"There IS NO Debate" 

"The 11th Hour" filmmakers Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners on human behavior, global warming and the need to act now to slow the rapid destruction of planet Earth

Their smiles are of a happy and very close sister relationship, but Leila Conners Petersen (left) and Nadia Conners are far more serious about ending the climate change crisis, which has now hit pandemic proportions.  Their new documentary "The 11th Hour" hopes to help turn the tide by edifying, provoking and cultivating a proactive audience to change.  The film, narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio opens on August 17 in New York and Los Angeles, before opening in other U.S. cities later in the month.  (Photo: Warner Independent Pictures)


By Omar P.L. Moore |  The Popcorn Reel
August 8, 2007

Four years ago more than 52,000 people died in Europe from a heat wave of extreme high temperatures not seen on that continent for more than 500 years, with the France National Institute of Health reporting that for the first twenty days of August 2003 more than 14,800 people died in France alone.  The tsunami striking Thailand and at least ten other countries on December 26, 2004 -- one of those countries as far away as on the African continent -- killed more than 300,000 people.  On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, arguably the most devastating hurricane ever to hit U.S. shores, killed at least 6,000 people on the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, where most of the dead had lived.  "Thunder snow" was experienced in South Carolina and Georgia in November 2006 -- places that don't typically receive snow, let alone in November.  And more recently, prolonged torrential rains and severe floods in England in July 2007.  Around the world there are unmistakable signals that global warming is not only very much for real, but progressively worsening to such a point that less than 50 years from now planet Earth could be at temperatures making it unbearable for human habitability, according to scientific research and data patterns.

The law of averages suggests that every species to have ever existed eventually becomes extinct, and scientists expect the human race to be no exception.  Never is this scenario set forth more clearly in both reality and presentation than in the compelling, fascinating and urgent documentary "The 11th Hour", which not only spells out through interviews with 50-plus scientists, environmental experts, former presidents, and historians the dire circumstances of the environment through rapid climate change and in turn, human existence, but also challenges the behavior of humans as a collective species and the revolution of thought and action within each individual that needs to occur to preserve the planet and humankind's existence on it. 

Sisters Leila Conners Petersen produced and Nadia Conners with Leila, wrote and directed "The 11th Hour", released in the U.S. by Warner Independent Pictures and arriving in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 17 (other U.S. cities including San Francisco on August 24.)  "Titanic" star Leonardo DiCaprio, an environmental activist, narrates and co-produces the film, which was shown at Cannes earlier this year.

"An Inconvenient Truth", which billed itself as a "global warning" PG-rated horror story when it was released on June 1 last year in the U.S., went on to win the Oscar for best documentary in February, featured the former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, but where that film was more a presentation about the environment's rapid fissure due to global warming, the Conners sisters film "The 11th Hour" challenges the behavior of the audience that will watch it.  Leila Conners Petersen outlined the film's structure during the filmmakers' conversation with two online journalists.  "You have to talk about human psychology.  You have to talk about who we are as beings, as species . . . then we had to say, okay, well what is this species doing to its home? . . . and then, why are we doing this, and how do we fix it?"  The interviews, Petersen said, were structured along these specific questions and then more narrowly-tailored inquiries were posited by the Conners sisters to the interviewee experts according to their sphere of knowledge.  "We were trying to create this powerful vision of the world through multiple interviews and counter-balance that with images that are not only supporting what people are saying but taking you in different directions than what people are saying . . . it's an emotional experience, this film," added Nadia Conners.

"The 11th Hour" may actually not seem like the most urgent possible title for a documentary that is on the level of this one, but its content is far weightier than its preview trailers show.  Leila Conners Petersen confessed that the opening montage of the film, a cavalcade of striking and powerful images filtered in a way that some of the MTV-short-attention-span generation might admire, was just a watered-down version of the imagery that they chose from for the PG-rated film (for "some mild disturbing images and thematic elements".)  "That's actually mild compared to reality.  And I think what's interesting about us as people is if we knew exactly how everything was made and the consequences of everything that's in this room or in our lives, we'd be completely horrified.  We pulled back on that opening montage," Petersen said.

Nadia Conners, Leonardo DiCaprio and Leila Conners Petersen in Cannes, France in May 2007 on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival prior to the screening of "The 11th Hour".  Peterson and DiCaprio, an environmental activist, produced the film, which is also narrated by the "Titanic" actor.  Conners said that "you don't need everyone to agree that global warming is a serious problem, we need only enough people to create social change."  (Photo: WireImage)

Pietro Scalia, the renowned editor of "JFK" and other films, was the filmmakers' choice to oversee the editing of "The 11th Hour", because of what they called "his understanding of the juxtaposition of idea, and the idea of two different ideas next to each other."  Another editor, Luis Alvarez y Alvarez, was in the editing room most of the time doing physical edits, and "understood the concepts really well, and understood what Pietro's approach to filming is, which is showing images that trigger ideas . . . we're not telling you to think these things, but you're drawing conclusions on your own," said Petersen.  This filmic rhythm and device was exactly what the filmmakers intended.  Continued Petersen: "We're just presenting what the world is like.  These are pictures of the world.  None of this was staged or set up.  These are pictures from our world.  There's pictures that, just one of them -- you'd go home -- I mean, you couldn't handle it.  And that's just everyday life that's hidden." 

