Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Planet Aid's Favorite Socially Conscious Documentaries

Documentaries have become one of our culture's most effectual influencers. A truly great nonfiction film can educate people and inspire them to act, oftentimes under the course of a two-hour running time. Consider the attention shift to climate change issues after Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, the conversations about gun control prompted by Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, or even the downsizing of McDonald's massive portions after Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me.

Below are our picks for documentaries that champion Planet Aid's dual mission of creating a more sustainable world and fighting against poverty. They range from full-length, big-budget films to short, interactive features on the web. All of them are guaranteed to challenge and enlighten you.

If you don't know who the Zaballeen are...

Garbage Dreams (2009)

Garbage Dreams is the story of the Zaballeen-- Arabic for "garbage people"-- who have spent centuries making their living recycling the trash of Cairo. The film offers a fascinating look into one of the world's most unique waste management systems.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Check your local library or school

If you want to be wowed by gorgeous Arctic imagery...

Chasing Ice (2012)

Chasing Ice is not only cinematically beautiful, but also a startling piece of evidence of the effects of climate change. The story follows environmental photographer James Balog's quest to document the Arctic's melting ice through a multi-year project called the Extreme Ice Survey.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Streaming on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, DVD

If you're looking for an unlikely climate hero...

The Island President (2011)

The Maldives is an island country in the Indian Ocean that is under severe threat due to climate change (a three-foot rise in sea level would submerge the 1,200 islands that comprise it). This is the story of its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, and his mission to keep his low-lying home nation from disappearing into the sea.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Streaming on Netflix, iTunes, DVD

If you're concerned about our massive waste problem...

Trashed (2007)

Trashed takes a look at the impact of our waste. On average, Americans create almost five pounds of waste daily, amounting to nearly a half billion tons of waste annually. Watch the film to see how this affects populations, our natural resources, and our future (and don't forget to keep your textiles out of the trash by putting them in a yellow bin!).

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Vimeo, DVD

If you don't know what it's like to live in a developing country...

The Shirt on Your Back: the Human Cost of the Bangladeshi Garment Industry (2014)

This interactive web-based feature from The Guardian follows the story of Mahmuda Akhter, one of the Rana Plaza workers that survived the infamous textile factory collapse that killed over 1,000 garment workers in 2013. It is a poignant and sometimes heartbreaking testament of how the textile industry transfers the cost of cheap clothing to those who have no other opportunities to break out of poverty.

How to watch it: The Guardian website

If you've never heard of a circular economy...

The Story of Stuff (2007)

Americans buy a lot of stuff, but we rarely think twice about where this stuff comes from, why it's priced how it is, or where it goes when we're done with it. Our manufacturing and consumption process runs on a linear model, meaning that most of our products' lives have are finite. The Story of Stuff addresses these ideas in an entertaining, easy-to-understand way, and explains why we should adapt to a circular model that favors recycling. (You can read more about circular economics here.)

How to watch it: YouTube, The Story of Stuff Website

If you know the importance of staying hydrated...

Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2009)

This film examines why our water supply is dwindling, the politics behind the commodification of water, and what may happen in the future if we don't change course.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: YouTube, DVD

If you're inspired by the resilience of those in poverty... Film Series (2012)

Why Poverty is actually not a singular film, but rather a collection of eight documentaries and 34 shorts that aim to inspire, engage, educate, and influence. The videos tackle a number of dimensions related to poverty, including education, land rights, governance, gender empowerment, and food security.

How to watch it:

If you've ever wondered what happens after you donate your clothes...

Garson & Shaw Presents: The Life of Used Clothing (2014)

This short documentary explores what happens in the used clothing industry, and how people from all over the world benefit from keeping textiles out of the landfill.

How to watch it: YouTube

Secondhand Pepe (2008)

Haiti receives a large amount of the developed world's used clothing. Secondhand clothing is such an important force in their culture, in fact, that there is a special word for it: pepe. This documentary shows firsthand how textiles are given a new life after they're thrown in a donation bin.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Buy it on Etsy

If you're looking for a an exciting release this spring...

The True Cost (2015)

This upcoming film does exactly what the title says: examines the true cost of the global clothing industry. Clothes are more affordable for the Western consumer than ever before, but the price is offset by environmental and human rights violations.

Watch the trailer:

How to watch it: Premieres Spring 2015

Do you know any movies that should have made the list? Tell us in the comments!