There was once a time when the global film industry was almost completely dominated by a small group of highly industrialized countries (US, UK, France) with access to high-quality film production studios. Making movies was time consuming and expensive, and only the elites had the means to do so.

Now the scales are beginning to tip, allowing smaller, independent, and international filmmakers to get in on the game. While the Academy Awards only include one category of Best Foreign Language Film, the number of movies that consider global themes and are written, directed, and acted in different languages is growing. This is due to many factors, among them the democratization of technology and the economic rise of countries like India and Brazil. 

Some of today’s best movies are special not just because they take place in countries outside of the US and Europe, but because they consider the interconnectivity of people who were once closed off from one another by borders and oceans. 

Global Citizen has scoured the moviescape for some of the best films for Global Citizens — films that bring us, ultimately, closer to people and cultures that are different than our own, connecting us and inspiring us.   

1. “Lion” 

Takes place in: India / Australia 

Synopsis: An Indian boy is separated from his parents at a young age, and ends up in Australia. Adopted by an Australian couple, the boy, now a young man (played by Dev Patel), embarks on a quest to find his biological family using an unlikely tool: Google Earth. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

Based on a true story, this film shows the potential for new technologies to bring people, once separated by both time and distance, back together. 

2. “Queen of Katwe”

Takes place in: Uganda

Synopsis: A young girl (played by Madina Nalwanga) from a poor community in Uganda is introduced to the game of chess. Preternaturally gifted, she is coached to a championship at the World Chess Olympiads. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

Also based on a true story, Queen of Katwe shows us that a young girl’s future should not be defined by her growing up in poverty, but rather by her talents and drive to succeed. 

3. “Before the Flood”

Takes place in: Multiple locations 

Synopsis: Leonardo DiCaprio, actor extraordinaire and climate change activist, brings us to some of the most remote parts of the planet to illustrate the very real effects of climate change. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

This beautifully shot documentary examines global climate change from multiple lenses, forcing us to confront our complicity in the planet’s warming.  

4. “Salt and Fire”

Takes place in: Bolivia 

Synopsis: Two UN scientists and the CEO of a large, extractive corporation must work together to prevent the eruption of a supervolcano.  

Why for Global Citizens?

Ecological contamination by a large company, a UN investigation, expansive shots of Bolivian salt flats, and an imminent supervolcano — what’s not to love? 

5. “Such Is Life in the Tropics” (“Sin Muertos No Hay Carnaval”)

Takes place in: Ecuador 

Synopsis: In Guayaquil, Ecuador, the rich and the poor live side by side, and land squabbles are common. A wealthy landowner hatches a plan to sell a plot of land that houses a squatter community, which sets off an explosive chain of events. 

Why for Global Citizens?

Much of the inequality and poverty in Latin America stems from an unequal distribution of land that dates back centuries. This film shows the effect this unequal distribution can have on the most vulnerable populations.  

6. “Desert” (“Desierto”)

Takes place in: Mexico

Synopsis: A group of migrants hope to reach the United States but are confronted by a gun-toting vigilante at the border of Texas and Mexico in this controversial political thriller. 

Why for Global Citizens?  

Global Citizens should watch this movie with a cautious lens, as it has received criticism for its oversimplification of both the Latin Americans crossing the US-Mexican border and the Americans guarding it. Still, the themes surrounding the fluidity of borders and the growing antagonism toward immigration are important ones. 

7. “13 Hours” 

Takes place in: Libya, United States 

Synopsis: The US diplomatic compound in Libya is attacked by militants, and chaos ensues. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

The film considers controversial events in Benghazi, Libya, that later turned into a political imbroglio inculpating then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Produced by Michael Bay, this dramatization depicts the event as objectively as possible, shedding light on a defining moment in US foreign policy. 

