In one of my previous blog posts on “Beginner-friendly Ideas for Helping Animals,” I touched on the need for staying updated with current events in our movement and using other resources like books or movies to enrich our understanding of human-animal politics.
By studying the various issues, we can become better communicators & activities, which in turn will enable us to make a larger impact.
They say nothing beats visual learning, so watching feature-length documentaries is a great way to stock up on some general knowledge in a way that’s both entertaining & memorable.
So nuke some popcorn, and sit down to watch these eye-opening docus on animal-related topics like stray animal welfare, activism, animal cruelty, industrial farming, veganism, plant-based diets, etc.
These are not only insightful for people who already like animals, but also a good conversation starter for the general public. You can use them to host a free watch party to sensitize/educate your friends in the neighborhood.
I’ve linked the streaming platforms where you can watch the films officially, but in case you don’t have money to spare, here are some websites that’ll help you grab all the video files for free.
For more details & recommendations, you can visit VegMovies, which has the world’s largest collections of docus on subject matter at hand.
1. The Dog Feeder (2021)
Strays are at the receiving end of cruelty & neglect on the bustling streets of India. But many dog lovers are doing what they can to make life a little less miserable for the canine vagabonds.
Released during the pandemic, this short award-winning documentary captures one such heartwarming story of a couple, Robert & his wife, who have spent the last 25 years providing for the puppies in their area without any foundation support.
It was directed by Sumitabh Singh and won the Golden Sparrow International Film Festival and Port Blair International Film Festival 2021.
Anyone who has fought hard for stray animal welfare & community feeder rights will find this story highly relatable & inspiring, so keep some tissues handy because it can get sappy towards the end.
Watch on YouTube for free.
2. The Animal People (2019)
There are heroes who risk their reputation, careers, and lives to stand up against evil corporations that torture animals for their profit. This documentary follows the stories of six such activist figures in the Western world who dared to rattle large institutions of power. It pays homage to their dedication & courage.
You’ll gain crucial insights on what to expect when you step up your fight for the voiceless. It’s hard, it’s painful, but it’s certainly worth it.
Featuring expansive interviews with the six activists spanning more than a decade, rare archival footage – including never-before-seen surveillance footage, wiretaps, and government documents, The Animal People is a chilling portrait of the darkest parts of the animal liberation movement.
It was produced in 2019 by the acclaimed superstar Joaquin Phoenix, who is known for his outstanding work in The Joker, Her, and Gladiator. Phoenix has been a vocal vegan activist for animals, so its only fitting that he leads this show.
3. Dominion (2018)
Perhaps the most visceral & therefore most impactful watch on this entire list, Dominion (2018) is a landmark documentary for the animal liberation movement because it has convinced thousands of people across the globe to change their diets after a single screening.
The creators have released it for free public view on YouTube, which I think is quite a commendable act of selflessness for animals. Just read the comments & you’ll see the power of this 2-hour feature film:
- This video broke my heart 😔😔😔100% I’m going to stop eating
- I’ve watched this documentary till the end and …the only thing I know now is that I will never eat meat again. I now need a break. Thank you.
- I don’t know about others but this one changed my view on being a nonvegetarian…I know till the day I die will be vegan.
Watch on YouTube for free, and do share the link with your friends.
4. Breaking the Chain (2020)
It’s not just India that is grappling with a homeless animal problem. The US also has millions of dogs who are abused, abandoned, and mistreated every day.
This documentary (2020) features some heartbreaking BTS footage of PETA’s dedicated fieldworkers, who respond to calls for help around the clock in all weather extremes. PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) is the world’s largest & most active network of animal activists, although it comes with its fair share of controversies.
In any case, these first responders are fighting on the front lines of the national animal overpopulation crisis, and Breaking the Chain honors their tireless work to help make the world a kinder place for the dogs, cats, and other animals in our communities.
It’s a must-watch if you’re interested in getting down on the field and doing real grassroots work that will directly save animals.
No we’re not cheating here. Both these films were produced by Kip Andersen, and go behind the scenes of the cruel industrial farming sector, albeit focusing on different animals. There’s definitely a lot of overlap with Dominion, which we saw earlier on the list, but these two picks have a slightly more theatrical or professional touch, which is why they deserve a mention of their own.
The former (2014) had Leonardo DiCaprio as its executive producer and exposes the beef/meat industry, which is said to be the most environmentally destructive polluting force on the planet today, well beyond vehicle emissions.
It shows some shocking hidden footage from cow, chicken, and pig factories, which is so eye-opening that it convinced the owner of a Texas restaurant to completely switch his meaty menu to a plant-based spread overnight.
This is the most widely screened & talked-about flick in the animal rights community for a good reason. It pulls no punches & serves you the industry’s harrowing secrets straight from its source.
The recent sequel Seaspiracy (2021) shifts the domain, venturing out to the global waters, but ultimately conveys the same message: it’s time to leave animals off our plates, and that includes fishes! If anything, its tone is more urgent, given the rapidly depleting population of marine life & fauna in our oceans, no thanks to our vapid hunger for seafood.
Directors Ali and Lucy Tabrizi uncover the commercial fishing industry’s harmful practices & urge the public to address the plight of underwater animals. Just because we don’t get to interact with them on a regular basis, doesn’t mean they’re not suffering at the hands of unethical corporates, too.
5. Long Gone Wild (2019)
Brimming with arresting visuals, this 2019 TV spot shows the plight of captive orcas, picking up where the acclaimed documentary Blackfish left off (included in our honorable mentions while telling a uniquely new and different story. It was filmed in 85 locations & features over 38 different species from 20 ecosystems.
