A recent spate of environmental documentaries has focused more on specific issues than the larger problem of what’s causing them. Fisher Stevens’ frustrating but frequently compelling Before the Flood takes a more expansive view by offering a harrowing lesson in climate change 101.
The camera follows Leonardo DiCaprio, one of Hollywood’s most vocal climate-change activists, to the White House, the Vatican and the most devastating areas of developing nations to illustrate how and why we got into this mess — and to ask, what, if anything, we can do to get out of it.
The hopefulness of the answers he receives depends on who he talks to. According to Dr. Michael E. Mann, one of the United States’ first scientists to speak publicly about the danger of climate change, the future is bleak: The federal government is too deep in the pockets of Big Oil to take action. Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, sees things differently: If he builds 100 of his solar-panel factories, the world will be saved. DiCaprio grows wide-eyed and giddy at the thought, choosing not to press Musk on how he will accomplish this feat or what will happen if the inventor can’t profit from it.
In its failure to capture persons of influence offering straightforward solutions, the film plays more like an exploration of DiCaprio’s rolodex than of climate change. It’s far more convincing — and enraging — when focused on the lives of real people. In these heartbreaking moments, Before the Flood grows more aggressive in its imagery and argumentation, becoming the climate-change documentary Americans need to see.
Before the Flood
Directed by Fisher Stevens
Opens October 21, Village East
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 20, 2016