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IN SHORT: We hate to say things like "This is Important." But it is. [Not Rated . 93 minutes]
We don't normally review documentaries. Our readers don't tend to show interest in the things and, other than to act like a film student and criticize a film maker's technique, we really can't do more than suggest the film as something of interest, or turn thumbs down if we don't. This may become more reportage than review. We will report on Fisher Stevens' documentary Before the Flood, and patch in a whole mess of disclaimers when our personal interests and history intersect with what the film makers are doing. Like this:
FIRST DISCLAIMER: In a brief time before we were "Cranky," this writer walked away from a very successful career in radio broadcasting to try acting as a career. It was a really dumb move but in that pursuit, I became acquainted with Fisher Stevens' mother, who taught presentation of and critiqued wannabee actor's audition monologs. There was a huge Al Hirshfeld drawing of a young Stevens on the wall of the acting studio where I took a classes including a seminar thing called The Mastery of Acting. We have probably crossed paths a number of times over the last few decades, but we've not met. So, thirty years back . . .
Leonardo DiCaprio realized there was an energy crisis coming when he was just a young 'un. Al Gore lost a presidential election because he made Global Warming an important part of his presidential campaign and George Bush #2 mocked him for it. What Before the Flood uncovers is that scientists at Bell Labs -- the geek scientific end of the old telephone company fearfully called "Ma Bell" -- predicted the coming crisis in an educational film they produced in 1958. That's long before Mr. DiCaprio was born and about the time that yours Cranky was toddling around in diapers. Said film was probably showed to my Fourth Grade "Science Period" class. Teachers loved the stuff the because they (Miss Santora, in this case) could chill out behind a film projector for half an hour, not having to deal with us little monsters. You get to see part of that film in this one. It doesn't quite portray how all of these "science" films (or film strips) quickly bored the snot out of young punks, so we learned nothing. That was maybe 45 years ago . . .
For those slow on the uptake: Global warming was a scientific concern long before "global warming" became a metaphorical football in the political game of "Yes it's happening" or "I'll believe it when I see it." DiCaprio decided to use what minor clout being a name brand actor brings to team with his friend, the actor and filmmaker Fisher Stevens to create Before the Flood and gently rub our metaphorical noses in it; the places where global warming and humanity's need for electrical power are doing true harm to the planet.
The first half of the film is historically ordered; DiCaprio's narration of his discoveries of different portions of the problem document his post public life and kick into high gear when he goes to make a film called The Revenant, set in the Old West. It is discovered that certain set pieces -- snow on sharp rocks marking the borders of trail -- just don't exist in nature anymore because there isn't enough snow falling on what is left of the old trails. Lack of snow was just the first hint given by Mother Nature that unruly stuff was coming down the pike. That production had to set sail for a different continent to find the white stuff. That was just the beginning.
Take Greenland, for example. That hunk of earth was a giggle in elementary school for it was neither "green" -- since it was all ice -- nor was it "land" -- since it was all ice. At least, that is what our then ten years old mind took away from class. Greenland, as seen in its present day, is losing ice at such a rate that it may just be a blackened landscape in a planetary metaphorical blink of an eye. A scientist from the National Geographic does a visual presentation of just how much ice has been lost in the past couple of years that would make Miss Santora proud. It also made us sit up in our seats. The land under what was once ice is blackened. "Blackened" land absorbs solar radiation and heats up. You figure it out, then watch DiCaprio walk across what was once the Arctic ice cap, which has melted so badly that it may be gone fifty years from now.
He observes Miami Beach, Florida being flooded by a rising Atlantic Ocean. The city spends spends $400 millions to build some kind of pumping facility to get all that water back where it belongs, while the city tries to raise its infrastructure above any coming flood. Florida's Republican governor, apparently, is looking the other way and sees no problem.
Not far from Miami is the home base of our space agency, NASA, which is fairly represented. Scans of the earth, showing the warming trends, are explained to DiCaprio by Astronaut Piers Sellers. Part of his reason for being in the film, other than being an astronaut (the coolest profession on the planet) is to help drive home the point that, while we may not perceive global warming as an immediate threat to us, there is a moment in his talk where (we) realized we have children and grandchildren who may one day ask questions like, "Why didn't you do anything?"
