Top 5 Forest Preservation Documentaries

Guest post by Nataly Perez Manrique

Not sure what to watch this weekend? With so many options and streaming platforms, it’s getting harder to decide. We’re here to help you! We’ve searched high and low to bring you a curated list of the best documentaries about forests in a four-part series. Welcome to Part One!

The battle to protect and preserve forests is incredibly important right now. While we fight against climate change, forests are our number one defense, and we can’t afford to cut them down…not if we value our future. Not only that, but it is an issue of environmental justice when we take a look at the most often low income Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities where these forests are being destroyed. Here you’ll find amazing stories of people who faced off against the forces of deforestation to protect their homes, forests, and futures.

Bones of the Forest

forest preservation documentaries bones of the forest
Bones of the Forest is an award-winning Canadian forest documentary

This documentary told through the eyes of both Native and non-Native elders places deforestation into the context of colonization. According to the Oxford English dictionary, colonization is “The action or process of settling among and establishing control over the Indigenous people of an area.” The documentary incorporates the views of loggers, alternative forestry practitioners, a former VP of logging giant MacMillan-Bloedel, Native elders, and longtime protesters. The position of loggers and their families, made redundant due to over-foresting, is included as another damaging social consequence of forestry policy. Where to watch: Available here.


If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

This documentary tells the story of activist Daniel G. McGowan of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF is the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s “number one domestic terrorist threat.” McGowan faces life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. The documentary also examines the ethics of the ELF at large and how terrorism is to be defined. Where to watch: Available on Amazon Prime.


The Man of the Trees

Daniel Balima is a horticulturist from Tenkodogo, a small Sub-Saharan African town in Burkina Faso. As a child he contracted polio, leaving him without the use of his legs. Instead Balima learned to walk on his hands. And he has given life to more than a million trees. Because of the drought in his country, he dreams of planting another million.


Burned: Are Trees the New Coal?

This powerful documentary tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel. It probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the growing biomass electric power industry. This industry cuts down forests primarily in the Southern US, turns them into wood pellets, and ships them overseas to be burned to meet Europe’s demand for “green energy.” Science, though, shows that the industrial burning of trees actually produces more carbon than coal, so this industry isn’t green or sustainable, and it’s doomed to fail.


The Burning Season

Every year, impoverished farmers on the Indonesian islands set fire to areas of pristine rainforest to clear land for palm oil plantations. The smoke chokes up the air of neighboring countries, endangers forest wildlife, and emits tons of carbon. This documentary shows three stories: An Australian entrepreneur who believes there is money to be made from saving rainforests in Indonesia. A Danish expat who cares for displaced orangutans. And a small-scale farmer wrestling with the dilemma of contributing to climate change and needing to feed his family. Where to watch: Available here.


Be sure to check out the others in our 4-part top forest documentaries series:

Part 2: Top 5 Forest Restoration Documentaries


Nataly Perez Manrique is a Latin immigrant from Peru. She has a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Duke University. She is also an advocate for the eradication of violence against women and the defense of Indigenous peoples’ rights in her home country.

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