Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood collaborator
Fisher Stevens preps for battle with a climate change-denying President.
When I got a phone call from Leonardo DiCaprio asking me if I would collaborate with him on a climate-change documentary, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. Trepidation because I was currently editing my third film dealing with climate change and was getting more and more depressed. The subject was so vast and so difficult to interest people in. But I was excited because here was an opportunity to work with one of the biggest stars in the world on a topic he was passionate about, and also, he had agreed to appear in the lm. If Leo couldn’t get people to pay attention to man’s effect on the climate, then no one could. We had agreed that the film would cover a broad spectrum of issues relating to climate change to give the viewer a general understanding of the problems, as well as the possible solutions. We wanted to make a film for young people and those who did not ordinarily think about climate change. We weren’t necessarily going to convert climate deniers, and neither were we aiming to make a film for the converted. We wanted to inspire people to take action and wake up to the fact that we cannot sustain this lifestyle without paying for it in many dangerous ways in the future.
So we began what would be an almost three-year journey. Some of the shoots were pretty hairy. While filming in Indonesia, the smoke from the burning forests was so thick that there was no visibility for our helicopter pilot and there was that, “Oh my God, if there is one, please get us out of this,” moment. I caught malaria while filming in the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador, and then we didn’t even end up using any of the footage. While making the film, we started to get more and more down at the situation, but would always try to find a silver lining in the fabric of what we were weaving. By the film’s end, Leo, who’d started out even more sceptical than me (we had originally wanted to call the film Are We Fucked) had turned a corner and we felt hopeful. The price of solar was getting as low as fossil fuels, coal was slowly being phased out, the Paris agreement was ratified, President Obama was declaring national parks and marine reserves at a rate never seen before in the history of any other President. Even the climate deniers seemed to be drifting off into the distance.
A key component to the release of Before the Flood was that it had to get out before the American election on 8 November 2016. We stressed the importance of voting for leaders who believed in the science of climate change. Not just for the Presidency but for the other Houses of Congress as well. We even called out some of the candidates to prove that they were basically on the payroll of some of the big oil and coal companies, which is why they were climate deniers. National Geographic generously decided not only to air it on their network but also to give it away for free for the 11 days running up to the election. By the time of the election the film had over 60 million unique views worldwide, an unheard of number for a documentary that had only played for less than two weeks.
I can only wish another 60 million had seen it, because the outcome could not have been worse for our poor planet. Not only is President Trump proving a climate change denier, many in the House and Senate who share that view got re-elected.
Needless to say our original title for the film may now be more apt. But we’ll never give up. Leo got our film in the hands of ‘First Daughter’ Ivanka Trump. She was so moved by the film and seemingly concerned about climate change that she got the film to her father and set up a meeting with him and Leo. Unfortunately, soon after their meeting, Trump chose Scott Pruitt to lead our Environmental Protection Agency. This is the agency in charge of not allowing fossil fuels or any industry to pollute at will. To keep our drinking water safe and chemicals out of our rivers and lakes. And yet, Pruitt is currently suing that very same agency to say they were putting unfair quotas on the amount of carbon that was allowed to go in the air, and that the EPA is unfairly regulating the amount of mercury in our water. He has a number of lawsuits pending. This is a man who knows nothing about the environment and whose campaign for Attorney General in Oklahoma was funded by the oil and gas industry.
Even though darkness has descended upon the environmental movement, it will just make us stronger. I am still proud that Leo and I made Before the Flood and that it is out there in the universe. I have young children and see it as my obligation as a filmmaker to continue the fight. Even if right now I feel like I have two black eyes and a broken nose, my colleagues and I will continue. We have just completed a short film to show the US what a villain Scott Pruitt is to the Earth and to the safety of our children’s health. It’s called Why Scott Pruitt is a Dangerous Nominee for Head of the EPA. We have released it for free using social media and are working with green organisations to get the film out. We can’t stop now. Filmmaking is our voice and it’s what we need to use. Believe you me, I would much rather be directing a comedy starring Jonah Hill and Will Ferrell.
Photo credits: Before the Flood, 2016. Courtesy of RatPac Documentary Films. Fisher Stevens, New York, 2015 © Rankin