8. “Sultan” 

Takes place in: India 

Synopsis: Not your typical sports drama, this fictional narrative tells the story of two Indian wrestlers who fall in love, suffer a dramatic loss, and *ahem* wrestle with consequences of their decisions. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

The role of gender norms in Indian society is questioned heartily in this film, as the reckless decision-making by the main character, a male (played by Salman Khan), sets off a chain of events that his wife, Aarfa, has no control over. Together, they must face the consequences of his decision.  

9. “The Flower of Aleppo”

Takes place in: Tunisia 

Synopsis: A mother finds out her son, who suffers from social anxiety and struggles through a strained relationship with his father, is being recruited by ISIS. In order to save him, she will go to any odds, including pretending to join the Islamic State itself. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

The rise of the Islamic State sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East, and has turned into a full-blown humanitarian crisis in Syria. This film examines the individual and personal factors that can lead to the growth of hateful and violent ideologies on a larger scale. 

10. “Fire at Sea” 

Takes place in: Italy 

Synopsis: 400,000 migrants have landed on the shores of Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Italy. This documentary chronicles the spectacular journey these individuals must undertake and the effect their arrival has had on the island’s residents.

Why for Global Citizens? 

For most, it can be hard to really ‘see’ the migrant crisis. Largely invisible to Western eyes, these migrants come from diverse backgrounds and have layered histories. This comes through beautifully in Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary, which portrays both tattered migrants and tired locals with a humanizing touch. 

11. “Call Me Thief” 

Takes place in: South Africa 

Synopsis: A South African man is convicted for a petty crime and must spend time in the Pollsmoor prison. A gifted storyteller, he enthralls prisoners with his spoken narratives.  

Why for Global Citizens? 

This film illustrates the social pressures exerted on young South Africans by the apartheid system. It shows that traumatic childhood experiences involving violence can have a profound, lifelong impact. 

12. “Clash” 

Takes place in: Egypt 

Synopsis: Shot exclusively from within the confines of a police van during the Arab Spring, during summer of 2013, this film brings together a diverse group of people who were picked up by the police during the chaos in the streets. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

The Arab Spring shocked the world, but many of the promises of the sweeping revolutions have not come to fruition. Many innocent people, as well as some guilty ones, were imprisoned simply for voicing their desire for change. 

13. “House of Others” 

Takes place in: Georgia

Synopsis: After the Georgian Civil War, a family is relocated to a remote farm house, where they are forced to reconcile the violence and dislocation they have suffered. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

In many countries throughout Eastern Europe, the years after the Cold War were incredibly violent and tumultuous. The arbitrary borders drawn by colonizing powers led to ethnic tensions that spilled into civil violence. This film brings to light the many psychological challenges unique to post-war societies.

14. “Snowden” 

Takes place in: Multiple locations 

Synopsis: A biopic of one of the most recognizable leakers in recent history, Edward Snowden, this film is a deep dive into both his genius and his shortcomings. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

Modern technologies have given every day people more power vis-a-vis their governments and Snowden is the most extreme manifestation of this. It is important to understand not only powerful secrets can be leaked, but why leakers choose to uncover them. 

15. “Little Secret”

Takes place in: Brazil

Synopsis: Three seemingly disparate stories — a family living on a sailboat and traveling the world, a woman from the Amazon rainforest and her lover from New Zealand, and a British woman living in Brazil — are woven together by one dark secret.

Why for Global Citizens? 

This gripping story shows how small the world can be, and how every little piece of our past can have a momentous impact on the present. 

16. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” 

Takes place in: New Zealand 

Synopsis: In this clash of cultures comedy, a young boy (Ricky) with an attitude problem, is sent to live with straight-laced foster parents. Set in the beautiful forests of New Zealand, the plot takes a turn when the boy and his foster father (Hec) get lost in the bush, and find themselves running from the National Guard. 

Why for Global Citizens? 

Anyone who watches this movie won’t help falling in love with the hilarious, sassy Ricky. Despite his tough guy projections, he turns out to be more misunderstood than misanthropic, and his relationship with Hec gives us hope for the future of human interaction. 


Demand Equity

16 Films for Global Citizens in 2016

By Phineas Rueckert