Documentaries can play various roles in advocacy work. In the book We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez cites several examples useful for illustrating the diversity of these roles.
A documentary can evoke a wide range of emotions. Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Eleventh Hour chronicles the global destruction caused by human activity. Thought upset at seeing the film, Martinez became motivated to do something. He writes, “It felt like a huge turning point for me.”
A documentary can introduce you to new parts of the world and to the issues affecting them. For Martinez, the epic Planet Earth showed him the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, while Chasing Coral showed its devastating destruction. Martinez interviews documentary director Jeff Orlowski, who created both Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice. Chasing Ice shows the impacts of environmental changes on the melting Arctic ice cap, while Chasing Coral tries to uncover the causes for the reefs dying so quickly.
A documentary can educate about key issues and inspire further research. Martinez cites his friend’s viewing of Joe Berlinger’s Crude, which tells the story of Chevron’s refusal to clean up the oil waste and its impacts on the Amazon communities. His friend did more research into the issues, found organizations helping out, and volunteered for them.
A documentary can open mainstream media doors for other media about similar issues. Martinez interviews Adrian Grenier, who played Vincent Chase on Entourage. Grenier cites An Inconvenient Truth as helping get people to pay attention to his eco-conscious reality show Alter Eco.
A documentary also can inspire other media makers to create their own works. Grenier counts Encounters from the End of the World, by Werner Herzog, as one of his inspirations.
A documentary can tell the stories of other activists and their work. Sandra Steingraber is an environmental activist whose work and life is featured in the book and documetary Living Downstream. Martinez even appears in the short documentary Kid Warrior, which chronicles his life so far and his work as Earth Guardian Youth Director.
Documentary makers themselves can become involved in direct and indirect actions toward raising awareness about climate change. Martinez recalls Josh Fox, director of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change and Gasland, participated in an action to prevent a coal ship from leaving port.
And finally, a documentary screening can bring people together in communities to talk about issues and what they can do about them. Martinez mentions this option a couple times as part of his suggestions for what people can do to start advocating for the planet. Many documentaries do offer special rates for just those kinds of screenings.