Five films that shed light on environmental racism in the US

In the many hundreds of films reviewed by our team each year, one thing is always clear: that environmental threats disproportionally affect marginalized communities in America. It’s more urgent than ever that we bring stories of eco-apartheid to audiences far and wide.

At the San Francisco Green Film Festival, we highly value sharing crucial environmental stories like these that have the power to educate, inform, and ignite change. We also pair solutions-oriented film themes with local non-profits to engage audiences with local action opportunities. Join our #morethanmovies movement! 

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Here are five essential documentaries from our recent festivals that shed light on the history of environmental racism, as well as the people who are challenging these narratives to create an equitable future for all.

Come Hell or High Water: the Battle for Turkey Creek

The painful but inspiring journey of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moves home to coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Over the course of a decade, Derrick and his neighbors stand up to powerful corporate interests and politicians and face ordeals that include Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster in their struggle for self-determination and environmental justice. Winner of SF Green Film Fest’s Green Tenacity Award. 

(dir. Leah Mahan, 2014) 


RISE: Standing Rock [Parts I & II]

At the heart of Viceland’s passionate docuseries is injustice; the rights of a dispossessed, persecuted race abused by the State and corporations in avaricious pursuit of natural resources. Resistance at Standing Rock to the Dakota Access Pipeline through Sioux ancestral lands creates a pan-tribal protest. Hope is embodied in an alliance of women. Mni wiconi (water is life). Winner of SF Green Film Fest’s Best Feature Award. 

(dir. Michelle Latimer, 2017)


Beyond Recognition

After decades struggling to protect her ancestors’ burial places, now engulfed by San Francisco’s sprawl, a Native woman from a non-federally recognized Ohlone tribe and her allies occupy a sacred site to prevent its desecration. When this life-altering event fails to stop the development, they vow to follow a new path- to establish the first women-led urban Indigenous land trust. Beyond Recognition explores the quest to preserve one’s culture and homeland in a society bent on erasing them. Winner of SF Green Film Fest’s Best Short Award.

(dir. Michelle Steinberg, 2015)


Urban Roots

A small group of dedicated citizens have started an urban environmental movement with the potential to transform a city. With the most vacant lots in the country, Detroiters are reclaiming their spirits by growing food. A timely, moving and inspiring film that speaks to a nation grappling with collapsed industrial towns and the need to forge a sustainable and prosperous future. Winner of SF Green Film Fest’s Inspiring Lives Award.

(dir. Mark MacInnis, 2011) 


An American Ascent

Setting out to change the face of the outdoors, this film follows the first African-American expedition to tackle North America's highest peak, Denali. A staggering number of people of color do not consider the outdoors as a place for them. By taking on the grueling, 20,310 foot peak of the continent's biggest mountain, nine African-American climbers set out to shrink this Adventure Gap by building a legacy of inclusion in the outdoor/adventure community. The film addresses often overlooked issues of race and the outdoors as it follows the team up the mountain, chronicling the many challenges of climbing one of the world’s most iconic peaks.

(dir. Andrew Adkins, George Potter, 2014)


Explore more films across the US and beyond in our Film Archive.