Educating ourselves through documentary filmmaking - Ireen's Top 10

Posted on Friday, April 16, 2021

I love a good documentary. Nothing makes me happier than a bowl of popcorn and discovering a new world that is part of the one I live in, but that I know nothing about. In honour of Earth Day, here is a list of documentaries and docuseries that highlight the beauty and magnitude of our planet and of human determination. Whether it be about food, social issues, or seemingly impossible physical and mental challenges, here is my list of films that inspire me to do more, learn more, and sometimes, just be glad that someone else thought of doing it before me so I don’t have to. Enjoy!

1. Down to Earth with Zac Efron

Most people know about High School Musical, either because they were fans of it or because their kids were fans of it. So, when I found out an older and wiser Troy Bolton (aka, Zac Efron) was into health and sustainable energy, my heart grew three sizes. Although this miniseries does not include much singing, seeing Zac Efron travel around different parts of the world and discover the most recent developments in sustainable energy is better in my opinion. Where to find it: Netflix.

2. Seaspiracy

Ever wonder about the fishing industry? I grew up in New Brunswick around fishing villages, where most of the fish we consumed was mostly from small local fisheries. This reality is very different from the industrialized market that is shown in this documentary and gives a very interesting perspective on a market that is not accessible in the same ways for everyone. Seaspiracy shows the dark side of mass fishing, what ethical fish really means, and what really goes on in the deep blue international seas. Where to find it: Netflix.

3. The Dawn Wall

About two years ago, a mismanagement of my schedule led me to spend the week before Christmas completely alone in my apartment, 12 hours away from home, in a city where I barely knew anyone. And for better or for worse, I spent that entire week obsessively watching rock climbing documentaries. This documentary is an ode to the strength that we have as humans, and how we can do anything we set our mind to with passion and perseverance. Featuring stunning scenes of the Yosemite national park, it really makes you wonder how small you are in such a big, beautiful world…It also makes you wonder why your palms are sweating so much when you are just looking at a screen. Where to find it: Netflix.

4. O5, 5 continents à la nage

Since I was 12, I've spent every summer swimming in open water, so naturally this documentary caught my attention. Follow the adventures of Canadian Norman Piché as he tackles the challenge of swimming to five continents in record time, sharing a message of hope and unity. Where to find it: ICI from Radio-Canada.

5. Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown

This series shows Bourdain in places all across the world, tasting different foods from different cultures. But as the episodes progress, you realize that food is just an excuse for Bourdain to uncover much bigger things in those communities. From politics and war conflicts to environmental issues, no rock is left unturned. I personally recommend the Antarctica episode, as it is a place where community is valued the most, and you can really see one of the last places left in this world where nature is the most untouched. Where to find it: You can watch free clips on the Parts Unknown website, or purchase episodes on YouTube.

6. Super Size Me 2 : Holy Chicken

Ever wonder how truthful the labels fast food restaurants have on their food really are? Ponder no more, follow Morgan Spurlock as he goes through the entire farm-to-plate process and markets his own restaurant. It really makes you think about the entire farm to table process from a completely different perspective. Where to find it: Purchase it on Amazon Prime or iTunes. Note that the original Super Size Me is currently available for Prime Members.

7. Nature en équilibre

Quoi de mieux que de la francophonie et de la nature? I'm always a fan of watching documentaries made in our own backyard. Here is a series from Radio-Canada that explores the different ecosystems in our vast country. Where to find it: ICI from Radio-Canada.

8. The Barkley Marathons

I lied, I also got obsessed with this documentary during my lonely pre-Christmas week. With its registration fee being under 2 dollars and the course checkpoints being pages ripped out of a book, this is by far the most interesting and wild race that you will ever see. Only the most extreme marathon runners attempt this one! Follow along the Barkley Marathon race and discover the limits of what the human body can do. Where to find it: Amazon Prime.

9. Le peuple invisible

Earth Day is an opportunity to reflect on the land that we currently occupy. This documentary tells a story of the Anishinaabeg people (Algonquin nation), providing insight into their culture and traditions that are in harmony with the environment, while highlighting the work that needs to be done to honour and respect our Indigenous communities (in French). Where to find it: Available online for free from the National Film Board.

10. Je m'appelle humain / Call Me Human

Innu writer Joséphine Bacon exemplifies a generation that is bearing witness to a time that will soon have passed away. With charm and diplomacy, she leads a charge against the loss of a language, a culture, and its traditions. In her language, Innu means “human.” This documentary is, simply put, absolutely beautiful. Available in both languages, it is an ode, a love story, a painful reminder, and a painting in motion. It leaves us with a breathtaking perspective of our own home. Where to find it: Amazon Prime.

BONUS! Chad's Pick: Carbon Cowboys

Carbon Cowboys is an inspiring ten-part documentary that shares the stories of cattle ranchers who are helping fight climate change, restoring soil health and raising healthier livestock with regenerative agriculture. Learn more about regenerative agriculture in Chad's piece in PULSE this month! Where to find it: Available for free online at

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