December 15, 2017

16 Films That Prove 2017 Was the Year of Epic Enviro-Docs

What's more thrilling than bombastic soundtracks, sweeping panoramas, and larger-than-life global disasters? When the stories are real.

If the planet continues on the climate change trajectory that the [majority of the] scientific community predicts, then extinction, war, starvation, flooding, and fire are just a few plot points filmmakers can choose to cover. And when increasingly high documentary production values collide with this kind of high-stakes global catastrophe, you get a year full of epic environmental films.

To recap, the year started off with the Sundance Film Festival adding a brand-new section called The New Climate. The same week, Donald Trump, after running on the denial of climate change, was sworn into office. Later in the year, the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. All of the sudden, enviro docs pawing around on the festival circuit from 2016 started to get distribution. Are these documentaries more entertaining than ever before, or are audiences hungry for films that take threats to the planet seriously? Or some combination of both? One thing is for sure, this genre has really upped its game.

Take a look at this list of 16 intriguing films that were released in 2017, organized according to topic, and decide for yourself why it's a banner year for documentaries about our planet.

Military Stability

The Age of Consequences 

Starting its festival run in 2016 and released this year, Jared P. Scott's The Age of Consequences looks at the effects of climate change through the lens of national security.

The Ocean

Chasing Coral

In this cinematic documentary masterpiece, filmmaker Jeff Orlwoski and his team pioneered underwater camera time lapse technology to document mass coral bleaching due to the rising temperature of the ocean.

Big Personalities

Bill Nye: Science Guy

Filmmakers David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg give us a rare portrait of larger-than-life science personality Bill Nye on his mission to stop the spread of anti-scientific thinking, including climate change denial, across the world.

An Inconvenient Sequel

Accompanied by a VR companion film, filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk follow-up with former Vice President Al Gore to find out how far we've come to a real energy revolution since An Inconvenient Truth first came out over a decade ago.


Plastic China

Filmmaker Jiu-Liang Wang follows an 11-year-old girl as she works to sort some of the ten million tons of trash that China imports every year from developed countries around the world.

Death By Design

Starting the festival circuit in 2016 and available this year, this film by Sue Williams profiles Chinese factory workers and American families in this portrait of the dark environmental consequences of our current culture's addiction to newer, fancier, shinier electronics.



Examining the intersection of the big-game hunting industry and wildlife conservation, filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau weave a complex story of our habit of commodifying animals, especially those on the brink of extinction.

Last of the Long Necks

Filmmaker Ashley Scott Davison tells the story of the rapidly disappearing giraffe, a gentle giant whose seen an 80% decline in the last decade alone.

Planet Earth II: Cities

Released for the first time in Ultra HD, this continuation of the BBC classic with iconic David Attenborough takes us into the inner-workings and future prognostications for animals in the fastest growing habitat on earth: cities.

Disappearing Communities

The Islands and the Whales

Filmmaker Mike Day takes us to the Danish Faroe Islands, where centuries-old way of life for the Faroese is doubtful to continue because of, among other things, plummeting wildlife populations and rising mercury levels.

Between Earth and Sky: Climate Change of the Last Frontier

Filmmaker Paul Allen Hunton takes us into the current problems facing the U.S. state with the largest regional warming in all the country, and asks, why is permafrost thawing in Alaska is important to the rest of the world?


Rancher Farmer Fisherman

Basing the film on the real-life heroes in the book, filmmakers Susan Froemke and John Hoffman show us the little know figures in conservation who are feeding the world while stewarding the land and water.

Water & Power: A California Heist

Filmmaker Marina Zenovich exposes the conflict between small farmers and citizens as they come up against barons who profit from the scarcity of water.


Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution

In this first-person story, filmmaker James Redford takes us on a cross-country trip to take a hopeful look at the technologies Americans are currently using to combat climate change.

From the Ashes

Filmmaker Michael Bonfiglio takes us from Appalachia to the West's Powder River Basin to illustrate, sometimes quite painfully, what's at stake for our country in a post-coal world.

Promising Documentaries Yet to Be Released

Have you seen a good enviro-doc this year that we left out? Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment

1 Comment

The Ocean is fantastic)

December 15, 2017 at 11:19AM, Edited December 15, 11:19AM

manuela aumick
Freelance writer

Don't forget "The Last Animals" for your list of docs yet to be released in the US:

December 18, 2017 at 3:50PM, Edited December 18, 3:50PM

Nelson Tracey
Editor, Director, YouTube creator