7 Can’t-Miss Films of 2012

Many of this year’s most talked-about films focus on issues of animal welfare, personal health, and environmental awareness.

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With awards shows and film festivals heavily dotting spring calendars, ‘tis the season to get a sneak peek at the year’s newest movies, from art-house to IMAX. This year offers a variety of documentaries and narratives that touch on issues pertinent to veganism, such as the sentience of animals, the complexity of our food system, and the power of a plant-based diet. Here are seven movies worth a second look—and maybe even the price of a bucket of popcorn.

This intriguing conceptual art film by Denis Côté fixates on the complex interplay between captive animals and observers, with a focus on visual confrontation via eye contact. Named for medieval illustrated volumes of exotic beasts, the film is both voyeuristic and cerebral, observing fragmented scenes of majestic lions confined within humbling cages, a rhino being washed by a zookeeper, and cows staring meditatively at the camera from their crowded bovine community. The film’s intent remains somewhat ambiguous, but in the words of The Hollywood Reporter, “Côté ostensibly remains outside the debate about whether commercial animal parks are educational facilities or inhumane prisons. But Bestiaire deftly forces us to consider our fascination with other creatures and the cost to them of being placed for our scrutiny in artificial environments.”

Not for the faint of heart, this Oscar-nominated Belgian drama follows an aggressive, steroid-inflated cattle farmer as he makes a black-market deal with a Mafioso meat trader for illegal growth hormones, some of which he takes himself. Part-character study, part-crime film, Bullhead is more of a thriller than an anti-meat film, but it nonetheless shines a light on—and raises questions about—the bad business of beef.

Cages of Shame
The recipient of the Humane Society of the United States ACE Documentary Film Grant, Cages of Shame is a powerful look into China’s cruel bear-bile farms and a tale of the rescue of 10 of their captives. Tragic but inspiring, the film follows animal activist Jill Robinson and her team as they do whatever it takes to liberate moon bears from a farm where they have lived devastatingly miserable lives in deplorable conditions, all in the name of collecting their bile for supposedly medicinal uses. Shedding light on a lesser-known but horrific industry, this documentary could have the power to raise awareness and abolish the practice of bear-bile farming forever.

Three years in the making, Disney’s hyped nature documentary Chimpanzee arrives this spring—on Earth Day, to be exact. Following super-cute baby chimpanzee Oscar as he is orphaned in the African jungle and subsequently adopted by another female chimp who takes him under her figurative wing. In gorgeous high-definition and with an approach that is curious and empathetic, Chimpanzee is an exciting foray into an intimate primate society where few have tread before. Even better, Disneynature will make a 20-cent donation for each ticket sold opening week to the Jane Goodall Institute, which works to conserve chimpanzee and ape populations.

Heal Your Self
In the vein of Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Heal Your Self is an exploration of the impact of diet, stress, environmental toxins, and attitudes on personal health, attributing many elements of America’s health crisis on variables that are within our own control. Encouraging a take-charge attitude toward one’s own well-being, first-time filmmaker Norm Hacker consults a range of advocates from medical experts to cancer survivors to develop an all-encompassing outlook on how taking responsibility and adopting lifestyle changes can make all the difference in achieving optimum health and happiness.

In Organic We Trust
This compelling documentary explores the ways that the American food system has been broken by big-ag, with smaller-scale, local farms—and human health—left with very real, very negative consequences. Pesticides, additives, and processed foods are killing us softly, but all hope is not lost, as the move toward sustainable farming, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agriculture is growing in strength and numbers. The film also explores the term “organic” and what it truly means in a system as complex as America’s. Powerful and smart, In Organic We Trust is here to explore the issues surrounding the ways that we grow, move, and buy our food.

Minds In the Water
Vegan professional surfer David Rastovich is way more than just a beach bum—this dedicated activist traveled the world for five years to support the conservation of dolphins and whales, the very marine beasts with whom he shares the waves. This athlete’s love for creatures great and small takes him everywhere from Australia to Japan to California, all in the name of ending the habitat destruction and slaughter of the ocean’s gentle giants. Rastovich’s organization Surfers for Cetaceans aims to celebrate and protect the interspecies bond between humans, dolphins, and whales, and Minds In the Water offers an in-depth glimpse of the depth and importance of this relationship.

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