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Solstice Cinema: 10 Nature Documentaries on Netflix That Celebrate Summer

Credit: SeaWorld Pictures
Credit: SeaWorld Pictures

By Leslie Combemale aka Cinema Siren

Summer is officially upon us. 

As its midsummer night this weekend, flower children and tree huggers around the world will be dancing together at sunrise, and celebrations of the start of our hottest season will range from road trips to yearly vacation homes, summer camp departures and cookouts, to soccer match viewing marathons, pagan rituals at Stonehenge, music and film festivals.

It is a weekend meant to be filled with ease and fun. What better way to support that than movies documenting the beauty and spender of nature? 

Here then are 10 suggestions, all nature documentaries on Netflix, that will groove you, move you or calm you! Happy summer to all!

1. The Ultimate Wave Tahiti

Following in the colossal surfer-doc steps of the historic stoner-friendly The Endless Summer, 2010’s The Ultimate Wave, which was released in IMAX and filmed by IMAX-specialist director Stephen Low, explores the beautiful Tahitian shores, and shows world class champ Kelly Slater and legendary Tahitian surfer Raimana Van Bastolaer enjoying the culture and exploiting the island’s best waves on Teahupo’o. The cinematography is spectacular, giving well divided attention to underwater reef habitat, Tahitian music and dance culture, and the island itself.

2. David Attenborough: Wildlife Specials and The Life of Mammals

The Wildlife Specials from BBC television featuring naturalist David Attenborough’s travels around the world are some of the best to capture close-up footage and authentic representation of the lives of the most fascinating animals. 

The Life of Mammals takes animal lovers from the smallest to largest and most advanced mammals in the animal kingdom, with beautifully shot footage, and fascinating, educational narration by Attenborough, who injects his pithy humor at exactly the right moments to keep the viewers entertained.

3. Moving art: Flowers

An absolutely lovely and extremely mellow documentary that shows flowers and nature. The perfect cure for a stressful day, and gorgeously colorful.

4. Moving art: Oceans

Water water everywhere, and in the best possible way. Calming, intense, and above all, blue. These two documentaries were created by Louis Schwartzberg, who produced and directed them. He is a pioneer in 2D time-lapse cinematographer. He also directed Wings of Life, listed below. If you like the Flowers and Oceans films, his Deserts and Forests films are also available on Netflix.

5. Fortress of the Bears

Part of the PBS Nature series and from their 30th season in 2011, this documentary follows bears in Alaska, in all their majesty, and how they live in and face challenges inherent in their ecosystem. Great Alaskan scenery along with educational narration about the life and struggles of the brown bear make this highly entertaining.

6. The Blue Planet

Once again we have David Attenborough to thank for this exploration of the marine world, which features every aspect of ocean life in its 8 episodes. This is the best series of its kind, perfectly shot, produced, and narrated, even though released in 2001. Kids and adults alike will enjoy it as well as learn from it.

7. The Life of Birds

Many fans say this is the best of the Attenborough nature documentaries. In 10 episodes, the filmmakers follow researchers as the cover the globe to examine over 300 species of birds, capturing the beauty of their flight, their various quirks, their commonalities and their diversity.

8. Turtle: The Incredible Journey

This exciting and beautifully shot documentary is about the life and times of the loggerhead turtle, from birth through their experiences with the hazards created by man and inherent in their environment. 

The first scenes with babies struggling to get to across the beach after being born is like an episode of Game of Thrones. You’ll hate crabs a bit after you see how lethal they are to these babies. Jaws-like music accompanies the gut-wrenching scene, which may not be suitable for the fragile-hearted or innocent, but the film is fascinating, exciting, and beautiful.

9. Wings of Life

Meryl Streep narrates this engaging 2011 documentary that looks at the lives of bats, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. Created by DisneyNature, there is an environmental message about the threat to these tiny creatures, it was known as “Pollen” when it was released in France, and largely focuses on the dance between the creatures and the plants, and the importance of their connection to the global food chain. It was directed by Louis Schwartzberg, and as such features more of his beautiful time-lapse cinematography.

10. The Endless Summer

The stoner Citizen Kane of surf documentaries, this seminal 1966 film features director and narrator Bruce Brown taking viewers on a surfing trip around the world. The title comes from the suggestion that surf enthusiasts can traverse the planet as seasons change, from one storied surf mecca to the next, ever finding summer. Though more than a little dated, viewers can still enjoy watching the filmmakers introducing the passion for surfing to people everywhere.

Of course, there are great films to see at the theater, and if you haven’t checkout out How To Train Your Dragon 2 or X-Men: Days of Future Past, now is the time! If you fancy a trip out to do your part in making the best movies into blockbusters, Cinema Siren suggests dragons and mutants are the way to go.

However, perhaps lazing away the evening at home, and playing one of the lovely nature documentaries available on Netflix will be the perfect compliment as you celebrate the languid days and steamy nights to come. 

For many of us, the ice and snow will come too soon. Enjoy the heat while you can, and when it gets too much, enjoy these cinematic journeys as you surround yourself in air conditioned splendor.

About this column: Leslie Combemale, at www.cinemasiren.com, is a movie lover and aficionado who aspires to get more people back into the beautiful alternate worlds offered in the dark at movie houses across the country, and is owner of ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery.  She interviews actors, directors, and production artists from all over the world, and often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic-Con, where she has been a panelist and host for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster, Classic Film History, Disney & Harry Potter Fandom discussions. Visit her art gallery for great art from film at www.artinsights.com and see more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.

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