The film reminds us that even after Blackfish put SeaWorld in hot water, there are still 20 orcas in there who are facing captivity & abuse. It proceeds to make the case against such inhuman treatment of what are proven to be sentient animals. And finally, it introduces us to the Whale Sanctuary Project and its model seaside sanctuary for retired orcas, which aims to provide a safe, permanent home in their natural habitat.
Currently, Russia & China’s mega aquariums are a large looming threat to these beautiful creatures, and this issue should be a priority focus for our community.
Watch on Amazon (IMDb TV with ads).
6. What the Health (2017)
Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity as research sheds light on the detrimental health impacts of consuming red meat, dairy, and other animal products.
This 2017 documentary is an advocate of that change, featuring a groundbreaking collection of testimonials from health professionals, consumers, industry experts, and more.
Advertised as “The Health Film That Health Organizations Don’t Want You To See”, it follows Kip Andersen in his pursuit of the truth behind the conspiracies that the food industry is allegedly trying to cover up.
Even if you’re not convinced, watching this story will definitely make you reevaluate your food choices, and that’s saying something.
It was also executive-produced by Joaquin Phoenix, and funded via an Indiegogo campaign in March 2016, raising more than $235,000. The final cut was then released globally on Vimeo on March 16 of the following year.
Watch it on Netflix.
This pair of docus is narrated by the immortal legend Sir David Attenborough. Need we say more? Apart from his soothing voice & a transcendent background score, the astonishing footage caught by the dedicated filmmaking team is a magical combination that has enchanted audiences around the world.
It even led to the trend of #blueplaneteffect, which brought hundreds of individuals together to tackle the issue of plastic waste piling up in our oceans.
It has won 9 awards including the 2018 BAFTA TV Factual Photography Award, Best Documentary Series at the 2018 Broadcasting Press Guild Awards, and the 2018 National Television Awards Impact Awards Special winner.
8. Virunga (2014)
This wildlife conservation film (2014) follows the work of park rangers within the Congo’s Virunga National Park.
The park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, about only 880 of them on the global scale.
The rangers are struggling to protect the park from massive threats like war, poaching, and the threat of oil exploration. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Everyone who cares about wildlife should watch this one to understand and honor the difficult lives of conservationists.
Watch it on Netflix.
9. My Octopus Teacher (2020)
This rare underwater documentary (2020) follows Craig Foster’s friendship with a female octopus in the setting of serene kelp forests of the Western Cape in South Africa. It explores how the octopus makes him introspect his own relationships, life, and place on the planet.
If you wonder what goes on beneath the water, this story will unravel the mysteries of marine life intelligence for you in the most breathtaking way possible.
You know it’s worth the watch because it has bagged 11 awards, including the Academy Awards Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature and BAFTA Film Award for Best documentary.
Watch on Netflix.
10. The Ivory Game (2016)
Released in 2016, The Ivory Game exposes the rampant ivory trade in Africa, which destroys elephants to satiate the demand for their tusks in China & Hong Kong.
The undercover footage will help you take stock of the problem, and pressurize your local authorities to join the fight against this cruel industry, which may drive the elephants to the brink of extinction by as early as 2030.
Craig Millar, representing the Big Life Foundation, sounds aptly urgent when he says, “Traders in ivory actually want the extinction of elephants, the fewer elephants there are, the more the price rises…and it’s a race against time.”
It won The Prince William TUSK Game Changer Award.
Watch it on Netflix.
11. Mission Blue (2014)
Mission Blue (2014) follows the legendary oceanographer, marine biologist, environmentalist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle.
It pays a tribute to her campaign to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries. With oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, Sylvia and her team of dedicated ocean rangers race against time to build & protect her “Hope Spots.”
It won the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Editing – Documentary and Long Form.
Watch it on Netflix.
12. Akashinga: The Brave Ones (2020)
Meet the world’s only all-female, a plant-powered anti-poaching unit from Zimbabwe. This 2020 documentary is produced by the award-winning director James Cameron and benefits from the masterful direction of Maria Wilhelm.
The National Geographic Documentary Films production explores how the Akashinga is revolutionizing the way animals are protected and communities are empowered.
Akashinga is a radical team of vegan women who’ve sworn to safeguard Africa’s key species, especially the continent’s majestic but now vulnerable elephants, against poachers who frequently hunt the animals for ivory, meat, and other resources.
It’ll definitely make you pack your bags for Zimbabwe to join the squad, or at least start some sort of a local community in your own country.
It’s only 13 minutes long so you can watch it for free on YouTube on your train ride back home.
If you have some more time, indulge in these equally great documentaries that almost made the cut for the final list.
- Game Changers (2018): Testimonials of athletes/bodybuilders who swear by vegan diets
- Blackfish (2013): Exposed the captive orcas at SeaWorld, leading to global public outrage
- Honeyland (2019): Follows a loner beekeeper who lives in a remote mountain village
- Gunda (2020): Follows the daily life of a pig, illuminating its sentient & intelligent abilities
- Food, Inc. (2008): Exposes the animal breeding practices of America’s super-corporations
So that concludes our list of documentaries that every animal lover or pet owner can watch anytime. Have you watched any of the titles suggested above? Which ones did you like? BTW, did I miss any good picks that should be on this list?
Let’s talk in the comments below. Here’s wishing you an insightful binging session!