Last weekend, the first weekend of Earth Month, the incendiary ecoterrorism thriller “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” debuted in theaters after premiering at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Adapted from the book by Andreas Malm, the film, directed by Daniel Goldhaber, is a swift, pulse-pounding thriller about a group of young people who convene in the Texas desert to build and detonate two homemade bombs with the intent of crippling the local oil industry. It is an act of industrial sabotage that they declare is an act self-defense against the fossil-fuel industry that is polluting the air, heating the planet and accelerating climate change.
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is a thrilling piece of entertainment and a nakedly political film — what’s so exciting about it is that the filmmakers, including the talented young cast and the co-writer Jordan Sjol and co-writer/star/producer Ariela Barer actually manage to pull it off, the film that is, adapting a nonfiction book to a narrative that’s incredibly urgent, absorbing and nuanced.
The flashbacks that illustrate how each person ended up on this mission are concise but thorough, a necessary element for a story about ecoterrorism. How can someone who loves the planet be driven to criminal property destruction? It’s a quandary that’s been explored all too infrequently in the media. However, there are some other fascinating films about extreme environmental activists and “ecoterrorists” if “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” piques your interest in other stories of this nature, which are far edgier than your standard Earth Day environmentalism fare.
The logical next film to watch would be Kelly Reichardt’s 2014 drama “Night Moves,” starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Johnson and Peter Sarsgaard as a trio of radical environmentalists who plot to blow up a dam in Oregon. Filmed with Reichardt’s signature patient yet prickly style, the film seems inspired by the Earth Liberation Front, who operated in Oregon in the 1990s. Stream “Night Moves” on Peacock, The Roku Channel, Amazon Freevee or rent it elsewhere.
For more information on the Earth Liberation Front, listen to the BBC podcast “Burn Wild,” or check out the 2011 documentary “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” directed by Marshall Curry. The film closely follows the journey of one member from protest to prison, while also telling the story of the ELF and the various direct actions and arsons they committed in the ‘90s, in protest of the timber industry, as well as various animal cruelty issues. Stream “If a Tree Falls” on Tubi, Kanopy, or rent it elsewhere.
The excellent 2019 documentary “Watson” is a stirring portrait of environmental activist Paul Watson, who founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an anti-poaching and direct action group focusing on marine conservation, specifically targeting illegal whalers. “Watson” is a powerful film, making a clear and concise argument for the importance of our oceanic and marine health as a part of preserving the entire planet, making Watson’s actions seem crucial and absolutely necessary, a small part of protecting our planet. Stream “Watson” on Kanopy or rent it elsewhere.
Other narrative films have examined the personal motivation behind such extreme actions, including Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” (2018), a searing portrait of a priest (Ethan Hawke) driven to existential madness and grief over the state of the planet (stream it on HBO Max), and Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War” (2018), an Icelandic film about a woman who crusades against the aluminum industry in her hometown (stream it on HBO Max).
But there are other ways to fight for the environment besides direct action, and many in the new generation are raising awareness of the dire situation in their own way. Stream “I am Greta” (2020), a documentary portrait about the young environmental activist Greta Thunberg, on Hulu, or watch the searing documentary “The Territory” (2022) about a young indigenous leader in Brazil using technology to protect the Amazon rainforest, streaming on Disney+.