By Leah Greenblatt
April 06, 2020 at 07:42 PM EDT
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Credit: Termite Films; Sony Pictures Classics; National Geographic

You miss birds. You miss trees. You miss a time when big cats did not have to come packaged in a meth-eyed garbage sack of murder and mayhem.

Staying indoors may be the only sane option right now, but there are a handful of newer documentaries out there that can help restore your faith in the relationship between animals and humans. (Or if you're still on the Tiger King tip, please go ahead and lean in.)

Kedi (2017)

Kedi is Turkish for "cat," and Turkey, it turns out, is teeming with them — for centuries, thousands have roamed the winding nooks and crannies of the ancient city of Istanbul. This charming ramble follows just seven of them, including Sari (dubbed the Hustler), Bengu (the Lover), and Duman (the Gentleman). Director Ceyda Torun uses modern technology — infrared GoPro cameras — to capture a cat's-eye view, though the humans who care for these little sunbathers and backstreet scrappers tend to resonate nearly as much as their feline counterparts. Says one freelance philosopher to the camera: "Dogs think people are God, but cats don't. Cats are aware of God's existence. Cats know that people act as middlemen to God's will. They're not ungrateful, they just know better." (99 cents on Amazon; also available for purchase on other streaming platforms)

The Biggest Little Farm (2018)

A thirtysomething L.A. couple — he's a cameraman, she's a private chef — leave their cramped Santa Monica apartment behind to chase what sounds like a city person's pipe dream: a fully functioning Old MacDonald-style farm. And they are in for many rude awakenings, from drought to insect infestations to a coyote problem so severe that Biggest nearly starts to feel like a snuff movie for chickens. But the film is intensely gratifying too, and makes a stirring case not just for considering the food we put into our mouths every day, but for how disconnected many of us have become from the natural world that supplies it — and how we might get back to doing better again. (Free with subscription on Hulu, and for purchase various streaming platforms)

Honeyland (2019)

It sounds like a rejected concept from IFC's Documentary Now!: The Lonesome Beekeepers of Macedonia. And Honeyland's fable-like, deliberately paced structure may not be for everyone (though it did earn many accolades last year, including an Oscar nod). But directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov have built a strange and beautiful film out of a singular woman named Haditze, one of the last standing citizens in her largely abandoned village, and the tiny buzzing flock she keeps. When a rowdy young family moves in next door, the narrative takes a turn; what follows feels like both a keyhole into a vanishing world and a startlingly universal study of animal behavior — whether it come on two, four, or six legs. (Free with subscription on Hulu, and for purchase various streaming platforms)

The Eagle Huntress (2016)

A 13-year-old Mongolian girl named Aisholpan trains to become her country's first competitive female eagle hunter in Otto Bell's galvanizing, heartfelt portrait (narrated, appropriately enough, by Star Wars' own outlying female hero, Daisy Ridley). The seventh generation of eagle wranglers in her nomadic Kazakh family, Aisholpan is tough enough to withstand bracingly harsh weather and terrain, and teen enough to also still pause to paint her nails. For all its girl-powered uplift and bird-to-human bonding, the film also functions as a strikingly gorgeous travelogue, swooping over the ice-capped mountains and grassy plains of some of the planet's last truly unspoiled lands. (Available for purchase on various streaming platforms)

Jane (2017)

It's been nearly 60 years since a shy English rose with almost no formal training followed her passion for animals to become the most recognizable face of primate research and preservation across the globe. Jane is the fascinating story of Jane Goodall's lifelong passion project and the chimps whose wild habits and human-like idiosyncrasies she helped teach the world to care about; but in the hands of director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck), it feels like something much more than mere biography: a movie remarkably rich in both archival footage and insight. (Free with subscription on Disney+ or Hulu, and for purchase various streaming platforms)

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