Academy Awards recognize a golden year for climate & environment

• March 1, 2011

Oscar statuesIn between the glitz and glamour of sequins, celebrities and spotlights, climate change and the environment took a very public seat at this year’s Academy Awards.

The last time a climate-focused movie made waves at the Oscars was in 2006, when Al Gore’s climate change opus An Inconvenient Truth won Best Documentary Feature. This year four very different green documentaries were nominated for Oscars, covering topics from climate refugees, gas hydrofracking, garbage dumps, and fighting the big business of pollution. While none of these films went home with Academy Awards on Sunday night, we thought they deserved a little more celebration and recognition.


Nominated for Best Documentary Feature

Still from Gasland: water tap on fire

Credit: Gasland

When Josh Fox is approached by a company wishing to drill for natural gas on his property, he begins a disturbing investigation into the environmental repercussions of the process. In region after region across the country, he documents evidence of serious pollution and contamination caused by drilling methods that have been exempted from the standards required by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Watch the trailer

While it didn’t go home with the trophy, Gasland received the most media coverage of any other documentary nominee. It won the Special Jury Prize for US documentary at Sundance in 2010 and was screened at Cannes. Recent articles have revealed gas companies trying to derail the movie’s nomination, and one of the most dominant subjects of the film, Mayor Calvin Tillman of Dish, Texas, announced this week that he is moving his family out of fear of health effects from gas drilling. Gasland has everything going for it: a controversial subject that is timely and terrifying.

Gasland is available for purchase on DVD on and as a digital download on iTunes.

Waste Land

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature

Still from Waste Land

Credit: Wasteland

At Brazil’s Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill, garbage pickers make a living scavenging among the mountains of discarded materials. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who uses trash to create his work, travels to the landfill to photograph the people whose livelihood is dependent on the things that others throw away.

Watch the Trailer

Waste Land has received excellent reviews for both its subject matter and the powerful way it portrays the lives of the garbage pickers who live in Jardim Gramacho. To quote a reviewer: “The underpinning backstory also comes to life: the story of the oceans of garbage societies generate, what we do with these islands of trash, and the folks literally at the bottom of the heap who eek out an existence from all the refuse.”

Waste Land will be available for DVD purchase on March 15, 2011. Pre-order your copy at Amazon.

Sun Come Up

Nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject

Still from Sun Come Up

Credit: Sun Come Up

On the once-idyllic Carteret Islands in the South Pacific, three thousand residents face hunger and relocation as the effects of global warming transform their island paradise.

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Sun Come Up has received strong recommendations for the realistic way in which it presents the plight of climate refugees. As rising seas become more and more of an issue (see Tuvalu, the Maldives and the many other threatened members of the Association of Small Island States), films like Sun Come Up may become just as common as their subject. The film makes clear that even as the move takes place over years, the losses will become more pronounced and irrecoverable. “Most of our culture will have to live inside us,” says community leader Ursula Rakova.

The Warriors of Qiugang

Documentary Short Subject

Still from The Warriors of Qiugang

Credit: The Warriors of Qiugang

When the Juicalio chemical company begins poisoning their air and water, the 1800 villagers of Qiugang, China, decide to fight for a safer environment and livelihood.

Watch the Trailer

Coupled with Gasland and the eventual Oscar winner ‘Inside Job’, it’s clear that the concept of average people fighting for their health against powerful, rich companies is popular at the Oscars this year. Of all the nominated films, The Warriors of Quigang is the one I look forward to seeing the most.

While 2011 didn’t reward these green-focused films with Oscars, it’s very encouraging to see such strong support for socially-conscious ecologically-minded movies. Are there any other other green films from 2010 that we should recognize? Let us know in the comments.

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