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Arts & Culture

The 11th Hour

DiCaprio is serious about the environment. He's not just lending his voice to this indie documentary. He's on board as a producer and is even listed as a co-writer. The filmmakers are Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, a pair of sisters and first time feature filmmakers. Together with DiCaprio they have previously made a global warming short. In The 11th Hour they present us with numerous experts and concerned citizens--from mathematician/author Stephen Hawking to scientist David Suzuki to Russia's Mikhail Gorbachev--who lay out information about the current state of the planet. And what they have to say is not good. As the title implies, these expert witnesses are trying to jolt us out of our lethargy to make us realize that time is quickly running out and we better act soon.

The filmmaking Conners sisters (Warner Independent)

The film spends the bulk of its 95 minutes trying to scare us into action. The interviewees paint a bleak picture of the environment, our dependence on fossil fuel, our wasteful ways, the government's failure to act effectively and the impact industrial countries are having on global warming. This is all information we need to know and like a vitamin we take it dutifully. But the Conners sisters don't present their information in a particularly cinematic or effective manner. All interviewees are presented as the plainest of talking heads, all shot against the same environmentally friendly blue backdrop. This footage is supplemented with images of a ravaged planet and assorted environmental disasters. It's like watching a panel discussion. Their presentation insures that they will most likely be preaching to the converted.

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Now this is not to say that the discussion the film creates isn't interesting but it is to say that the presentation isn't very imaginative. That's the same complaint I had about An Inconvenient Truth, which was a great lecture but a dull piece of filmmaking. Now I know there are people out there who will say that when the subject is as important as this nothing but the message should count. And in one respect they are correct. Both The 11th Hour and An Inconvenient Truth provide excellent educational tools. But because they are made with what is sometimes a plodding devotion to the seriousness of their messages, they are missing the opportunity to bring their message to a wider audience.

In the case of The 11th Hour this becomes particularly evident in the last third of the film where the Conners finally come to something stunningly fresh and new. After all the doom and gloom, they do offer rays of hope in the intelligent designs of architects and designers such as Bruce Mau and John Todd, who suggest that remedies may lie in creating eco-friendly structures with things like renewable energy sources built right in. The fascinating innovation served up here should have been what the bulk of the film focused on. The flash cuts of drawings and renderings of what all this would look like go by far too quickly. I feel like I already know the planet's in bad shape but I don't have much of a sense about how much creative work has been going on about coming up with solutions. In these final interviews and images I saw the potential for a far superior film than the one that was made.

I also want to applaud the filmmakers for occasionally elevating the discussion to a more philosophical one. Some of the people ponder what it means to be human and what it is that we want to make us happy, and how that plays into the whole environmental equation. The facts, data and science are all useful but the film becomes more interesting as it considers what in our make up may be preventing us from seeing the errors of our ways.

The 11th Hour (rated PG) lacks the cinematic flair of some of Errol Morris' documentaries and the cogent organizational skill of something like the recent No End in Sight . What The 11th Hour does possess is passion about its subject and fleeting insight into the innovation it will take to save the planet. Hopefully DiCaprio's celebrity will make this educational film more palatable to mainstream audiences that may not yet be convinced that our planet is in any danger.

Take action at www.11thhouraction.com and www.climatecrisis.net.

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Companion viewing: An Inconvenient Truth, Koyaanisqatsi , Silent Running

Listen to KPBS' series A Matter of Degrees : Climate Change in San Diego. -----