One of my favorite ways to unwind is watching documentaries. I dare anyone to find a more soothing alternative than watching sea animals floating by as David Attenborough’s calm dignified voice guides you. While I will always reserve Blue Planet for those special days when I need extra docu-therapy, here are some other wonderful picks to curl up with this blustery cold weekend. So go ahead, grab a mug of tea (or a glass of wine) and extra blankets, and let the triumph of the human (and animal) spirit unfold.
1. It’s a Girl (2012)
The UN estimates that there are 200 million girls “missing” in the world today due to killing, aborting, or abandonment of girls. It’s a Girl brings to light the unthinkable violence against women in India and China. Now available in select cities and on Netflix.
2. Speciesism: The Movie (2013)
Most vegans instinctively know that there is something fundamentally wrong with our anthropocentric world view; here is a film that lays it all out. Director Mark Devries’s film is a must-see for those who want to understand the philosophy behind our natural moral instinct. Now playing in select cities and available on the website.
3. Blackfish (2013)
The most popular documentary of 2013 got snubbed by the Academy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not revelatory and haunting. Available on iTunes and Netflix.
4. Wild Russia (2009)
Watching these animals survive in the Russian wilderness is somehow the perfect way to celebrate winter. The epic 6-part film takes you to Siberia, Caucasus, the Urals, the Arctic, and more. Produced by National Geographic; re-runs on Animal Planet.
This quiet, yet hauntingly moving documentary retraces the steps of Sooyong Park, a Korean cameraman who stayed alone in the Siberian forest over 5 years in order to capture Siberian tigers in the wild. He captured more than 1,000 hours of video of a tiger dynasty over three generations. What you learn about these noble beasts–and Park’s humility and strength–will stay with you long after the film is over. Produced by PBS. Available on Netflix.
6. Africa (2013)
What happens when you mix the unmatched drama of the African ecosystem, breathtaking cinematography, hosting by the one-and-only David Attenborough, co-production by BBC/Discovery? You get Africa. Expect gorgeous panoramas, amazingly intimate scenes of the animals, and moving conservation efforts. Catch the re-runs on Discovery channel or buy the DVD.
This is not technically a documentary, but it may as well be: in this richly photographed, long-form piece, journalist Andrea Elliott follows a homeless Brooklyn girl Dasani and her family as they struggle to make a living in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. What you learn about homelessness and inheritance of poverty will break your heart–but what you see about the hope in the young will make you soar. One of the most popular articles on The New York Time in 2013. (I recommend reading this on the iPad for the best experience).
Related: 5 Must-Read Books for Vegans
Photo: respective documentaries