The 11th Hour, a film about, well, us. But unlike previous eco-documentaries, this movie isn't all scolding and end-of-the-world eco-armageddon scenarios. As environmental expert Paul Hawken says with a smile, "What an amazing time to be born. This is the generation that gets to completely change the world and make it an incredible place."
The 11th Hour, a film about, well, us. But unlike previous eco-documentaries, this movie isn't all scolding and end-of-the-world Eco-Armageddon scenarios. As environmental expert Paul Hawken says with a smile, "What an amazing time to be born. This is the generation that gets to completely change the world and make it an incredible place."
This is exactly what filmmakers Conners Petersen and her sister Nadia Petersen set out to illuminate. By the film's end, the answer is clear. We, each of us, need to treat the Earth like we treat our homes and ourselves. We need to start cleaning it up.
The filmmaking sisters - along with narrator and co-producer Leonardo DiCaprio - make you aware that our behavior, individually and collectively, is causing great damage. But the film's main theme focus is not on the damage done, but on the path to undo it. We've been inundated with information and facts long enough. It's time we all take action.
Using a very small production crew, the filmmakers interviewed over 70 experts about our ecological crisis. It's an extraordinary group. David Orr, is there. So is Stephen Hawking, and David Suzuki, and former cold-war Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The 11th Hour is densely packed with a wide range of people and information about our situation here on earth. But unlike previous eco-documentaries that opt for manipulative scare tactics or humor to entice the viewer, this film's strength is in its directness, from start to finish.
As Conners Petersen explains, "We discussed the format of the film, and this was all very deliberate. We wanted to shoot straight into the camera, where the people look right at you. We were not interested in where the experts lived. This wasn't the point of the film. Really this was an awareness type of project. We just wanted the people to get the information." Each expert sits in front of the same background, staring into the camera as if having a conversation with the audience. The interviews are cut with images and music which drive the point even further home. What we see is too many people causing too much damage in many different forms, and the impact causes an emotional response. "The images were just a juxtaposition of ideas," explains Petersen. "We wanted to spark ideas and connection. What does this disconnection - between humans and the Earth - actually look like? The images we show result in the viewer formulating their own opinions."
The production itself was an example of green living. The camera crew shot over 70 people, which would normally result in a film crew traveling to over 70 locations. Instead they went to conferences and condensed the interview time to days not weeks, shooting at one point 25 people in four days. The filmmakers offset carbon, drove hybrids, recycled everything, and re-used the same backdrop for sets and shoots.
The film contains powerful footage of people and images. At times it can be emotionally overwhelming. But this very intensity is what has made people - viewers - truly believe that there is a solution to our dire situation. "It's as if you have a person in the hospital and the medicine sitting on the shelf and no one can bring the patient the medicine. Within all this disaster", Conners emphasizes, "there is a cure."
The solution isn't going to be a cinch. Throughout The 11th Hour, we see much we've already known. We're in a dangerous, edgy, critical time. The clock is ticking down. We've made centuries worth of bad decisions. We've treated our planet, and ourselves, badly. "It's hard, not easy, but it's something we all have to do," says Petersen. "What are you going to say to future generations when they are living in a biotically impoverished world? What are you going to say? It was hard? We can do better than that."
The film's argument isn't revolutionary. Most of us know we've been blindly riding on the fossil fuel bus and need to get off. But this will take effort. Conners Petersen says, "We need to learn how to create the things in our world in a way that does not produce so much waste. The biggest thing is to shift our reliance on fossil fuels and renewables because energy is key to everything we do. Without affordable and abundant clean energy we are going to have a really tough time."
Along with the film, the filmmakers created 11thhouraction.com, an action website based solely on helping people identify the things everyone can do to become more sustainable. The filmmakers are also teaming up with experts to create a series of challenges to get people thinking differently about how they behave. David Orr plans a 'campus challenge' asking students to develop a climate control plan. During the election, the team is supporting a 100-Day Plan, in which experts will create what the next president should do in terms of change and sustainability.
In this way, the 11th Hour isn't a film that allows the audience to slip into a Never Never Land type fantasy. When it's over, you don't know if the main characters live happily ever after. Because unlike most films, this movie is about you. And your neighbor. And the rest of your fellow human beings. And that future is unwritten. It's about how we behave, how we choose. The Earth is our home. We have not been treating it very well, and therefore we have not been protecting ourselves.
"The Earth has all the time in the world," explains Conners Petersen. "And we don't. And that's the truth of the matter." Time is running out, and not for anyone or anything else but us. But the lesson learned from the film is not the mass destruction, but the hope for a solution. In fact, you will probably walk out feeling pretty good about yourself and the years to come. Because the main theme in this movie is that there is a light at the end of our dark and polluted tunnel. We may just have to bike there to see it.
ENN Correspondent: Laura S. Marcove
Videographer: Travis Graalman