April 22 marks the 42nd year since the first Earth Day, and a plethora of eco-themed theatrical releases and TV shows will premiere in the days leading up to the anniversary. Opening April 20, the IMAX documentary "To the Arctic 3D" follows the journey of a polar bear and her cubs in the spectacularly beautiful but harsh, unforgiving and rapidly changing polar landscape, and on the same day, "Chimpanzee," Disneynature's fourth Earth Day documentary, travels to a warmer part of the planet to tell the story of an orphaned chimp and highlight the threat that the disappearing jungle habitat poses to the species. Both films have charitable partners: "Chimpanzee" has teamed up with the Jane Goodall Institute and will donate 20 cents per ticket sold in the opening week (April 20-26) to protect wild chimpanzees, and "To the Arctic" has partnered with One World One Ocean to help conserve the Arctic.
"Revenge of the Electric Car," Chris Paine's decidedly more upbeat sequel to "Who Killed the Electric Car?" documenting the resurgence of plug-in vehicles, premieres on PBS' "Independent Lens" on April 19 at 10 p.m. Also on PBS, "Energy Quest USA" (April 22, 4 p.m.) examines how several communities are approaching power conservation, and "Powering the Planet" takes a look at global energy policies (April 22, 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., repeating April 26 at 9 p.m.). On PBS' "Nature," "River of No Return" follows Isaac and Bjomen Babcock's year long, life-changing survivalist journey through the Idaho wilderness (April 18, 8 p.m.).
Nat Geo Wild's Earth Day special "War Elephants" documents the efforts to rehabilitate pachyderms that still bear the scars of the 1977-1993 civil war in Mozambique that decimated the elephant population and traumatized the survivors (April 22, 8 p.m.) and Discovery's "Frozen Planet" series has been extended by a week to include the original Sir David Attenborough-hosted episode "On Thin Ice," premiering April 22 at 8 p.m., preceded by a marathon of the Attenborough-narrated episodes that aired in the U.K., starting at 2 p.m.
"Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist," starring Cpt. Paul Watson (above left)and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society of "Whale Wars" fame, documents 30 years in the global battle to save cetaceans as seen through the eyes of crewmember Peter Jay Brown. It makes its U.S. debut through SnagFilms on April 22 via video-on-demand and digitally through iTunes, VUDU, Amazon and Xbox Live.
NBC/Universal's fifth annual Earth Week programming initiative incorporates more than 100 hours of original environmental content on air and online across its media properties. "NBC Nightly News" will include reports about environmental issues, including Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent Anne Thompson's report on what is being done to protect the world's coral reefs from overfishing, coastal development and pollution.
Premiering April 17 at 9 p.m. (and repeating April 20 at 8 p.m. and Apr. 22 at 8 and 11 p.m.), "Turbine Cowboys," the first installment in The Weather Channel's "Braving the Elements" anthology series, profiles the perilous lives of wind turbine workers. CNBC will highlight green businesses aspects and present an eco-themed episode of "The Suze Orman Show's" "Can I Afford It?" and on G4, "Attack of the Show" will discuss green tech and "X-Play" will recommend eco-friendly games. "In Plain Sight's" April 20 episode on USA has a solar panel installation story point, while "Access Hollywood" and "Access Hollywood Live" will air segments on green celebrities as will E! Entertainment, via interviews and pieces such as thrift shopping with Mayim Bialik and Ashlan Gorse's electric BMW. For the youngest environmentalists, Sprout will educate preschoolers about conservation in its Sunday morning block on April 22, including the premiere of the new animated series, "Justin Time."
Green is Universal has also launched an app called One Small Act, offering 20 different easy green tips from switching to energy-saving light bulbs, using a reusable coffee mug, and turning off unused lights to carpooling and, as Padma Lakshmi suggests, doing your laundry in cold water. You can view the videos and download the app and make a pledge that will contribute to a virtual garden at greenisuniversal.com.
Photos: Brad Ohlund; The Weather Channel