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Cranky's Uncle Izzy worked both at NASA during its glory years of Gemini and Apollo;then in a high placed position at a West Virginia based coal company There are two types of coal. Once burns clean. "Clean coal" is ignored by this film. Izzy could have explained the difference and, now that he is retired far from the mines of West Virginia, he could tell you if that talk about "clean coal" is malarkey or not.
"Malarkey" is a word you young 'uns will have to Google. Then do a search on "carbon footprint," which will give you lots of links to explore what Stevens is trying to present in his film. We breathe in oxygen. We expel carbon dioxide, which the planet uses to feed its plants and trees. Then watch the forests of Sumatra burn up as a corporate backed interests move the government there to replace its natural forests with palm trees. Those trees will produce palm oil, something that is indigenous to a different forest of consumer products we have been buying for years. Sumatra gets a lot of money. The planet misses a breath.
It is here that we stop to point out what should be obvious to anyone older than high school age. Film is not Broadcasting. The filmmakers are under no obligation to present the opposing viewpoints to their particular ideas. DiCaprio's "role" in this film, if you will, is that of Naive Adolescent of The World. He travels from continent to continent to observe what certain members of a particular political party will not do. He asks questions of those in charge or of scientists in remote places making the kind of observations that regular people haven't been paying much attention to.
Have a quick look at Beijing, China, if you can see it through the thick brown air of pollution that has choked the city and pushed the Chinese people to revolt against their government (sic), demanding that something be done.
The effect of "climate change" is already being seen on island nations in the Pacific Ocean and on the subcontinent of India, where millions of residents have no electrical power, and want it. There is just so much heat and cooking fire they can get from burning dried cow dung . . . and The West's love for beef is also addressed, in one of the moments where the film truly succeeds in giving its viewers a simple answer to the question of "What can I do now?" Before The Flood offers a tantalyzing glimpse into a future where wind farms and battery "farms" the size of the Empire state building could provide power. Maybe. Maybe not.
Top and Bottom is the film is the United Nations and its efforts to whip its member nations into some kind of action. As the film points out, the Paris Accords, the result of something called the United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference, don't provide a means of enforcement. In other words, the hundred ninety or so nations that signed the thing aren't actually obligated to do anything. The film points this out, after which DiCaprio is seen chatting with one Barack Obama, president of these United States. DiCaprio never mentions the innate failure of the Accords to provide enforcement, which offers up the question of "Was this interview conducted when the Accords were just in their 'presentation stage' and, if not, why wasn't the question about 'enforcement' asked of the Prez? It is the only failure I can see in the film. And the Pope makes a cameo appearance. Lucky Leo.
When properly divvied up on YouTube for the millenial 'watch on my phone or tablet' generation, Before The Flood may hold their attention for the length of whatever segment they may be watching. To be honest, the film sputters about an hour in, about the time it explains the concept of "carbon footprint." That's an important point. Even if you watch bit by bit on YouTube, see that segment. All in all Yours Cranky watched the entire film in one sitting. We ask that you try, too.
FINAL DISCLAIMER: If you were lucky enough to see the No Nukes concert movie in the early 1980s. in its credits you'll see a picture of the 500,000 strong crowd at the Battery Park City and a Thank You to DIR Broadcasting, who broadcast the concert event from that gathering. You'll a lot of names for DIR staff -- I was the production engineer for a King Biscuit Flower Hour radio program syndicated from the live broadcast -- but not mine. I left DIR for NBC between the broadcast and the film's release, and the VP at that latter company was a putz.
You'll never see the No Nukes concert film on DVD. It is probably a problem with music rights. I wonder if the successful drive to stop nukes all those years ago just got in the way of research into developing a nuclear Fusion reactor; the so-called "clean" nuke. But, as I reach the end of middle age, I also wonder if there is anything "clean' about anything powered by coal or nukes.
Well . . . more reportage than review. I can live with that. I will point out that when Hurrican Sandy bore down on New York City, the possibility existed that half of Manhattan Island could have flooded. Staten Island was pretty close to destroyed by that storm. If you think the planet is not fighting back, you're just wrong.
I'll be gone before any apocalypse, like the Hieronymous Bosch painting seen in this film, occurs. Maybe you too. But not your kids or grandkids. Take the time to find this film. Take the time to watch it.
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