Documentaries have really burst onto the scene in the last couple of decades, and the impact is truly starting to be felt. Just ask SeaWorld, whose sordid secrets came to the spotlight in “Blackfish” and have sent the company spiraling. Or, ask the whaling fleets of Japan, exposed by “The Cove” and facing a much more real international pressure now. There are the massive movements to save bees, label GMOs, take down Wall Street, and destroy Monsanto. Changes are coming, and documentaries are helping to bring about a lot of them.

The public, the one we are all part of, however much we have or have not lost faith in it, can be a powerful force. And, documentaries have the potential to motivate a lot of people. They have the potential to move those on the verge of moving and to challenge those previously unwilling to budge. They make us learn about, talk about, think about and deal with things that might otherwise get swept under the rug. They get us out to the cinema, sit us down, and put us right back into the real world. Sometimes, we need that.

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Starting with Michael Moore’s scathing reviews of the American automotive industry and gun laws and the healthcare system and 9/11 and on it goes, moving on to Al Gore’s hard truths about global warming, and then the food movements’ contributions, animal rights, the economic collapse, and whatever issues are most important to us all — documentaries often provide a voice many of us are looking for, both to hear and use as our own. However we feel about these films individually, they have all led to people being more engaged and knowledgeable about the topics we debate.

And, that’s the kicker: Documentaries give us an opportunity to share opinions, both with those around us whom we know will agree and become equally inspired, as well as those with whom we find it hard to discuss certain things. Documentaries even give us an opportunity to share things we hold very dear with complete strangers. Through social media, through personally sharing these, through furthering the buzz, movements build and information reaches more and more people.

So, be sure to do just that: We should promote the documentaries that we love and, in turn, support the things we believe in. Use these carefully crafted, lovingly constructed arguments and reports because, regardless of how articulate and persuasive we may be, there is something just a bit more convincing about expert interviews, camera footage, and 90 minutes of uninterrupted information. If it doesn’t change anyone’s mind, at least it continues the debate without raising any voices, straining any relationships, or ruining an evening.

When you are inspired, be active: Sign petitions, write to politicians, protest, boycott, and spread the word.

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Here are some great lists of documentaries from OGP about food and animals:

And, here are more worthwhile lists covering all manner of material:

Finally, a few pre-viewing ideas:

  • A little popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast doesn’t mean you don’t care.
  • Don’t try to watch all of these in one sitting. Seriously. Take some breaks. Breathe.
  • Get friends, family, and neighbors to watch with you. Documentary nights, anyone?

Image source: Well + Good/Creative Commons

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