If you are looking for something to watch whilst staying at home and patiently waiting to properly get back out to the wider outdoor world, we have rounded up our recommendations on films and documentaries relating to the natural world.
We both watch a lot of films and Joanne, with her degree in photography and video, loves a good documentary. There are so many to recommend, so here are just a few. Some are happy and inspiring, but be warned, some are not easy viewing, but then that uncomfortable questioning on life is what can inspire change isn’t it.
Everest is based on the true story of the disastrous 1996 season on this formidable mountain. The film follows the events when violent storms hit and how two expedition teams deal with the challenges of the harshest conditions imaginable and their survival attempts against the odds. There are, as usual with films based on true stories, some debates on certain elements within in the film, but the book, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is his account of the catastrophe if you want to read more about it.
Starring the wonderful Sheila Hancock, Edie is a widowed 83 year old who decides it is finally time to fulfil her lifelong dream of climbing Mount Suilven in Scotland. One to boost your mood.
Danny Boyle’s direction of the true story of Aron Ralston finding himself trapped by his arm by a boulder in Bluejohn Canyon in Utah and how he has to find a way to escape. Amazing scenes creating the sense of atmosphere of the situation and some proper ‘eeekkkk’ moments. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve watched this. A lesson in, always tell someone where you are going on an adventure.
Into the Wild
Directed by Sean Penn, Into the Wild recounts the story of young graduate Christopher McCandless and his decision to give up his savings, possessions and comfortable life to hitchhike to Alaska to live in the wilderness. His journey and the encounters along the way shape his life.
Even if you are not in to mountaineering, this film / documentary is an insight into those people that are driven to achieve their passion no matter what. It is a hold your breath and grab the sofa cushion kind of film as you watch the story of rock climber Alex Honnold’s expedition to climb El Capitan, in Yosemite without ropes, harnesses, or any protection. Hence one slip, could mean death. The filming of this is incredible, because the film-makers are friends of Alex and they knew they would have to film him, knowing the risks and that they could be capturing those risks on film. Fascinating to watch the dynamics of the friends and Alex’s girlfriend and how they cope with the mindset of Alex’s drive in life.
Reese Witherspoon takes on the role based on the autobiographic account of Cheryl Strayed, who decided to recover from personal tragedy and start a new life by hiking 1,100 miles, solo along the Pacific Crest Trail. You find yourself willing her along the way as she begins to discover herself along the journey.
Touching the Void
More of a docu-drama than a film, Touching the Void recounts the expedition of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in the Cordillera Huayhuash in Peru. Their attempt to climb the 6,344m peak of Siula Grande does not go to plan, put it that way. Gives you the great dinner party debate of, ‘Would you cut the rope?’
Running the Wainwrights
The ‘Wainwrights’ are 214 peaks throughout the Lake District written about and sketched by Alfred Wainwright and many people have an ambition to hike them and tick them off one by one over the years. Then there are crazy fit people that set themselves the challenge to summit them all in one go. Covering a distance of 318 miles and ascending the equivalent of Mount Everest four times, this is an epic challenge. Running the Wainwrights follows runner Paul Tierney as he sets out to beat the previous record of 6 days, 13 hours and 1 minute achieved by Steve Birkinshaw. You don’t have to be an ultra runner to appreciate the struggle, support and epic landscapes captured in this documentary.
Having trekked with visually impaired people just a month before, this documentary was a must watch for Joanne at Kendal Mountain Festival. Director Alastair Lee, heads out to film Jesse Dufton as he attempts to be the first blind lead climber of the Old Man of Hoy. This rock structure is a sea stack with a sheer cliff face that rises out of the sea in Orkney. To be the lead climber, means you have to set up the climb for the person following and so the role is vital. Jesse is an absolutely inspiring guy who lets no limitation get in his way. Incredible!
We have not watched Sherpa, but it is on our list based on the reviews. This documentary originally set out to focus on Sherpa Phurba Tashi, who in his role has climbed Everest 21 times. With an aim to look at the culture of Sherpas and the sacredness of the mountains to them, it took a different turn when an ice avalanche struck. This documentary is said to be a homage to sherpa guides and the culture.
Produced by the ethical clothing company Patagonia, who make many thought provoking documentaries as part of their pledge on world environmental issues, Artifishal raises questions about the environmental impact of fish hatcheries and fish farms and the future of wild fish, rivers and communities based on this area of nature.
The Ivory Trade
Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, this Netflix documentary investigates both the legal and illegal side of the ivory trade. Again, not something we have watched, but comes recommended. Said to be an urgent call to action against the threat to our vulnerable wildlife and ecosystem.
The 2013 documentary that set about the change in attitude towards amusement parks such as Sea World. It follows the story of Tilikum, a performing orca whale and the impact of lifelong captivity. Made us both feel utterly guilty about swimming with dolphins in the past and the impact of these parks, but has made us much more aware of the use of animals in tourism and what to watch out for going forward.
This is a truly uncomfortable watch and one that drew controversy with regards to the secret filming, but wow it is a powerful documentary that exposes the mass dolphin killing due to Japanese fishing practices. Winning an Oscar in 2010 for Best Documentary Feature, it is told from an ocean conservationist’s point of view and highlights a practice deemed to be cruel and unnecessary.
Said to be ‘spectacular, but depressing’, is not how you would sell something really is it, but when you know a National Geographic photographer has created imagery using time-lapse cameras, maybe it is a call to action worth watching. Chasing Ice documents several years of climate change. Another one recommended to us.
An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel
Documentaries from 2006 and 2017, featuring former Vice President Al Gore, that goes straight to the heart of climate change, climate policy and is an urgent warning on what needs to be done to save the earth. Al Gore’s inspiring fight to make change is really worth a watch to decide for yourself on the facts portrayed.
Now this is a bit off on a tangent with the focus of this programme being about the debate on should the world eat less meat for the sake of the planet. There is a really interesting section though, on rewilding the landscape and if places such as the fells having sheep on, is actually the only option open to farmers. A never ending debate, so interesting to watch a different take on it.
Basically every programme that follows Simon Reeves on his travels around the world is great tv to watch. Immensely likeable as a person, his travel documentaries often have a focus on world, community and environmental issues, along with breathtaking footage of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Inspires wanderlust in abundance.