After winning an Academy Award for his role in the Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio decided to take the year off from acting, and instead dabble in documentary filmmaking in order to share his thoughts on climate change; a subject that he has spent the better part of two decades researching. I will be the first to admit that when I first heard about DiCaprio making a documentary on climate change I was skeptical as to whether or not it would provide any substance, or if it would just be a self-indulgent passion project. Over the course of the last year, those within the science community begun to praise the project and last month I got to determine for myself what this documentary would be. Considering I was the first to question the integrity of the documentary, I will also be the first to say that I was wrong in my callous judgment of the project. While initially I hypothesized DiCaprio’s Before the Flood would just add more white noise to the subject, it is quite apparent that DiCaprio’s efforts will greatly impact the climate change discussion in a positive way.
Going into the documentary, the leading concern that I had was that it would simply be Dicaprio urging people to conserve energy without any new information about climate change being expressed. When the documentary opened with DiCaprio talking about a picture he had above his bed as a child, I feared this droning on about his childhood was exactly what the entire documentary would be. Fortunately, after the explanation of the image above his bed, the documentary dives headfirst into the issues our environment is experiencing by analyzing the findings of science’s leading figures. In a globetrotting extravaganza, DiCaprio leads the audience around the world from the polar caps, to the amazon rain forest, to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. All the while during this journey, DiCaprio takes a backseat to the information being presented instead of trying to be the highlight of the documentary. By doing so, he allows the scientists to speak their thoughts and only speaks to clarify or comment on the information that is being presented. In essence, while DiCaprio himself is the narrator of the documentary, he serves more as an intermediary between the audience and experts helping clarify information instead of trying to spout his own ideas.
The pairing of DiCaprio’s willingness to step aside and let the information be the highlight of the documentary with the access his fame gets him means the amount of information the documentary is able to cover is substantial. When people initially think about climate change they think about how the Earth is heating up and causing the glaciers to melt, while this is a pivotal effect of climate change, it is only the tip of the iceberg. As previously mentioned, the documentary traverses different regions throughout the world to show how the warming up of the planet damages these regions. Typically these effects are often skipped over because of how difficult presenting the information about them can be due to their technicality, however this is where the documentary starts to elevate itself above the competition. Instead of getting bogged down in the specifics surrounding each region, the details are kept to a digestible minimum that allows the documentary to spend ten to fifteen minutes on each region before jumping to another. In doing so, the overall scope of climate change is fully understood by the audiences, while at the same time they are not confused or bored with the deep facts surrounding the situation. This method of explanation basically turns the documentary into an entry-level film about climate change and why the issues that it is causing need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Initially my hopes going into the documentary where low as I did not really see how a Leonardo DiCpario lead documentary on Climate Change would impact many viewers, yet after giving the film a fair chance it is now apparent that Before the Flood is poised to be one of the largest documentaries of the year. The attitude that DiCaprio takes towards the subject by choosing to take a back seat to the information being presented is quite commendable and endearing as his reactions to what he sees mirrors much of the audience’s sitting at home. While most climate change documentaries are unable to capture the breadth of the subject, Before the Flood does so perfectly without expending the audience’s attention. With everything taken into consideration, Before the Flood receives 4 out of 5 Reels from Celluloid Cinema.
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