[This is a re-post of my Before the Flood review from the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie premieres on National Geographic channel tonight, October 30th, at 9pm ET and is available for free on Natgeotv.com, VOD, iTunes, Facebook, and a number of other outlets until November 6th]
Climate change is happening. That’s a fact. The science is sound, and in July we just had the hottest month ever on record. Sea levels are rising, ice is melting, and dangerous weather patterns are becoming more and more frequent. It’s no coincidence that we’re seeing more news reports of horrible flooding and violent tornadoes at odd times of the year. So yes, climate change is happening and it’s terrifying. But what is there to be done about it? That’s one of the central questions of the documentary Before the Flood, which is directed by Oscar-winning The Cove helmer Fisher Stevens and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio doesn’t simply pop in and out of the documentary at his convenience—he’s in nearly every scene, speaking with some of the world’s top scientists and the individuals that have the power to do something about climate change, from President Obama to Pope Francis.
Before the Flood is very much an educational and advocacy documentary. It’s a cliffs notes version of what’s happening to the world we live in, what’s going to happen to the world we live in, and what we can do to prevent the worst possible outcome. In that respect, it’s kind of like a less boring version of An Inconventient Truth with some high-profile interviews.
The first question you’re probably asking is what the hell is Leonardo DiCaprio doing making a documentary about climate change? That question is addressed at the very beginning of the film, as DiCaprio is appointed U.N. Messenger of Peace and then, through voiceover, wonders if he’s the right man for the job given his lack of science background and pessimistic worldview. This smashes right into a collection of clips from news reports (most from Fox News) lambasting DiCaprio’s involvement in the U.N. and climate change advocacy. Indeed, Before the Flood knows it’s more than a little ridiculous that an award-winning actor is the one leading this climate change documentary, but it also proves that DiCaprio’s heart is in the right place.
It’s immediately clear that the performer is passionate about climate change, and DiCaprio’s “Hollywood actor” status is put to great use as he frequently plays the layman opposite the many experts he interviews in the documentary. DiCaprio serves as a stand-in for those that might not know too much about climate change, asking pointed questions that tee up the various experts to drop copious amounts of knowledge, sometimes shocking, oftentimes troubling.
Before the Flood covers most all of the bases. The influence of corporate money into politics is touched on, and DiCaprio travels the globe to see how other countries like China and India are handling climate change, and getting a first-hand account of the effects of climate change on communities that could very well be a preview of much worse things to come. We see first-hand how Greenland’s melting ice is causing a change in color of its terrain, which in turn no longer reflects the sun but absorbs it, becoming a heat creator instead of reflector. And we see how Miami Beach, Florida is having to literally raise the elevation of its roads to combat rising ocean waters.