La Soufriere: Warten auf eine unausweichliche Katastrophe (1977); Werner Herzog, director.

What, you thought you’d make it through this list without hearing Werner Herzog’s weird, breathy Bavarian voice?

The backdrop of this short documentary is the natural cataclysm of a volcanic eruption on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but its true subject are the handful of villagers who remain behind facing certain death. Are they in denial? Suicidal? Just plain stupid? And what of the scientists, excited by their access, but pushing the limits of safety? Lastly, of course, what about the filmmakers themselves?

Winged Migration (2001); Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzad, directors.

More birds! What can I say, I like birds. This film had quite a wingspan when it was released, but since that was ten years ago maybe you’ve missed it. It is amazing. Because migratory birds are amazing.

You can read about their struggles all you want, but to actually see it makes it completely different. The hard work of relentless travel. Winged Migration is a road movie! And a miracle of camerawork and filmmaking effort.

Biosphere (2011); multiple directors.

Let’s say you want to make a nature doc, but you want to go really big – make one on the whole world!

This freely distributed 45 minute piece of hippie gorgeousness very much takes its cues from the Koyaanisqatsi school, but has a Sound Tribe Sector 9-ish soundtrack that sets it apart from many of the other clones of that Godfrey Reggio/Ron Fricke/Philip Glass masterpiece. Ya got a little time? You can watch the whole thing in HD up above.

Extra points: Obviously the Qatsi trilogy is too well known for a “you probably haven’t seen” list, but if you are enamored of that style (and who isn’t?!) another one to check out is Dogora – Ouvrons Les Yeux (2004) from Patrice Leconte, director of The Girl on the Bridge.

The Sound of Insects (2009); Peter Liechti, director.

Well, technically this isn’t a documentary. I don’t really know what this movie is. It is, primarily, nature images and oddball sound design over journal entry voiceovers. The journal is all that is left behind of an unknown man who went out to the woods with the intention of starving himself to death and recording every minute, painful detail. To tell you more would be to spoil it, and I really love this film that, so far as I know, played for six days in New York City and nowhere else in the United States. Track it down if you can.

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