Do you love documentaries as much as I do? I especially love animal-centered narratives that educate as much as entertain. In our screen-obsessed society, sometimes a film can be the best way to spread the word about an important issue. (Just consider “The Blackfish Effect”—and SeaWorld’s announcement earlier this month that it will be ending whale breeding and phasing out Orca shows by 2019.)
The following eight recently released films either highlight critical issues or educate the next generation about the importance of animals. Take a look and prepare to open your eyes—and your heart:
1. Unlocking the Cage
Animal rights lawyer Steve Wise has spent decades working on a daunting task: achieving civil rights for animals. “Without personhood, you are invisible to the civil law,” he says. This film highlights his work starting with chimpanzees, as he fights to change every chimp from “a thing” to a “legal person” with protections under the law. The film premiered in January at Sundance and screens next week at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival.
2. Heart of a Dog
This philosophical film, which received several award nominations, offers reflections on life and death, with avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson’s beloved rat terrier Lolabelle (who played piano and finger-painted) at its center. Animal lovers who’ve suffered a loss will surely connect with the heart of this film. Click here for a screening near you.
What is it like to be a street cat in Istanbul? This documentary answers that question, with stunning footage of tough felines surviving and thriving in the city. “The love of animals is a different kind of love,” says one man interviewed in the film. “If you don’t love animals, you can’t love people, too.” Catch KEDI next month at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.
4. The Champions
This film shares the inspiring comeback stories of various pit bulls—and the people who rescued them following NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s fighting ring. See how these special dogs got their second chances, and learn more about combating breed prejudice. To find a screening near you (or even host your own), click here.
5. How to Change the World
This award-winning film follows Greenpeace’s incredible rise from a grassroots group of ecology “rainbow warriors” to the leader of the modern environmental movement. Watch now on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo and elsewhere.
6. Dog by Dog
The dark side of puppy mills is revealed in this eye-opening documentary, as well as the huge amounts of money people are raking in by engaging in this totally inhumane business practice. Some of the footage is absolutely heartbreaking, but hopefully getting the word out will incite change. Catch it on the big screen on April 7 in Kansas City.
7. Monkey Kingdom
Produced by Disneynature, this film follows the amazing story and struggles of a newborn monkey with his family in the wilds of Sri Lanka. Child-friendly and filled with breathtaking footage, the film is viewable now on Amazon and Netflix.
This Netflix release, which takes place in Virunga National Park in Africa, features the brave individuals fighting to save endangered gorillas and natural resources in the Congo. An eye-opening call-to-action that uses hidden camera footage, the documentary also works on a theatrical good-vs.-evil level.
What are your favorite animal documentaries? (In case you missed it, last year I reviewed Blackfish, The Cove, and others.)