Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish is an eye-opening documentary about animals in captivity, with a special focus on the orca Tilikum, who is currently kept at SeaWorld Orlando. The controversial creature is connected to the deaths of three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau. Blackfish calls into question the safety measures, conditions, and treatment of captive animals, and makes a strong case for the orcas’ intelligence, awareness, and emotion. As moviegoers always on the lookout for compelling animal documentaries that supersede the humdrum nature shows — Blackfish in particular unfolds like a thriller — we’ve rounded up a list of other essential documentaries that call to the wild.
If we had it our way, Werner Herzog would direct, narrate, and star in every nature and animal documentary made from now until the end of time. He first wooed us with his “nature is vile and base” speech in 1982′s Burden of Dreams — the documentary chronicling the production of his epic, Fitzcarraldo. Herzog returned to the “chaos, hostility, and murder” found within nature in his bio-documentary on Timothy Treadwell — the man who lived with bears for 13 summers in Alaska, eventually killed and eaten by one in 2003. Treadwell was an eccentric and delusional character, troubled by his own disconnect from the human world. Herzog interprets the man’s attempts to bond with the bears without judgment. Grizzly Man isn’t a clear-cut animal documentary, but the footage of the bears is wonderful — much of it Treadwell’s, captured dangerously close to the hungry beasts. Perhaps more importantly, it studies the relationship (invented and hierarchical) between man and wild animal, concluding, “it is not so much a look at wild nature, as it is an insight into ourselves, our nature.”