Sustainable life

Three documentaries by David Attenborough you need to watch

When I was a child, I used to wake up every day at 7 am during the summer. Both my parents worked and I would spend the rest of the morning with my grandmother. I obviously played with other children, but they all used to sleep late, so I was left with nothing to do but wait for them until 10ish. How did I spend that two to three hours’ time? My grandma had satellite TV. Satellite TV had quite a lot of interesting channels. And I certainly had a lot of curiosity and eagerness to bingewatch them.

While zapping through channels about music, cartoons, and documentaries, one day I came across a documentary with the greenest scenes I had ever seen. It showed a jungle, succulent plants with fleshy leaves, exotic animals.

As a child who had been spending the weekends roaming the countryside, wild greenery was already the main component of my imaginary. This is why it took me no time to fall in love with such kinds of documentaries. Later on, I found out that the voice of the man behind most of the programmes was David Attenborough, a human being who had particularly been interested in nature and preservation for his entire life.

Who’s David Attenborough?

David Attenborough is a British naturalist, broadcaster and writer noted for his innovative educational television programmes, true landmarks in the fields of anthropology and natural history.

Since 1954, he has been writing and narrating numerous cultural-educational series as well as books that were companions to those series.

Needless to say, his programmes have influenced a generation of wildlife filmmakers.

Among his most famous documentaries is the Life series including works such as Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), The Life of Birds (1998), The Life of Mammals (2002–03), and Life in the Undergrowth (2005). Among his most recent works are Our Planet (2019), and David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020).

Attenborough’s approach: beauty, scolding and awareness-raising

Even though most of his works purposefully focus on the most spectacular dimensions of nature – as an alleged way to optimistically highlight its beauty rather than destruction – his most recent approach also focuses on what can endanger nature.

Indeed, Attenborough has been trying to use his notoriety and authority to raise awareness on what is threatening our planet – aka human beings.

By making his message more politicised, he’s been openly criticising those practices that are destroying the natural magnificence that amazes us.

For example, in the last 10 years he’s been discussing climate change (The Truth about Climate Change, 2006), the demographic impact on the planet (How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?, 2009) and endangered animals (Extinction: The Facts, 2020).

He’s been shedding a light on the impact anthropic activities have on our planet by using scientific evidence and pointing to the intrinsic link between the destruction of biodiversity and our own health.

While these themes have largely been explored by many other documentaries and broadcasters, what I particularly appreciate about Attenborough’s approach is the accessibility of information and the beauty that permeates his work, as well as his getting his hands dirty.

As one of the most influential contemporary scientific broadcasters, he combines awe-inspiring frames with structured yet simple explanations on the scenes we’re observing and brings them to life on television for everybody to watch, absorb and understand.

In so doing, he lets us be inspired by nature’s beauty while learning about how we’re destroying it and what we can do to avoid this.

And besides that, I also truly find inspirational the fact that even in his mid-nineties, he’s still out there advocating for the environment. As they say, never give up, huh?

Favourite Attenborough’s documentaries

Warning: this is not a top-3 list. Even though I haven’t watched the entire list of documentary episodes that have been broadcasted since Attenborough’s early career, I have watched a good bunch and I’d like to give you my recommendations. Yes, it’s hard to choose, but I’ll try anyway. Here we go:

1. Life on Earth

Life on Earth by David Attenborough

Let’s start from the very beginning: Life on Earth, the series which became a benchmark of quality in wildlife film-making.

Each episode describes, in the BBC’s words, “The story of life, from the first primitive cells to the plants and animals that now live around us”.

Also, what is interesting is that by treating his subject seriously and researching the latest discoveries, Attenborough and his production team eventually gained the trust of scientists.

One of the most famous moments of this series occurs in the twelfth episode, when Attenborough encounters a group of mountain gorillas in Rwanda while narrating a piece about them.

Yet, as he advanced towards them, he suddenly found himself facing an adult female. In my opinion, his softly-spoken description, as well as its meaning, is something to look up to.  

“The (gorilla) male is an enormously powerful creature but he only uses his strength when he is protecting his family and it is very rare that there is violence within the group. So it seems really very unfair that man should have chosen the gorilla to symbolise everything that is aggressive and violent, when that is the one thing that the gorilla is not—and that we are.”

2. Blue Planet II

Blue Planet II by David Attenborough

Blue Planet II is a series on marine life focusing on marine flora and fauna, as well as microplastics and pollution in the world’s seas.

I know, this documentary was only narrated and presented by Attenborough, but hey, it’s Blue Planet! Narrated with a British accent! And the main theme music was composed by Hans Zimmer!

And by the way, what would you expect from someone who was born on an island surrounded by nothing but sea? Yes, that’s it, to appreciate well-crafted and well-narrated documentaries about the sea.

“The oceans, seemingly limitless, invoke in us a sense of awe and wonder, and also sometimes fear. They cover 70% of the surface of our planet, and yet they are still the least explored. Hidden beneath the waves, right beneath my feet, there are creatures beyond our imagination.”

3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

In this work, David Attenborough provides a true witness’ statement.

By looking back on his career, he observes how the natural world has been damaged and sheds a light on the steps that can be taken to mitigate the climate and environmental crisis.

What I appreciated about this documentary is its structure. Starting from his own experience, the author introduces us to the beauties of nature, makes us fall in love with breath-taking views and landscapes, and eventually slaps us in the face by pointing to the evident problem that is threatening those beauties we’ve fallen in love with: us.

Yes, us, the nice viewers.

Why me? I’m not killing endangered animals nor am I financing deforestation activities.” Okay, fair enough, maybe (you never know, your bank might actually be financing them), but we have to keep in mind that we’re all in this together.

We all directly, indirectly, partially or totally contribute to our planet’s health, which means that any single action, however small, does matter.

In the end, after a lifetime of exploration of our world, I’m certain about one thing: this is not about saving our planet, it’s about saving ourselves. The truth is, with or without us, the natural world will rebuild.”

Have you watched any of these documentaries? Any opinion about them?

And don’t forget to keep reading if you need some more inspiration!


Also, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *