An alternative Christmas – what to watch, listen and read this festive season

News18 December 2019Lucy Bloxham

We’re not saying you have to give up watching The Muppet Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, but now that you have time to put your feet up, here’s a list of humanitarian documentaries, podcasts and books that are worth some time this festive season.

For Sama by Waad al-Kateab. Photo credit:
For Sama by Waad al-Kateab. Photo credit:

At Concern, we are huge advocates of an alternative approach to Christmas. While Christmas films are great, we have created a list of alternative viewing, listening and reading for those of you that are looking for something a bit different. Those shortlisted link to our main areas of work and include films and podcasts on emergencies, climate change, and people seeking refuge – and are easily accessible via streaming platforms like Netflix, BBC player, Amazon Prime, the podcast app or YouTube.

To watch


The eco-documentary 2040 is ‘a gentle antidote to environmental anxiety’ according to The Guardian. Directed by Damon Gameau, it imagines a world 20 years from now, free from the climate crisis. Gameau says he made 2040 for his daughter’s generation. The film continually goes back to warm interviews with children, gently reminding us whose future is at stake.

How to watch it: Available to buy or rent from Google, Apple and Microsoft.


Welcome to Italy: Migrant Tales of Survival

As long as there is war, poverty and insecurity in Africa and the Middle East, those finding themselves caught in up in it will try to seek a better life elsewhere. This has been the case for years now, with people embarking on the dangerous sea crossing to reach what they believe to be better and safer shores in Europe. Italy has been one of the principal destinations. But, when asylum seekers arrive, they don't always find the life they were hoping for.

This film, created by Mohamed Kenawi, is about three young north Africans who survived the hazardous journey to Italy only to find their European dreams in tatters.

How to watch it: Available on YouTube.


Fire at Sea

Taking place at the tragic epicentre of the refugee crisis, Lampedusa, a remote island in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘Fire at Sea’ is a much-deserved Academy Award nominee. Abandoning narration, commentary and interviews, this masterful documentary allows you to engage fully in the cinematic artistry, all the while portraying the horror and pain suffered by so many in search of safety.

How to watch it: Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.


White helmets

White Helmets, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Photo credit:
White Helmets, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. Photo credit:

This 40-minute film follows the daily operations of a group of volunteer rescue workers from the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. These emergency workers risk their lives every day to save innocent civilian victims of airstrikes and bombings across Syria. In 2017, ‘White Helmets’ took home the Oscar for Best Documentary Short and was Netflix’s first Academy Award win.

How to watch it: Available on Netflix.


For Sama

For Sama’ is a journey into the female experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her. Awarded the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, this is not one to miss. 

How to watch it: Available on All 4.


To listen

The High Low: episode ‘An Author Special with anti-FGM Campaigner Nimko Ali on What We’re Told Not To Talk About’

Nimko Ali OBE, an anti-FGM campaigner whose book ‘What We’re Told Not To Talk About (But Are Going To Anyway)’ sees stories from 42 women across 14 countries on emotional and shocking topics including forced marriage, genital mutilation, the menopause and what it’s like to get your period when you’re homeless.

How to listen: Available on the podcast app.


‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ with Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd

A podcast about ideas. Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Sony Award-winning radio host Geoff Lloyd talk to smart thinkers from around the world, uncovering the people, movements and ideas solving the biggest challenges facing society.

How to listen: Available on the podcast app.


To read

No one is too small to make a difference

Greta Thunberg, 'No one too small to make a difference'. Photo credit:
Greta Thunberg, 'No one too small to make a difference'. Photo credit:

‘No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference’ is a book by climate activist Greta Thunberg. It was published on 30 May 2019. It consists of a collection of eleven speeches that she has written and presented about global warming and climate change.


Letters to the Earth: Writing to a Planet in Crisis

Earlier this year, Culture Declares Emergency invited people from all around the world to find the words to describe their feelings towards the climate crisis. The response: over 1000 people wrote letters of love, loss, hope and action. Described as ‘the largest creative response to the climate and ecological emergency the world has yet seen’, this selection of letters, from celebrities and the public, is inspiring, provocative and provides a snapshot of global outrage towards the climate emergency we find ourselves in.


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