This week when the Hamptons International Film Festival comes to town, among the many offerings will be a selection of films under the festival’s new “Air, Land & Sea” category.
A highlight of the category is National Geographic’s “Before the Flood,” which follows actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio as he travels to five continents and the Arctic to gain a deeper, personal understanding of climate change.
The documentary is directed by Fisher Stevens, who won an Academy Award for his 2009 documentary “The Cove,” about the secret slaughter of dolphins in Japan. During the two-and-a-half years he spent making the film, Stevens, a frequent visitor to the East End who rented a home on Shelter Island this past August, saw evidence of climate change firsthand.
For him, this is an issue people can no longer ignore.
“It was important to Leo and I that we get the film out before the election,” explained Stevens by phone from Washington, D.C. on Monday, where he was attending a screening of “Before the Flood” on the South Lawn of the White House. He said that currently there are 38 U.S. senators who are climate deniers and many of them, he adds, accept money from energy interests. “I hope people understand how important the next president is going to be on this issue.”
In September 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio was designated a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the film documents many of the dramatic changes already occurring around the world due to sea level rise. Among the places Stevens and DiCaprio traveled in the course of making the documentary was Indonesia where rainforests are being burned in order to create palm oil farms to satisfy demands by American food manufacturers.
“In Indonesia, the ecosystem is really almost finished — almost the entire forest has been plowed under and the beautiful animal species gone,” Stevens said. “Leo said, ‘We have to clean this up and government has to stop this’— and the government did stop allowing the forest to be cut down.”
Because the film has not yet been officially released (“Before the Flood” opens in a limited number of theaters on October 21 and will air globally in 172 countries on the National Geographic Channel on October 30), Stevens isn’t yet sure what effect its message will have on the general public. But he does feel that DiCaprio’s involvement on the issue has already made a difference.
“Leo is a great messenger for this cause,” said Stevens. “He has a huge audience and a lot of exposure — and that’s why I loved going on this journey with him.”
National Geographic’s “Before the Flood” screens at the Hamptons International Film Festival at noon on Saturday, October 8 at Guild Hall (158 Main Street, East Hampton) and again at noon on Sunday, October 9 at the UA Southampton Theatre (43 Hill Street, Southampton). For tickets and details, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.
Fisher Stevens also encourages people to get involved by visiting voluntarycarbontax.org where they can fill out a questionnaire and pay their personal carbon tax in the form of a donation to reforest parts of the African, Indonesian or Amazonian rainforests.