From Behind the Lens: A few minutes with Fisher Stevens, director of “Before the Flood”

Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio joined forces with National Geographic to create  the powerful documentary “Before the Flood,” their 2016 award-winning film that addresses climate change via interviews with climate change experts and global thought leaders. Their 2 1/2-year journey to reveal the truth about climate change and it’s impact on the earth finds the team traveling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand.

“Before the Flood” premiered in 2016 at the Toronto Film Festival and aired globally on the National Geographic Channel on October 30th in 171 countries and 45 languages. National Geographic aired an encore presentation of “Before the Flood” across all their platforms this June as part of the network’s continued commitment to covering climate change.

In 2017, “Before The Flood” earned double Gold Medals at the April 25th New York Festivals International Television & Film Awards gala at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. The riveting  documentary was in the spotlight taking home a Gold World Medal in Climate Change & Sustainability and also the prestigious United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) Gold Award.

The UNDPI Award is a special award that New York Festivals, in collaboration with the United Nations Department of Public Information, established in 1990 to honor programs that best exemplify the aims and ideals of the United Nations. Today, the UN’s Global Goals are designed to inspire governments and individuals to take action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. And, two years ago, New York Festivals, inspired by the UN’s Global Goals, established a new category for documentaries: Climate Change & Sustainability.

Fisher Stevens, Director of "Before the Flood"

New York Festivals caught up with multi-talented Academy Award winning director Fisher Stevens and asked him to share his thoughts about earning the United Nations Award, how he secured prominent climate change experts to participate in his film, creative and logistical challenges that he faced as the film’s director and much much more.

New York Festivals: Your documentary “Before the Flood” has received many accolades since its premiere. Could you talk about how it feels to be recognized by New York Festivals Grand Jury of international filmmakers with a Gold World Medal and also to receive the United Nations Department of Public Information with the Gold UNDPI Award?

Fisher Stevens: Being recognized by the United Nations is an honor. We were also grateful to have the opportunity to film at the United Nations, and film with peace-keeping units in different parts of the world.

We hope this film continues to bring awareness to the dire situation at hand, and pressure Americans to write their Congressmen and Senators and tell them that the United States made a mistake by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.

New York Festivals: How did you build longstanding relationships with environmental thought leaders and experts who are exploring environmental issues and enlist them to participate in your film? How much of an influence were your previous documentaries “The Cove” and “Racing Extinction?

Fisher Stevens: I think my experiences working on other environmental documentaries helped me access some of the great minds in the environmental movement when making the film. It also helps to have Leonardo DiCaprio interview them. And of course, Leo is an ambassador of peace for climate change.

New York Festivals: NYF read that you and Leonardo DiCaprio first began discussing your collaboration while visiting the Galapagos Islands and witnessing the effects of climate change there. Interesting that Charles Darwin in his voyage on the HMS Beagle was also inspired by his visit to the Galapagos Islands.  Could you talk about how much time elapsed from your initial discussions until the two of you moved forward with pre-production, research and production?

Fisher Stevens: In 2010 I went to the Galapagos to film with Dr. Sylvia Earle – I was making a bio-pic about her at the time. Leo was also in the Galapagos, and we dove together a few times, and spoke a great deal about environmental degradation. When Leo saw a cut of the film, which was eventually entitled “Mission Blue,” he asked me if I would like to do a documentary about the state of the environment – not just focusing on the oceans as I had previously done, but larger scale. He also saw an early rough cut of “Racing Extinction” and was becoming familiar with my work.

“Before the Flood” took about two and a half years to make – from the first shoot until our premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

New York Festivals: Could you talk about the creative and logistical challenges that you faced and how you used technology to solve them?

Fisher Stevens: It’s always difficult to make a movie on a subject as broad as the environment.

It was also challenging because Leo was filming “The Revenant” at the same time, so scheduling was more complicated. We tried to do scenes without Leo – and even went all

Ecuadorian Amazon

the way to the Ecuadorian Amazon. I caught malaria while we were there! We filmed a powerful segment about the Native American population, whose water had been contaminated by oil seeping into their rivers. But when we cut the scene together, it structurally didn’t fit with the rest of the movie.

But on the plus side, we also learned quite a bit about the environment from the making of “The Revenant.”  For example, the film was shooting in Canada, and that year had the warmest month of March in history. The film actually had to shut down production, and move all the way around the world to Patagonia in order to capture the cooler climate. Leo was actually experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand.

Having the newest cameras allowed us to be much more mobile and nimble — access was easier because of that technology, especially in the most difficult places.

New York Festivals: What were you looking to achieve in terms of gaining maximum exposure for your film’s message?

Fisher Stevens: We were hoping that the film would enlighten people to the importance of climate change. We wanted to grab the attention of people who maybe wouldn’t necessarily want to watch a movie about the environment. And we did. A lot of that had to do with Leo’s star power.

President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio

But there’s more work to be done. Unfortunately our worst nightmares came true when Donald Trump won the election. He’s trying to open up National Parks for drilling, he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, he’s destroying Obama’s Clean Power Plan, he’s letting oil and gas lobbyists run the EPA … this nightmare we were exploring in the film has become even more of a reality.

New York Festivals:What is the next step for you on journey and what is next on the horizon for you?

Fisher Stevens: I’m going to continue to make short and long-form films on climate change that hopefully have some sort of social impact. And I will be as loud as I can about getting the right Congressional candidates elected in 2018.

John Kerry with Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens at a "Before the Flood" event

Before the Flood Credits: directed by Fisher Stevens and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Fisher Stevens, Jennifer Davisson and Trevor Davidoski with Brett Ratner and James Packer of RatPac Entertainment. It was written by Mark Monroe and Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese, Adam Bardach, Mark Monroe, and Zara Duffy. The film is edited by Geoffrey Richman A.C.E., Ben Sozanski, Abhay Sofsky, and Brett Banks. The Director of Photography is Antonio Rossi. The Executive Music Producers are Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross with original music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Mogwai and Gustavo Santaolalla.

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