St. Petersburg, Florida
The giant inflatable whale in this Gulf Coast town not only signals the arrival of one of the world’s greatest documentary festivals, but also the emergence of cinema as a way to tell the story of climate change.
Once perhaps relegated to the features of National Geographic and PBS, environmentally conscious narratives have become Hollywood. Director James Cameron and deep-sea explorer Fabien Cousteau have made their own real-life sagas, the types of documentaries that are the focus of the Blue Ocean Film Festival here. But the challenges they bring to life also find their place on the big screen.
“Cli-fi” movies have become a niche genre, taking the glitz of apocalyptic sci-fi movies and mixing it with the underlying message of environmental awareness. The latest example released Friday, “Interstellar,” is a $ 165 million space-time saga of a last-ditch effort to find humans a new home in another galaxy. The film is set in the near future after Earth was ravaged by a plague that left many food sources extinct.
As the Christian Science Monitor reports, director Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” centers on Astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who is embarked on a NASA mission to try to find planets that could support the humanity now that the Earth is in the grip of environmental problems. And Richard Roeper from Chicago Sun-Times called it “a beautiful and epic film … filled with great performances, titillating our senses with masterful special effects, daring to be openly sentimental, asking gigantic questions about the meaning of life and leaving us exhausted and grateful for the experience. … It contains some of the most memorable and breathtaking space scenes since [Stanley] Kubrick’s masterpiece [‘2001: A Space Odyssey’]… Once “Interstellar” leaves Earth’s atmosphere, we are on a sci-fi adventure of the greatest magnitude. The sets, production design and special effects are Oscar caliber.
The Blue Ocean event is one of many eco-festivals that have sprung up in recent years, including the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in Wyoming and the Environmental Film Festival in Washington.
“It’s a call to action,” said Debbie Kinder, organizer of Blue Ocean. “It’s not just about the whales, the fish in the sea and the beautiful beaches. It’s about humanity, it’s about generations. It’s about our future.”
The opening night was hosted by James Cameron’s “Deepsea Challenge 3D”, about the filmmaker’s quest to dive seven miles below the ocean’s surface into the Mariana Trench.
Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and himself a filmmaker, said that so-called cli-fi films make it possible to see a part of the changing world through the prism of an anecdote.
“It tells the scientific part of the story in a way that fascinates people,” he said.
Earlier in the summer, Cousteau and a team of filmmakers and scientists dove 63 feet below the ocean’s surface in the Florida Keys to study the effects of climate change and pollution on a coral reef. He documented the 31-day underwater experience in a film, which was screened at the festival.
“The film invites people to be a part of the experience,” he said. “It’s an adventure.”
Documentaries are powerful, but feature films with movie stars and living stories are also part of the equation, said Dan Bloom, the activist who invented the term “cli-fi” “.
Bloom cites “Soylent Green”, the 1973 science fiction film depicting a dystopian Earth facing the ravages of overpopulation, as a prime example of “cli-fi”. Now he hosts an online festival called the Cliffies which rewards films focused on climate change. Among this year’s winners: “Noah” by Darren Aronofsky and the South Korean film “Snowpiercer”, which centers on a constantly moving train smashing ice and snow in a futuristic ice age landscape.
“We have to go beyond abstract scientific predictions and government statistics and try to show the cinematic or literary reality of a painful and possible future of global climate change,” Bloom said.
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