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Sierra Magazine
Last Words

What's Your Favorite Environmental Movie?

The China Syndrome points out the dangers of scientific illiteracy. Well-meaning nuclear-plant employees make electricity using the heat of fission in a big, scary reactor that has been illegally certified and is probably "gonna blow." At last it does indeed overheat. (The core threatens to get so hot it could melt its way to China, hence the name of the syndrome.) To this day, most of us don't have any idea where energy comes from or how it affects the environment.

Bill Nye, The Science Guy, PBS

Yanomami: Keepers of the Flame, a documentary on the Yanomami people of the Venezuelan rainforest, is my favorite. Indigenous peoples are the barometers and caretakers of the environment, because they understand that there must be a balance, that all things are connected, and that they are important to each other's survival. The health of ecosystems is directly linked to the welfare of the peoples that inhabit them.

Michael Horse, artist, activist, actor

Many people probably think of Never Cry Wolf, based on Farley Mowat's book, as just an adventure or a comedy, but it really explains wolves' relationship to their environment. It's a great story and a good laugh.

Chuck McGrady, president, Sierra Club

The Man Who Planted Trees, a 30-minute animated masterpiece by the sublimely gifted Canadian artist Frédéric Back, ranks at the top of my list. This graceful celebration of trees is based on a touching story by the French writer Jean Giono. It is about a shepherd who lives alone with his flock and quietly, over many years, plants trees, creates a forest, and revives a dying village nearby. His anonymous labor gives hope and joy. This luminous work won over 40 festival awards, as well as an Oscar, but what particularly moves and delights me about it is the way children and adults of all ages respond to this film's beautiful and compelling images.

Flo Stone, coordinator, Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital

It's hard to believe that Jeremiah Johnson is a quarter of a century old. Following a tragedy and failure back East in the mid-19th century, Johnson finds himself drawn to the wilderness of the West, where he hopes to become a mountain man. Throughout the movie, the calming and redemptive essence of the wilderness is revealed to Johnson, along with the ability of a wild and intact landscape to sculpt and re-temper an individual. It's a beautiful movie with amazing cinematography that celebrates the value and power of wilderness. I wish the movie companies would make more like it, before our perception of such landscapes is permanently altered by the myths of advertising, and by Congress' shameful inability to protect our last remaining wildlands.

Rick Bass, author, Brown Dog of the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism

Two film series that have deeply moved me and inspired with their commitment to the environment are The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough's Life on Earth. Cousteau brought scenes of a magical underwater existence to viewers worldwide for the first time. Attenborough's epic series Life on Earth chronicled the development of life on our planet over thousands of years and also awakened strong passions. Their dedicated filmmaking on the environment has inspired and educated millions, a contribution that is impossible to quantify.

Klaus Töpfer, executive director, United Nations Environment Programme

In Never Cry Wolf, a biologist studying wolves struggles to survive in a difficult environment. The film shows the tundra as a pristine place where people are changing the ecological balance, while bringing the viewer into the world of wolves. We learn that old beliefs about wolves and their supposed threat are almost totally false, and feel fortunate to live with all the creatures on Earth.

Wendie Malick, actress, Just Shoot Me and The American President


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