Before The Flood

Fisher Stevens

USA 2016, 1h 36min.

The best scene for me in Before the Flood is when Indian environmental activist Sunita Narain turns the tables on Leonardo DiCaprio. The American presenter-producer has just shown jolting images of Indians shoveling coal out of open pit mines and described how vast numbers of Indians rely on coal as a source of pollution-causing energy.  “If it was really that easy to move to solar then why hasn’t the US done so?” she asks. To which DiCaprio shrugs and meekly nods.

Unlike DiCaprio, Narain is the real thing. She is an out-there-in-the-field advocate who  is credible and believable because she offers a nuanced, balanced understanding of the dilemmas involved with combating climate change. (see her blog at She also is  not afraid to confront an interviewer, even if he happens to be a world-famous Hollywood actor.

Before the Flood proudly advertises Academy Award winner Dicaprio as its star, but to me DiCaprio is more of a liability than an asset.  He is not credible as an interviewer-journalist-presenter; and the way he exploits his celebrity status to gain access to interviewees  and to draw an audience is a lazy-man’s approach to documentary filmmaking. No matter how personable and handsome DiCaprio may be, he is no substitute for ordinary  people with real life stories to share about how they are  affected by the consequences of climate change or for inspirational stories told by innovative individuals.

What the film does offer is a kind of world tour –through the eyes of DiCaprio who  more often than not is observing  from an airplane above – of a long list of industrial activities causing climate change endangering  the future of the planet. DiCaprio  shows us rainforests and the habitats of orangutans and tigers in Indonesia  being destroyed so that palm tree oil plantations can be created for the production of processed foods, islands in the South Pacific and neighborhoods in Florida at risk of being washed away, the tar sands petroleum extraction project in northern Alberta that is the largest source of Canada’s climate warming pollution, glaciers disappearing in Greenland, and the heavy carbon impact of beef production.

THE BAHAMAS- Leonardo diving with Jeremy Jackson discussing the oceans. For two years, Leonardo DiCaprio has criss-crossed the planet in his role as UN messenger of Peace on Climate Change. This film, executive produced by Brett Ratner and Martin Scorsese, follows that journey to find both the crisis points and the solutions to this existential threat to human species. © 2016 RatPac Documentary Films, LLC and Greenhour Corporation, Inc. All rights reserved.
THE BAHAMAS- Leonardo diving with Jeremy Jackson discussing the oceans.

Along with visuals of the above, all  filmed according to high-quality National Geographic standards  and accompanied by melodramatic Hollywood- style music, are scenes of DiCaprio hobnobbing with world leaders and interviewing  experts such as polar climatologist Jason Box, mathematician Gidon Eshel, and Arctic explorer Enric Sala.

You have now read 3 free articles this month. Log in the top menu if you are a member, or please
click here to be a member (3 euro/month) to read articles and receive the next print magazine.