hits that entertain and engage. Check them out! And comment below with suggestions of your own!

1)   Racing Extinction

From the director that brought you “The Cove,” Louie Psihoyus welcomes you to the Anthropocene, the sixth largest mass extinction caused by man. The team goes undercover to employ covert operations to discover armed operations handling endangered species. “The more illegal it is, the more you have to go in the back rooms…there are things going on that it is not safe to talk about...” Angry Chinese restaurateurs, Elon Musk, the only renewably fueled racecar driver, and endangered sharks cast upon Wall Street also made guest appearances throughout the thriller. And when you’re done, be sure to join in the film’s call-to-action social media campaign by posting your own sustainable direction with the hashtag #Startwith1thing.


2)   The Cove

Another Psihoyos classic. “I do want to say that we tried to do the film legally…” is how Psihoyos begins the trailer for the 2009 Sundance award-winning documentary The Cove. Just like Racing Extinction, The Cove captivates audiences as they follow a high-tech dive team on a mission to uncover the truths behind Japan’s dolphin and whaling industry. It’s passionate, exhilarating, and electrifying.  And what the divers find in the secret cove is truly inconceivable.  

3)   Cooked

“The meal is this incredible human institution,” states award-winning author and anthropologist Michael Pollan in his latest Netflix documentary series. “But we’ve lost touch, I think, with how that food has got to our plates.” Food is essential to all of us, but to each of us, it is incredibly varied based on preference, culture, and affordability. We’re so engrained in our own diets and preferred routine that we don’t realize that — just like our countries’ transitions from coal, oil, and dirty fossil fuels — our own bodies deserve clean, renewable energy too. Mass-produced agriculture is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, instigator of climate change – 7 football fields of land are bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals. Nearly half of of all the water used in the United States is currently used for livestock. In the four-part documentary series Cooked, Michael Pollan brings us back to the basics: fire, water, air, and earth. When the art of cooking is lost, when corporations transition into this space, we lose knowledge, culture, and community. We lose ourselves. 

4)   Years of Living Dangerously

Climate change is about to be terminated. Under the blockbuster direction of James Cameron, Years correspondents Arnold Schwarzenegger, America Ferrera, Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Thomas L. Friedman, and Lesley Stahl, amongst many more, join forces with the faces of climate change — including IPCC scientists, Yemenite drought refugees, Staten Island firefighters post-Hurricane Sandy, and Borneo palm oil farmers — to shed light on the climate change crisis. Accompanied by the stellar cast, the crisis unfolds before our eyes. And keep the popcorn coming. Season Two is coming to the National Geographic Channel soon.

5)   Food, Inc.

There is no better documentary than Food, Inc. to portray the monstrosities, hypocrisies, and deception exhibited by the United States’ agribusiness industry and factory farming. The film is fast-paced, riveting, and isn’t laden with facts. Instead, it offers the visuals necessary to truly grasp the scale of factory farming, and then the stories to communicate its consequences.

To get amped for your Food, Inc. experience, here are a few of the film’s “18 Food Inc. Facts Everyone Should Know:”

1) Prior to renaming itself an agribusiness company, Monsanto was a chemical company that produced, amongst many other things, DDT and Agent Orange.

2) In 1996 when Monsanto introduced Round-Up Ready Soybeans, the company controlled only 2% of the U.S. soybean market. Now, over 90% of soybeans in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s patented gene. And last but not least to wet your palette,

3) During the Bush administration, the chief of staff at the USDA, James F. Fitzgerald, was the former chief lobbyist for the beef industry in Washington. 

6)   Gasland

Winner of the Best US Documentary Feature at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Gasland unlocks the mystery behind the viral videos of tap water lighting on fire, and “the natural gas-Saudi Arabia” that is the modern United States. The film, now armed with a sequel, questions the safety of fracking and the political motives behind its exponential development. This is a film highly recommended for the House of Cards and House fans, as the team uncovers both fracking’s political clashes and unresolved and unbeknownst health risks. 

7)   Tapped

Americans buy 29 billion plastic water bottles per year. And just one person at the FDA is responsible for overseeing all regulation of plastic water bottles in the country. And the bottled water industry was worth $11.5 billion in 2007 alone. And we use 18 billion barrels of oil just to transport bottled water. And it gets worse – an estimated 11 million tons (and growing) of floating plastic covers an area of nearly 5 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean. The film isn’t numbers, but they do fuel Tapped’s story. The film finally offers a voice against plastic pollution, health, climate change, and our reliance on oil. 

8)   Cowspiracy

Cowspiracy is directed by the booming voice for climate Leonardo DiCaprio, and is known as the “film environmental organizations don’t want you to see.” Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, the brains behind the film, realize that the big environmental organizations (think Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, even Green Peace) never mention agriculture as a leading cause for climate change. They find this odd, considering –for example - livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

9)   Cadillac Desert Series – “Mulholland’s Dream”

For those looking for something more retro, check out the 1997 Cadillac Desert series, that showcases the true grit of the west, and the corruption, exploitation, and murders that created the Los Angeles we know today. The storyline is an incredible portrayal of the American dream, as it is riveting. Los Angeles is a city embedded with a dark history. “Mulholland’s Dream” sheds light to the fantastically true events that developed the small gold rush town into the inherently unsustainable metropolis it is today. The film’s protagonist, Mulholland, has initially good intentions. With no formal engineering training, he has one task – give the town water. His big dreams become a reality when the city finds a way to seize the river along Owen’s Valley. They are able to successfully irrigate the river towards LA; an engineering marvel of the era. And what was celebrated at the time, soon evolved into the region’s nightmare. The residents of Owen’s Valley lost their orchards and soon their communities. Tensions grew and conflicts heated until full-on gangs developed along the dams. It forces us to ask – how do we use water? And who, or what, has the right to own water? Full episode below!

10)   Planet Earth: The Complete Collection

And last but not least, for those that want something truly and simply epic, look no further than Planet Earth: The Complete Collection. Prepare to watch the fusion of cinematography and music unlike any other. You witness the private moments and the public displays of our world in full-orchestrated motion, from the glory of gazelles racing through the desert, to the camera’s tumble through a rainbow within a waterfall. Planet Earth makes the caterpillar’s quest for a mate unlike any romantic comedy you’ve ever seen…be right back. I’ve got to rewind.

Other suggestions!

Mission Blue

Merchants of Doubt

Manufactured Landscapes

In Antarctica, Our Time is Now

In Antarctica, Our Time is Now

Solar Solars: First Solar Aircraft Circumnavigates World

Solar Solars: First Solar Aircraft Circumnavigates World