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Shining a Spotlight on Earth Day Programming
April 22, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

Let’s think of it as an Earth Day Film Festival.

On Wednesday, our TVs and other devices will be filled with documentaries and other programming, some hopeful and some bleak, for the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

Here are highlights of the programs scheduled for Wednesday.

The Goodall Impact

Jane Goodall: The Hope (9 p.m. ET, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild) was, you might say, sixty years in the making. We see glimpses of Goodall at 26, a pioneer in the idea of living with and observing the chimps. “Those were the best days of my life,” she says.

And we see her at 86, on the road for 300 or more days a year, while talking about nature and people. “I’m not the sort of person who likes the limelight,” she says. “I like sitting in the jungle.”

But this richly emotional film shows her global work, including youth groups in 100-plus countries. “I think she is Mother Nature…the most heart-warming mother of all time,” a 10-year-old says.

Jane (12:00 p.m. ET, National Geographic) is a 2017 film that won an Emmy for director Brett Morgen, who skillfully weaved old and new footage, with a Philip Glass score.

This one includes Goodall’s 10-year marriage to the late Hugo van Lawick, the Dutch wildlife filmmaker and photographer. The new film doesn’t include Van Lawick, who died in 2002 at 65, but has wonderful scenes in Africa with their grandchildren.

She Walks With Apes (top, 9 p.m. ET, BBC America), narrated by Sandra Oh, focuses on three women who pioneered living among chimps and apes – Goodall; Birute Galdikas, 73; and the late Dian Fossey (top). It also introduces new generations of female researchers.

Other Activists

Climate Change: The Facts (8 p.m. ET, PBS check local listings) has a tone of urgency. “It’s happening in your world and in mine,” says Surita Narain, a scientist and activist in India.

Alongside a cascade of weather-disaster footage, we hear everyone from Greta Thunberg, 17, to David Attenborough, 93, who began talking about this 30 years ago. Back then, world leaders – conservative and liberal – also spoke up; the film shows former President George H.W. Bush and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And now? “It’s a hoax,” current U.S. President Donald Trump says in one clip. “It’s a money-making thing.”

Before the Flood (from 2016, 2 p.m. ET, National Geographic). Leonardo DiCaprio goes on a global search for examples of climate change. It’s a Fisher Stevens film, with music by Trent Reznor.

The Story of Plastic (2 p.m. ET, Discovery). this program, spanning three continents, views plastic’s impact in two ways – sending chemicals into the atmosphere during production, and then filling landfills with the result. It focuses on producers pushing single-use products and on groups fighting them.


The DisneyNature unit creates stunning films, which work well in movie theaters. Two gems will be on the Disney Channel – Monkey Kingdom (2015) at 3:50 p.m. ET and 6:35 p.m. ET and Penguins (2019) at 5:15 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. ET. Then again, you can see all 13 DisneyNature films on the Disney+ streaming Service; that includes Elephant (narrated by Meghan Markle), which was supposed to be debuting now in theaters.

Lately, cable channels have made ambitious miniseries, with spectacular sights and sounds. Planet Earth II is an exceptional example of that and airs from 3-9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Other Earth Day TV Worth Watching

Born Wild: The Next Generation, 8 p.m. ET, National Geographic and NatGeo Wild and Disney. The show mixes live and taped elements, leaping between continents to show baby animals. Robin Roberts hosts the program, and her network, ABC, will run it at 8 p.m ET. Saturday.

H20: The Molecule That Made Us (9 p.m. ET, PBS, check local listings) takes a long view – 4.3 billion years long – of water on Earth. The discussions by scientists are accompanied by some truly stunning photography.

Two Discovery Channel shows will talk with celebrities and others about environmental efforts. At 8 p.m. ET, Josh Gates Tonight will have virtual interviews with, among others, Joel McHale and the Property Brothers; at 10:01 p.m. ET, Zac Efron hosts The Great Global Cleanup.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth
, an animated series that has just reached Apple TV+, follows a family on Earth Day. The story is so-so, but there are splendid bits of art and music, plus the soothing voice of Meryl Streep.

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