Artists for the Earth

3 Films to Save the Planet

With climate change and the state of the planet making headlines daily, it is not surprising that filmmakers are rising to the challenge of examining what is happening to our planet, highlighting specific issues and showcasing the people making a difference. This month we reviewed three of the best out there.

Plastic People is a documentary released in 2024 that explores our relationship with plastic and how microplastics affect the human body. Directed by Ben Addelman, his film follows author and science journalist Ziya Tong as she explores the existence of microplastics in her own body and meets with scientists to reveal the dangers of plastic. 

Humanity became addicted to plastic from its very creation, and our planet is now full of plastic products and plastic trash as a result. We can find plastic in the ocean, on the ground, and even in the air. The toxic cocktail of chemicals in these microplastics affect the human body, but we have yet to fully understand what the consequences of this are. In the documentary, they tested for plastic in the human body and found plastic fibers and microplastics, even in human placentas and breast milk. The actual chemicals that make up plastics are often protected by law, so it is virtually impossible to know what exact additives chemicals have been used in every instance to make a huge range of products.

This film unpacking how plastic products are not inert and in fact break down over time, with external forces such as sunlight, weather, waves, reducing them into tiny plastic pieces that we cannot see. Nowadays, plastic can be found in the dust in your home, on your baby’s pacifier, even in the snow in your backyard. A lot of this sort of take out is widely known now and discussed in the media but what this film did a good job of was revealing the ways plastic are used that are less well known.

For example, plastics are used for cultivating the crops that we consume daily. How? When we farm, we use plastic to cover and drain the ground. While these techniques help save time in crop cultivation, this documentary stressed that there is a real need for increased awareness and regulation concerning the disposal of the plastic used in this way and much more transparency.

The film Plastic People stresses that we can’t escape plastic; however, it underscores that we must rethink our relationship with this polymer and decide how to manage our exposure to it. They really do sound the alarm on how our planet is literally covered in plastic — and we need to act to control it, if not for the environment’s sake, for own health.

The second film to cover the issue of plastics was Plastic Earth, a film from 2023 that examines the issue of plastic pollution sweeping the planet. Directed by Janice Overbeck and Jack Winch, the film unashamedly campaigns to alert people to the very real hazards of the plastic problem.

The film begins by introducing Janice Overbeck, a mother of four children who is concerned about the amount of plastic pollution that her children will inherit. To get some perspective, the United States is the one of largest producers of plastic waste, creating 42 million metric tons a year. Almost 80% of the beach litter worldwide is plastic, and 1.45 million metric tons of plastic debris is estimated to have entered the coastal environment from the United States in 2016. To find solutions to these sorts of problems, Janice embarks on a journey around the world looking for fresh ideas.

Along the way, the documentary gives us “The top 10 solutions to solving the plastic crisis.” Some solutions encourage people to use biodegradable plastic and reduce their use of plastic. Others suggest the government support new green technologies and invest worldwide in infrastructure. The government can accelerate the shift from traditional energy sources to green energy by promoting sustainable practices, and it can also support nations which haven’t developed waste recycling systems, particularly for plastics. The film makes the case that companies should be responsible for solving the plastic problem and actively involved in reducing and replacing their plastic products with plastics that can be reused much more easily.

There were moments of revelation in the film. We discover that most of the trash that enters the ocean comes from rivers, prompting Janice to investigate new ways to remove trash from waterways. One such solution is The Great Bubble Barrier, a perforated tube which is placed diagonally across the riverbed pumps out air to create a “curtain” of bubbles that directs plastic up to the surface and into a waste collection system, without obstructing wildlife or boats. But beyond technology, the documentary also emphasizes the need for constructive guidance on what to do with plastics globally. 

Plastic Earth showcases real innovation that gives some hope that our planet can be clean again and even free from a lot of our plastic pollution — if only countries, societies, companies, and individuals work together to fight the plastic problem.

The third film, Common Ground (2023), directed by Josh Tickell and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Laura Dern, Rosario Dawson, Jason Momoa, and others, is an environmental documentary released in 2024. It is not focused on plastics but instead of farming. The movie recommends that the first thing we need to do to save our planet is to make our soil fertile again.

The film begins by emphasizing the importance of the regeneration of soil. Even when farming on the same land, the difference between a regenerative farm and a conventional farm is significant. Regenerative means farming rebuilding the land, which includes requirements such as no-tillage, using cover crops, no chemicals, and planned grazing. 

Regenerative farms have a huge impact not only on the environment, but also on the farmers: regenerative farming has the potential to create a huge number of jobs and increase production, improve water infiltration rates by 60%, increase nitrogen content by 24%, and increase carbon content by 20%. Nitrogen and carbon are essential for land to be fertile, and they also have a major impact on the yield of agricultural products. Also, regenerative farms grow microbes, meaning stronger plants will grow. The land will hold more water, revitalizing the ecosystem and regulating the amount of precipitation in the area. Regenerative agriculture is therefore not only good for the planet, but also for humans. 

Unlike regenerative farming, today’s agriculture is full of chemicals such as pesticides. These chemicals are not only found in produce but also in the air and water, and they pose a threat to our health. 

Farmers are taught from the time they are trained to farm that they need these chemicals, making it difficult to farm without them, and farmers go into debt to purchase these products. This debt, in turn, contributes to the fact that farmers have the highest suicide rate of any occupation in the United States. Regenerative farming is the only way to break this vicious cycle and return to healthy farming. It’s estimated that farmers who have a 2,500-acre grain farm can save at least $1 million a year by cultivating and farming the land naturally and not relying on chemicals.

The movie also suggests that today’s agriculture is in the shadow of government regulation and big business. Lobbying by big chemical companies in the U.S. prevents legislation from being issued to restrict agriculture from using chemicals. Consumers then buy the produce without question.

Reviving sustainability through regenerative farming is achievable through collaboration between governments, consumers, and farmers. Governments should propose legislation in support of regenerative farming and at the very least regulate the use of chemicals on farms and farmers need to think about how their practices impact the planet.  

All three films have real knowledge to impart and whether it’s through the use of celebrities to draw you in or an ‘ordinary’ Mom looking for solutions – they are all thought provoking, timely and worth the watch.