Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"The 11th Hour" Could Have Been So Much More

Last week I saw a preview of Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary “The 11th Hour.” It will go into wide release on August 17. The film’s website is http://wip.warnerbros.com/11thhour/

The message of this film is the same as “An Inconvenient Truth” – mankind is screwing up the planet and we’re just about out of time to do anything about it. However, the target audience and film’s style could hardly be more different.

DiCaprio (the narrator) and the film’s directors (Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners) are targeting 20-something and 30-something audiences. There are virtually no charts or graphs, but hundreds of quickly cut images of environmental devastation interspersed with a dizzying array of talking heads. Some are world famous, like Stephen Hawking or Mikhail Gorbachev, and most are obscure. The first 60 minutes are all about the magnitude of the challenge and the breadth of environmental degradation. In addition to focusing on global warming, the film also talks about overfishing and ecosystem collapse as well as desertification caused by destruction of rain forests.

In the final 30 minutes the film turns its focus to hope and action. Solar and wind energy are prominently mentioned, as is tidal energy. The film tiptoes around nuclear energy and does not mention any actions that would reduce or reverse overpopulation. Unlike Gore’s film, there is an explicit focus on consciousness raising and the more spiritual side of the transformative journey that lies ahead. The film advocates shopping locally and consuming less. The concept of frugality is explored.

Missing from the film is any explanation of the personal commitments or lifestyle changes that Leo or any of the other environmental experts have made themselves. The same right wing criticisms that Gore has endured over his home’s electric bill are likely to come flying toward DiCaprio and others associated with this new film. There is also a surprising lack of focus on how Europeans (and others) live well using one-half to one-third as much energy per capita as Americans. You will hear nothing in this film about the success that Nordic countries or Germany have had in converting to renewable energy.

My guess is that this movie will not attract the attention or critical acclaim that “An Inconvenient Truth” did unless Warner Independent puts a ton of marketing money behind it – an unlikely event. If I’m right, the film will be out of most theaters by mid-September and available on video by Christmas.

This film will advance the environmental cause, but it’s not going to be the blockbuster I was hoping for. I encourage you to see it and decide for yourself if it will move people to action who may never have seen, or been unimpressed by, Gore’s film.