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Film Critics Pick Best Climate Change Movies

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Genre filmmaking can tackle serious issues in unexpected ways. Here are some films outside of documentaries that explore climate change.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 There are plenty of documentaries on climate change and inconvenient truth before the flood, 11th hour chasing ice, and all of these try to build a case to convince people that climate change is a real catastrophic emergency as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk. K PBS film critic Beth AHCA, Mondo and movie walls podcast, or Yahtzee [inaudible] spoke with KPBS round table host Mark Sauer about feature films that attempt to prevent climate change issues in a different way.

Speaker 2: 00:32 Well, best start off. What do you think a genre films and narrative films can do differently from documentaries and tackling these issues? Well, I think when people go to documentary, sometimes if the documentaries have a point of view, people put up their guard a little bit and they tend to preach to the converted more. But with a narrative film you're using usually personal stories and something that really engages the audience, I think it really hooks them and brings them into a story so that they're more open to ideas. Right. And Yaz do talk about that engagement a little bit. I mean, people may not really realizing they're getting a climate change message when they're watching a feature film.

Speaker 3: 01:06 Yeah. I think it's like, you know, a good, a good dose of medicine when, when it's wrapped properly, when it's weakened enough that it goes down. You spoonful of sugar. Yeah. Spoonful of sugar goes down. Well and, and you know, not, not to make it sound terrible, but I think there's the history of science fiction has been the history of climate change in a way.

Speaker 2: 01:24 And uh, well let's get onto the role of science fiction. How has it played in the role of the world of real science, science fiction?

Speaker 3: 01:31 I mean, being a scientist myself, I mean I think I see a lot of parallels. A, I think certainly a lot of the early star Trek, you know, they've borrowed heavily from science, so I think they've kind of helped each other out.

Speaker 2: 01:41 And uh, Beth, how can pop culture work to influence public opinion or help focus attention on certain issues? Well, pop culture, like as you said, it goes down easy. So people go to get entertainment and a lot of times filmmakers will hide messages underneath or just make them a little more digestible. So I think people are more game to go to a film that looks appealing or that's an art house film and possibly get a message they weren't anticipating getting. But these climate fiction films, is the real purpose behind a lot of them climate change in this message or is that incidental? Well, I think a lot of films and a lot of filmmakers have something to say and they choose to say it in a particular manner because narrative fiction or science fiction appeals to them. Because you know, with science fiction there's so much about it that is engaging from a filmmaking point of view that a filmmaker is very attempted to work within that genre.

Speaker 3: 02:37 Josie, yeah, I mean it takes regular situations and makes them extreme. So I think from a, from a plot and script writing perspective, it's fabulous because you know, you can, you can put characters to very extreme situations and watch what happens.

Speaker 2: 02:51 All right, well let's get onto your top climate fiction film picks. And Beth, your top pick. It's being screened Monday at digital. Jim Cinema. Tell us about silent running white's your topic. Sure. This film was made in 1972 but it really feels like a holdover from the 1960s Joan Baez does a song at the end of the movie. Bruce dern plays kind of the environmental astronaut because this is set in a future where earth can no longer grow any plants. The plants are all on a spaceship that's floating around waiting to find out what the decision of the lawmakers are. So in this scene, Bruce dern tries to explain to the other astronauts why it's important to keep these forests alive

Speaker 4: 03:31 and that it calls back a time when there were flowers all over the earth and there were valleys and there were planes of tall green grass that you could lie down in that you could go to sleep in. And there were blue skies and that was fresh air. And there were things growing all over the place, not just in some domed and closures blasted some millions of miles out into space.

Speaker 3: 03:51 Your top pick Yazdi my topic is, uh, the Mad Max movies and they've all been set in a very dystopian future where all of arts resources of La have run out. But I think more so the very last one, uh, Mad Max fury road, uh, really brings to point, you know, this, this, this future world where the most precious commodity is water because there's so little of it now I've Seen Mad Max fury road didn't occur to me that was a climate change film. Can you kind of explain the context? So that's precisely the point of we were talking about earlier is that when it's packaged as entertainment, I still think mad max fury road is the epitome of action. And within the context of that action movie, this whole point about water being a very precious resource, resources being seemed in and you don't even realize that, you know, that's the message that we could very easily get to a point there. Uh, while you're having fun and watching things blow up.

Speaker 5: 04:46 [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] its absence

Speaker 2: 05:08 thirsty. Just listening to that though. You're number two pick. This is a beautiful film called beast of the southern wild and it's about a by you community called the bathtub where a storm is threatening to flooded out and completely destroy it. And it's very kind of sad and melancholy and in the sense that it's not just climate change, but it's the loss of a whole culture. And there's a little girl at the center of it and she talks a little bit about what they're expecting in the by you

Speaker 6: 05:38 one day till the storm the ground's gonna see and the water's gonna rise up so high ain't going to be no bathtub, just a whole bunch of water.

Speaker 3: 05:50 Al Gore couldn't have said it better himself and a Jasta, you're a number two pick. My number two pick is a movie called Melancholia came out in 2011 and it's about two sisters and they're frayed relationship, but it's set in the context of a looming disaster in that a, this, this, this giant planet is going to collide into planet earth. And it's about how do you live your life knowing that this is happening. And it's kind of curious because the main character played by Christian Dunn suffers from acute depression. And for her, the end of the world is a daily occurrence. So she's the only one who is well adjusted in a way.

Speaker 2: 06:26 All right. And quickly, I want to get to each of the films that came in last and your top three Beth. Sure. Snowpiercer reminds me a little bit of Mad Max in that it's set in a dystopian future. And the thing about both of those films is they show that if there's climate change and if something like water or something else becomes a valuable commodity than it shifts the whole power structure too. And that's one of the dangers. Alright, in a Jasta you're third

Speaker 3: 06:49 before I go to my third. I have extreme love for Snowpiercer as well. If you haven't seen it, you need to, my topic is take shelter and this is a movie about a man who has visions that something bad is going to happen and that a storm is going to come and it's going to engulf everyone. And in a way becomes an allegory about those people who believe in climate change versus those who are deniers. And where do you put your faith? Who Do you believe? And it's a, it's a pretty good film.

Speaker 7: 07:16 You gotta go crazy. Is that what he told her? Well listen up [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] you [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 07:37 and I remember when George h w Bush called the Al Gore ozone man. And that was kind of friend, son from that glip right there. Well A, it's, it sounds like a, a lot of thing to, to think about and plenty of things that you want for moviegoers, especially if they're passionate about climate change or what to do about it. And even if they're not. Thanks very much Beth and Yazdi. Thank you very much. Thank you. And they were speaking to KPBS is mark Sauer for more coverage from the KPBS climate change desk? Go to kpbs.org/climate change.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.