Leonardo Di Caprio meets US president Barack Obama


SEVERAL years back, Al Gore, a former US vice-president and passionate environmentalist, won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for his book, An Inconvenient Truth, which was turned into an Oscar winning documentary.

He isn’t alone in raising the alarm of the impact of global warming. Even outgoing US president Barack Obama has, during his reign, pushed for global participation in helping to combat the problem. Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio is also known for his tireless efforts. In 2007, he co-produced, co-wrote and narrated The 11th Hour. Even at his acceptance speech for The Revenant at this year’s Oscars, he delivered an impassioned quote on the troubling state of affairs where climate change is concerned.

Now he has teamed up with Fisher Stevens (Early Edition fame), who shares the same objective. And Stevens has been leaving his own footprints with documentaries like the Oscar-winning The Cove. In a phone interview, Stevens addressed his frustrations with the current political climate in the US and how it was hindering their efforts to raise awareness.

More so with Donald Trump saying that global warming doesn’t exist and that it was invented by the Chinese. He says: “Isn’t that sad? I think if he’s elected, I fear for the world in so many ways, not just climate change. He’s so volatile, scary… he’s terrifying to me. In terms of climate change, he is saying that he’s going to dismantle all of the good that Obama has done, including the Paris climate accord. He turned it into this rhetoric that it’s going to kill the economy. Well, actually there’s a lot of great opportunity in the economy for turning things green. Honestly, if Donald Trump is elected president, I may move to South Africa or Sweden. And it’s not only him by the way. All of the people he’s chosen on his cabinet are climate deniers.”

By the way, Stevens’ wife is South African, hence his former comment. Back to Before the Flood and how they decided to raise awareness without preaching. Stevens agrees: “Scientists are not very good communicators, and that’s one of the reasons climate change movies are so boring.

“So our (DiCaprio’s and his) goal was to let Leo be the audience and have them tell Leo. So you see it through his eyes.”

He adds: “The other thing we tried to do is make it very entertaining and fast-paced, make a film that doesn’t linger, doesn’t overwhelm you with fear but makes you scared, and doesn’t give you too much false hope but gives you hope.”

For the documentary they also got feedback from Obama, former US president Bill Clinton, US Secretary of State John Kerry, United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis, as well as a host of leading Nasa researchers, forest conservationists, scientists, community leaders and activists. Fisher adds: “I have to say, it’s because of the power of Leo, it was one of the easiest films to get people in. So that was good. I have a really good staff and research team. We knew we wanted to go to China. We knew we wanted to go to India. We had been reading about these two activists, Sunita Narain and Ma Jun. We actually got Johan Rockström through a guy named David Crane, who is the former chairman of NRG, which is a giant energy company.

“He told Leo about him, and then we read about him. He’s quite an interesting character.”

He is hoping to do “another TV series, or have B roll, or another extension of this film because there’s so many great people we interviewed that never even made the cut”.

So what do viewers get to see?

“For me, as a filmmaker, it’s very important that a movie about the environment is visually stunning – whether it’s stunning in a good way or stunning in the bad way – so you can really understand and almost feel like you’re there. We were very fortunate. We kind of crashed a party in the Arctic. There was a Nat Geo crew already shooting there, and they had access to a Cineflex camera, a beautiful piece of equipment where you hang a camera off the bottom of a helicopter. They were gracious enough to let us use it for a couple days. That’s how we got these amazing shots of the glaciers and the narwhals, and all of that.”

They were also fortunate in that French environmentalist filmmaker Yann Bertrand donated a lot of footage to them. And they got Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the soundtrack. He says, “I sent it to Atticus, who by the way makes a hell of a lot of money scoring David Fincher’s films, and Trent. They said, ‘We love this cause. We love the film’. Then they called Mogwai, this great band out of Scotland, and Gustavo Santaolalla, who’s won two Academy Awards as a composer. The four of them collaborated on what I think is probably one of the greatest scores in the history of documentaries.”

• Before the Flood airs on National Geographic Channel (DStv channel 181) tonight at 10.50pm and will also be available on BoxOffice for the entire week.