Last night, I attended a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s acclaimed documentary with National Geographic.

After spending a lot of this winter’s nights in watching Netflix’s latest dystopian releases portraying new worlds of toxic political environments (3%, Pedro Aguilera) and the potential (dangers and benefits) of technology (Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker), as well as scenes of rolling, infertile estates, home to the “undead” (Glitch, Emma Freeman), I was shaken by the realisation that this factual documentary didn’t seem all that different. Immediately, it was obvious to me that our changing planet is already, quickly reaching a setting apt for a dystopia.

Before The Food is directed by Fisher Stevens, Academy Award winner for The Cove (2009) and presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, who traces his commitment to climate change back to an encounter with former Vice-President Al Gore in the actor’s early 20s. We spend time with DiCaprio as he travels the world, meeting experts and individuals who are experiencing the changes our planet is facing first-hand. The documentary questions how we got into this mess and the answers seem to be straight-forward: mankind’s greed and the over-consumption of corporate giants (as they perpetuate a long-standing spread of misinformation through political propaganda). Throughout the documentary we are presented with recurring scenes of tall chimneys emitting ominous gases onto barren and ravaged landscapes, an image synonymous with Al Gore’s own 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Politics obviously takes centre stage for this film, particularly when placed in the context of its release: almost immediately preceding the November 2016 US election. The results of this election itself, will give the importance of this film a deeper magnitude, as the audience of today will watch the feature in light of the new President-elect’s controversial position on climate change, and the troubling consequences that it may bring.

The documentary sees Leo and his band of scientists take on a journey to expose the realities of climate change and to assess how much longer we have left to correct the disintegration of our fragile planet and its atmosphere. The team use a plethora of scientific figures to convince the factually-minded, as well as the use of works of art and scenes of breath-taking, fast-changing landscapes for those of us who are more “sentimental” (in the words of Barack Obama, one of DiCaprio’s interviewees). At points throughout, there are recurring examples of a sort-of in-between, a visual meeting of science and art, through scenes like the one depicted below, in which something similar to Van Gogh’s starry night is recreated for us on screen in the form of a NASA’s global mapping of the changing ocean surface temperate as measured from space.

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The production of the film makes compelling viewing, and a challenge to any viewer who may have previously felt apathetic about the changing world in which we find ourselves.

However, it must be said, that Before The Flood, does not tackle much in the way of new ground, and completely avoids the discussion of any revisionist arguments for nuclear alternatives, a glaring omission in the light of a particularly important and illuminating scene in which DiCaprio meets with Dr. Sunita Narain, an Indian environmentalist and Director of the Centre for Science and Environment. The two discuss the current challenge faced by developing nations, such as India, who are aiming to increase the standard of living for their fast-rising populations, what seems like a near-impossible task without the aid of fossil fuels.

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Furthermore, despite its protestations that the film has “offset” its own carbon footprint with a “voluntary carbon tax”, there is something unpalatable about watching an A-lister fly around the world in a series of newsboy caps, preaching about the dangers and causes of climate change to those who are probably already committed to and aware of the issue (as demonstrated to me by the roomful of EcoSoc and VeganSoc viewers with whom I shared the screening at King’s College London yesterday). In the aftermath of the “post-truth” society of Brexit and Trump, it saddens me to think that this well-meant documentary may simply be swallowed up into the “political echo-chambers” of our social media platforms, as we congratulate each-other for our liberal and progressive views from within our own bubbles, while our politicians continue to preach hate and destruction and to make decisions which could seriously harm any progress we may have already made. There’s a strong and depressing probability that this blog post, too, will fulfil this same dysfunction.

But what are we supposed to do?

If this were a movie we could write the end of this script, and we could figure a way out of this mess. But real life doesn’t work like that, and we can’t pretend that we know how this is going to end. The only thing that we can do is control what we do next;

how we live our lives,

what we consume,

how we get involved,

and how we use our vote to tell our leaders that we know the truth about climate change.

– Leonardo DiCaprio, Before The Flood.

Watch the trailer:

Imogen Reid
Wednesday 7 December 2016