One of the more prominent environmental documentaries of the last decade, “Before the Flood” introduces many realities facing the conversation of climate change and ecological preservation. Leonardo DiCaprio uses his platform to analyze the true nature of climate change, not only as a future issue that needs to be addressed but as a present reality which has the capacity to permanently shape the world as we genuinely know it. DiCaprio has long been a proponent for integrating a more developed approach to understanding and handling climate change, but in this documentary, his voice is more profound and direct than it has been regarding the issue.
Given the platform that DiCaprio has, this documentary benefits from his name and his interest in the issue, allowing it to reach a larger and necessary audience to help facilitate change. The film utilizes his approach and name well, capitalizing on how passionate he is about the subject to bring the audience’s attention to the claims that he is making about climate change as a whole.
Furthermore, using DiCaprio as an asset to narrate the story is successful because of the film’s focus on discussing the issues and present them as they are occurring, as compared to showing them with cluttered charts or complicated jargon.
In a role that he has hardly been seen in before, DiCaprio steps into the shows of being a scientific journalist, focusing much of his approach in the movie on interviews with prominent members of the climate control world. He discusses many of the global issues with innovators, researchers and the people who are residing in the areas of the world where climate change is already a severe issue and where the effects can be directly seen, even in this day and age. The success of “Before the Flood” is mostly in the way that it addresses the issues. (Bradshaw, 11) The focus of the film is on the current events and disasters and how they are genuinely affecting the world today, as compared to showing charts and information that alludes to the effects. The film illustrates many of the effects in stunning cinematic shots, and as a result, the nature of the threat itself is more powerfully presented.
Much of this type of approach comes from the fact that it’s filmed by Fisher Stevens, an Academy Award winning director and documentarian, responsible for “The Cove.” (Bradshaw, 12) The focus that Stevens and DiCaprio utilize is one that is directly geared towards more modern, younger audiences which is why the film doesn’t directly integrate charts or a high level of statistical information overall. DiCaprio is an integral figure in modern media, one who many individuals and youths of this generate genuinely resonate with due to his high level of involvement with film and other forms of media. He uses this level of stardom that he has and his own interest in the issue directly, by contributing to the actual conversation himself. (Bradshaw, 14) He chooses to directly interview prominent people in the industry and relating to the controversial issue to draw in the audience and use the platform that he has in such a way that the younger audiences across the nation will be drawn in.
According to Deadline, in this regard, the film achieved its intended effect. An approximate 50,000 college students have viewed the screening at universities nationwide and over 1,500 requests have been made and fulfilled from colleges, religious entities and climate-related organizations to conduct screening events. (Gerard, 2) Furthermore, the film has been a trending topic on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube since its release, due largely to the presence of DiCaprio as the central figure in discussing the issue of climate change itself. As a result of these efforts, the film has been featured in various film festivals across the nation, such as the London Film Festival and the Toronto Film Festival. Over 200 universities have screened the movie at colleges and approximately 1,000 churches or religious institutions have also screened the film. (Gerard, 4)
In order to appeal to these younger audiences, the director also chooses to display the intended information and message in a way that is both cinematic and engaging. The shots that are displayed showcase the changes that are present throughout the world, juggling the depictions of the devastation with interviews and footage from prominent leaders in the discussion. These individuals include Barack Obama, as well as Bill Clinton, Pope Francis, John Kerry and various NASA researchers, activists. Again, in this regard, another prominent attribute of DiCaprio’s approach is in his ability to interview and reach out to these important public leaders and members of the debate. Given his celebrity status, DiCaprio is able to reach out and actively engage individuals that the common person or researcher might otherwise be denied. These factors, coupled with the approach that the director utilizes and the cinematic attributes of the film, make it a successful endeavor into illustrating just how powerful of a subject that climate change is in the modern era.
Yet, in many ways, this can also be seen as a detriment to the overall impact that the documentary wishes to have on the opinions of the common man. In some ways, DiCaprio being a celebrity can be seen as a detractor, as it might give people who already do not agree with the effects of climate change the platform to dismiss both his opinions and the documentary itself as a sort of propaganda piece. DiCaprio has even highlighted this in interviews regarding the subject before. As he views it, for those that do not wish to view climate change, his apparent sudden interest in the subject could appear as a sort of fad. Some critics have emphasized the lack of statistical backing throughout the movie to highlight the ways that the issue could be inflated by the director and DiCaprio. (Sagansky, 31) DiCaprio responds to this mentality by providing adamant claims surrounding the actual nature of how detrimental climate change can be overall.
By and large, DiCaprio’s presence on the screen creates a scenario in which he is elevated to the maximum position to discuss the subject with the audience overall. In many ways, it’s in this regard that he is most effective in displaying the information. His calm demeanor and emphasis on the facts regarding the subject. Stevens capitalizes on this in many shots and allows DiCaprio the freedom to navigate the troubled areas that are most heavily affected by the issue, while discussing the conversation earnestly and authentically. (Sagansky, 30) This presence lends itself to the film’s narrative overall and gives DiCaprio arguably more presence in the global discussion at large. Specifically, his way of navigating the interviews with prominent figures in the national landscape is one which exudes confidence and capability. His exposure with these types of individuals throughout the course of his professional career as an actor and an activist gives him the comfort level needed to approach them most efficiently. In particular, the interview with President Barack Obama is extremely effective given the prominence of both individuals and the honesty that they discuss the issue with between each other. (Sagansky, 26) It’s evident that they have similar mentalities on the subject and a conversational tone allows the audience to see the issue without all of the typical political jargon associated with discussing it. With DiCaprio choosing to discuss the issue shortly after receiving his first Oscar, it is even more prominent as his presence is amplified due to this historic moment in his professional life. Overall, allowing this presence is what defines the overall nature of the film itself and the most powerful aspects that are associated with the film. (Sagansky, 28)
“Before the Flood” succeeds in many ways, largely due to the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio as the narrator and principle presenter of the discussion. His ability to navigate the subject and use his own platform to catalyze more serious debate regarding the discussion lends itself tremendously for the movie and the intended effect of helping to change the overall perceptions of climate change in itself. Forest Stevens allows DiCaprio to navigate the issue as he will, focusing on the actual footage of the events that they’re discussing as compared to the statistical information or charts and jargon that could accompany such a production. This film looks at the issues in this way and this comprises the basis for the overall analysis of climate change, by presenting the information in a way that shows the direct effects. This emphasis is one that appeals to the younger audiences, which was the intended effect of the film. By this metric, the success is astounding as various institutions and groups across the world have chosen to focus on the film and DiCaprio’s message. After going viral on YouTube and Facebook, as well as generating over 50,000 views from students at screenings across the world and receiving multiple nods for film festivals, the film continues to stay relevant because of the approach that is utilized and the way that DiCaprio presents the information. Despite this being potentially seen as a setback from detractors, it turns out to work effectively and the movie excels for it.