A selection of inspirational nature and outdoor documentaries

Boban Docevski

Of course, there is nothing better than experiencing the outdoors in person, but sometimes a good documentary can give us similar satisfaction, or at least inspire us to show some initiative and do something in the outdoors.

Besides being informational, educational, or amusing; some documentaries are also meditative, and some incorporate all of these attributes. All good documentary movies about nature and the outdoors have a few things in common. They always nurture our feeling of adventure and show us the true magnitude of the world we live in.

I’m sure that there are many excellent movies that aren’t mentioned in this short list, but here are some movies that always manage to make my heart beat faster, motivate me to go out and explore, and put an occasional tear or a smile on my face at the end of the day.


Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)

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This documentary directed by the renowned German director Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov describes life in a small Siberian village called Bakhta, situated along the Yenisei River in the taiga. Life here hasn’t changed much in the last century. The movie follows the daily routines of the people from the village, some of whom are professional trappers.

The documentary shows us how the taiga landscape changes over the year and every season is magical in its own way. Springtime here is epic; the frozen Yenisei River begins to melt, taking huge pieces of ice towards the Arctic Ocean. The sight is breathtaking it looks like the whole landscape is moving away. Besides the beautiful photography, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga,” offers the viewer a personal glimpse into the simple and harsh life of the Siberian men through the perspective of the main protagonist, Gennady – a trapper from the village.

Gennady shows us how hard some people need to work in order to provide for their families, being separated from his wife and children for weeks, out in the cold and freezing forests during the hunting season in winter. He also shows us how important it is for people to help each other, especially in tough environments like the taiga. No one can live by himself, we all need the love and support of our families and friends

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984)

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Another beautiful documentary made by Werner Herzog. In “The Dark Glow of the Mountains,” Herzog takes us on a journey to the Gasherbrum group of peaks in the Karakoram range of the Himalaya.

This mountain range has three of the fourteen 8000-meter peaks (all of which are in Asia). The Gasherbrum peaks are considered as one of the hardest to climb in the world. ‘The Dark Glow of the Mountains” tells the story of the famous mountain climber Reinhold Messner (the first man to climb all fourteen 8000m peaks) and his partner Hans Kammerlander and their expedition to Gasherbrum.


These two experienced mountaineers set an ambitious goal for themselves: to climb Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I all in one trip without returning to base camp, and to do it without the use of oxygen tanks!

Like many of his movies, Herzog doesn’t just follow people around with the camera showing us what they do, he makes the story personal. Here, we don’t see much of the climb itself, but we hear a lot about the inner motivation of the climbers, about their past experiences, and their life tragedies.

Simply said, these two people are climbing two of the highest peaks in the world while, at the same time, they climb the “huge altitude of their inner selves.” In a way, it deals with the psychological difficulty of mountain climbing, and It’s an interesting watch for mountain lovers.

mountain climbing, and It’s an interesting watch for mountain lovers.

Animals are beautiful people (1974)

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This Joyful movie doesn’t have any human protagonists; its main characters are the animals of Namib Desert, the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango River and Okavango Delta. The movie is made by South African director Jamie Uys, who is most famous for his movie called The Gods Must Be Crazy.

“Animals are beautiful people” portrays the animals and their everyday doings as if they were human. The movie shows us the interaction between animals in a humorous way. It even includes a scene in which a group of animals got drunk from eating fermented fruits.

The documentary is divided into three parts: It begins in the Namib desert, then it moves to the Okavango River and Okavango Delta, and it finishes in the Kalahari desert. The idea of the movie, besides everything else, is to prove that life can function even in the harshest environments.


Kon-tiki (1950)

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Kon-Tiki was the name of the raft used by the famous Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl during his expedition from South America to Polynesia. Thor wanted to prove that people from South America sailed to Polynesia in pre-Colombian times and settled there. He wanted to show that this kind of journey was possible at that time, with the technology and material that were available to those people.

Thor constructed his raft using only primitive technologies and materials available in South America. The expedition started off the coast of Peru on April 28, 1947, and reached Polynesia after 101 days. This black and white documentary, written directed by Thor Heyerdahl himself, describes the journey and its full of original footage from the raft.

Human Planet (2012)

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Human Planet is an 8-part BBC documentary about the human species and our dependency of the natural world. This astonishing series shows us some amazing ways of adaptations that people have made to live in different environments across the Earth; from hot to cold, on land and water, and from lowlands to highlands; humans have managed to adapt to anything. Every Human planet starts with a narration read by John Hurt:

“Only one creature has carved a life for itself in every habitat on Earth. That creature is us. All over the world we still use our ingenuity to survive in the wild places far from the city lights – face to face with raw nature. This is the Human Planet.”

The series consists of eight 50-minute episodes. Each episode covers a different human habitat and a different Earth environment: Oceans, Deserts, Arctic, Jungles, Mountains, Grasslands, Rivers, and Cities. Those who haven’t watch them should definitely take a look at this beautiful depiction of our relationship with nature.

Baraka (1992)

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Baraka is not your typical documentary in which a narrator guides you through the subject in question. Baraka is a purely visual experience made to relax you and bring you into a meditative state with the help of the glorious landscapes and environmental sounds.

Made by the American cinematographer Ron Fricke who specializes in time-lapse photography, Baraka is a kaleidoscopic exploration of nature, life and human activities shot in 24 different countries.


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boban-docevski is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival