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5 documentaries exploring Indigenous wisdom and climate justice

Add these to your watch list.

Family of four watching television at home. Back of their head, with dark brown hair shown and TV with trees on display.

Image via Shutterstock/Africa Studio


In Brazil’s Amazon forest, the Indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people have been fighting tirelessly against the encroaching deforestation brought by farmers and illegal settlers.

That is the subject of the documentary "The Territory," which won a couple of Sundance Film Festival awards earlier this year and hits theaters today.

Across the globe, communities have fought — and continue to fight — similar environmental battles. And for some communities, environmental justice looks like rooting this work in Indigenous and ancestral knowledge, and away from the norms that colonization has brought about.

Here are five other documentaries that highlight environmental justice issues in the United States, Ecuador, Spain and beyond.

1. "Mossville: When Great Trees Fall"(2020)

Environmental racism has a long history in the United States. "Mossville: When Great Trees Fall" takes a look at a "centuries-old Black community in Louisiana, contaminated and uprooted by petrochemical plants … [and how] one man standing in the way of a plant’s expansion refuses to give up."

Available to watch on PBS.

The American South has been the site of many environmental justice battles. With that in mind, here are a couple of short (bonus) documentaries about other environmental challenges in Alabama. "Conviction" (2019) focuses on toxic air and soil pollution in the North Birmingham neighborhoods of Collegeville, Harriman Park and Fairmont, and "Wastewater: A Tale Of Two Cities" (2021) is about the lack of investment in the state’s wastewater infrastructure.

2. "The Candor and the Eagle" (2019)

South America (Ecuador and Peru) and North America (Vancouver and Alberta in Canada, and Oklahoma in the United States) are the backdrop for stories about four Indigenous leaders who "learn from each other's long legacy of resistance to colonialism and its extractive economy."

This film documents the "ongoing collective climate awakening" and the urgent need for action on climate change.

Available to watch on Docuseek (account registration required).

3. "Remothering the Land" (2021)

The Sogorea Te' Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led land trust founded in 2015 to facilitate the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people. "Regenerative practices and knowledge come from Indigenous and Black farmers, and support healthy soil, animals and people," reads the film description.

In "Remothering the Land," viewers meet William Smith, land steward of the Village of Huichin on the unceded Lisjan Ohlone land (now known as Albany, California), and Nazshonnii Brown-Almaweri, land team member of the land trust. They share their thoughts on the growing regenerative farming movement and connect it to a "centuries-old sustainable agricultural system."

The full 10-minute documentary, available to watch on YouTube, is embedded below.

4. "Unbreathable" (2020)

"Nearly half of all Americans still live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, particularly those in poorer communities," reads the film’s description. "Unbreathable" takes a look at the Clean Air Act, the federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources, and the challenges the U.S. still faces to ensure healthy air for everyone.

Available to watch on Kanopy, likely available for free through your local library. (And here’s a reminder to support your local library system!)

5. "We the Power" (2021)

This film dives into movements across Europe to take the power back, literally, from big energy companies — from the "local cooperatives from deep in Germany’s Black Forest to the streets of ancient Girona in Spain, and the urban rooftops of London, England."

They are paving the way for a renewable energy revolution and working to build healthier, financially stable communities.

The full 38-minute documentary, available to watch on YouTube, is embedded below.

There are so many other stories to learn about. The DC Environmental Film Festival has a directory of over 300 films focused on environmental justice and advocacy, food and agriculture, conservation and other climate-related topics. And news organizations have been producing short documentaries to highlight current environmental justice struggles.


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