Leonardo DiCaprio comes to Toronto with an urgent warning about the climate crisis


One of the biggest stars on the planet turned up at the Toronto International Film Festival yesterday, and the planet was the reason behind his visit. Leonardo DiCaprio was here for the world premiere of Before the Flood, the documentary he made with director-actor Fisher Stevens (and completed less than 48 hours earlier, Stevens said). Both DiCaprio and Stevens have made ecology-minded films before; TIFF doc programmer Thom Powers said some people told him this latest warning about climate change would be preaching to the choir—but he retorted that DiCaprio has an awfully big choir. (Indeed, while waiting on the long line snaking beyond the Princess of Wales Theatre, you could hear Toronto fans screaming for the Oscar winner two blocks away.)

There have been many climate-change docs in recent years—most notably Charles Ferguson’s excellent and comprehensive Time to Choose—and Before the Flood doesn’t cover much new ground for anyone familiar with the particulars of our planet’s dire crisis. But the approach here is a personal one, essentially a portrait of DiCaprio himself and his longtime passion for the subject. Named a “UN Messenger of Peace” tasked with communicating the climate emergency in 2014, DiCaprio worried that they “may have picked the wrong guy,” so pessimistic was he about the world’s response. So he and Stevens embarked on this project, traveling the globe to examine flashpoints of climate upheaval like the Arctic Circle, the forests of Sumatra and frequently flooded Miami, Florida. But the film comes most alive when he meets with a great interview subject: an articulate President Obama; Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain, who scolds America for the example it’s setting; and astronaut and scientist Piers Sellers, who offers vivid illustrations of the Earth’s roiling weather systems but remains optimistic that we can collectively conquer this challenge.

The film pulls no punches in condemning climate-change deniers like Oklahoma senator James Inhofe (who is shockingly the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee), Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and, yes, Donald Trump. Onstage, DiCaprio declared, “We cannot afford to have leaders in office who don’t believe in climate science.” The consequence, he warned, is “a tumultuous, terrifying future.” (And for those who take note of DiCaprio’s own high-flying lifestyle, he sheepishly admits in the film that “my footprint is probably a lot bigger than most people’s”; the production itself made charitable contributions to offset its own globetrotting footprint.)

DiCaprio and Stevens rushed completion of the project to get it out in the world before the U.S. Election Day. Distributed by National Geographic, it opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 21, and will be broadcast in 171 countries on Oct. 30.