Artists for the Earth

Turner Classic Movies to feature 5 environmental films on Earth Day

Fifty years ago, millions of Americans took to the streets in protest of environmental inaction. This collective action, known as Earth Day, launched the current environmental movement, raising awareness for conservation and leading to a cascade of environmental legislation.  

Earth Day has since become a globally recognized day of action and teaching. To celebrate half a century of action towards environmental change, Turner Classic Movies is presenting a selection of films on April 22 — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — that highlights the environmental cause.

The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)

The Plow That Broke the Plains is a short documentary written and directed by Pare Lorentz that shows how uncontrolled agricultural farming in the Great Plains region of the U.S. and Canada led to the Dust Bowl. This period of severe dust storms damaged the ecology of the prairies of the 1930s. The film, sponsored by the U.S. government, is narrated by American actor Thomas Chalmers and features a score by Virgil Thomson that is influenced by hymns and folk songs.

The River (1938)

The River, another short Depression-era documentary by Lorentz, focuses on the Mississippi River and the farming and timber methods that caused topsoil to be swept downstream into the Gulf Mexico. These practices led to catastrophic floods and the impoverishment of farmers. This film was also sponsored by the U.S. government and, like The Plow That Broke the Plains, has a distinctly American score by Virgil Thomson that has been played by orchestras as a concert suite. Thomas Chalmers again narrates.

The Sea Around Us (1953)

The Sea Around Us is a feature-length documentary from producer/writer/director Irwin Allen that is based on the 1951 book of the same title by Rachel L. Carson. The film, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, explores undersea life ranging from sharks, whales and octopuses to microscopic creatures. Don Forbes and Theodore von Eltz narrate, and the score is by Paul Sawtell.

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Koyaanisqatsi, with its title taken from a Hopi Indian word meaning “unbalanced life,” is an experimental film by Godfrey Reggio, featuring slow-motion and time-lapse photography of cities and natural landscapes in the U.S. The stunning cinematography is by Ron Fricke and its minimalist score is by Philip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi has developed a cult following and is part of Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy, which also includes Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The filmmaker has said that these films are “intended to simply create an experience” and that it is up to the viewer to determine what they mean.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth is a concert/documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim that focuses on former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about the dangers of global warming. It is built around a slide show that Gore has presented many times to worldwide audiences. The film was a commercial success and won two Oscars, for Best Documentary Feature and Original Song (Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up”). A sequel, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, was released in 2017.

To learn more about Turner Classic Movies’ Earth Day films, visit their website.

Editor’s note: Earth Day Network has a partnership with Turner Classic Movies.

Photo credit at top: Paramount Classic/Photofest. © Paramount Classics