Nadia Conners stated that they experimented with various classic film structures, but had to abandon them in order to leave the audience with a feeling of hope by the time the film ended.  "I think it would have left you so devastated -- you don't need those kinds of twists at the end of a movie."  Mikolas Wright, an additional editor on the film had tweaked parts of it, and Conners tells an anecdote about him.  Wright's very young daughter was watching the Conners sisters documentary unbeknownst to him, and commented, "Daddy, what planet is this happening on?", which for Conners crystallized the urgency of the issues at stake -- which were so quickly grasped by a small child, which would certainly mean that the adults who see "The 11th Hour" would also seize upon the weight of where the earth is positioned at this moment with respect to the global warming crisis that engulfs it.  "That is it in a nutshell, and this is our planet," Connors said.

If ever there were a movie, or documentary where its audience has the unique opportunity to play the hero, then it is "The 11th Hour".  The dire and inevitable conclusion of global catastrophe and planetary extinction, is on the other side of midnight.  But in the figurative hour that is left between now and then, the audience after viewing the film, has the opportunity to re-write not only the film's ending, but the real-life ending which will not, if present trends of behavior continue, leave the planet with a warm feeling.  Perhaps "warm" is an inapt word. 

Still, the implications of a such a well-intentioned documentary as "The 11th Hour", designed to both edify and rouse its audience to action, appears to be somewhat a conundrum and a challenge: how to get an audience to see the film in the first place.  If the film looks at examining and transforming human behavior, that undoubtedly involves in its calculus overcoming human behavior and indifference to get people into see the film in the first place.  "It's a tremendous challenge but also an opportunity because of the Internet," said Nadia Conners.  "There's the marketing of the movie, but there's also -- what we're doing is we're treating this like a campaign . . . we really are trying to motivate around the ideas of what this film is about and reach out on the Internet to groups of people that are out there and get them to the movie theater as part of first action."  Conners emphasized the importance of seeing the film within the first two weeks of its release, citing that "the more likely it will be distributed to by the studio more towns all over the country and the longer it can stay in theaters, the more it can really become part of our culture."  She cited "An Inconvenient Truth", in theaters for "a very, very long time" last year "and it allowed to really become a part of peoples' conversations", as the example that "The 11th Hour" aspires to. 

The movie poster for the documentary.  (Poster: Warner Independent Pictures)

The American movie business moves fast.  People within the Hollywood movie industry are already talking about possible Oscar campaigns as well as charting next summer's major releases.  With a strong summer so far at the U.S. and Canada box office, with one blockbuster film replacing another at the top for each of the last nine successive weekends dating back to the weekend of June 8-10, Warner Independent Pictures' "The 11th Hour" is undertaking a widespread grass roots campaign.  The website (listed at end of this story) contains astounding facts and figures about the environment, offering a chance for people who see or don't see the film to make everyday changes in the way they live their lives.  "Eleventh Hour Action Dot Com is where a lot of the action will happen after the film", says Petersen.  "There's fifty people in ["The 11th Hour"] and we made this film for the people, for all the groups that surround the people in the film.  It's an environmental movement, it's the social justice movement, it's all the movements that are trying to right the course of how industrial society -- where we've ended up with it -- there's some good things about it, there's some bad things about it -- let's get rid of the bad things, let's retain the good things and move forward.  This film is for the people.  It's for people to use, to mobilize, to educate," said Petersen, "and Eleventh Hour Action is going to bring these people together."

The film features people that a few may know and recognize.  Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Days of Ancient Sunlight and talk-radio host syndicated on Air America Radio, appears, as does former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey.  Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the then Soviet Union, widely credited with the policy of "glasnost", or "openness", which gave way to the break up of the USSR also appears.  Mr. Gorbachev is heavily involved with environmental affairs in the intervening years.  There's also an appearance from 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai, who won the prize for her extensive work with the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.  World renowned scientist, physicist, author and Cambridge University professor Stephen J. Hawking also warns of the dangers of continued environmental neglect.  These and a whole host of other scientists, activists, thinkers and scholars dispense jaw-dropping fact after jaw-dropping fact about the current or very imminent state of the earth's environment.  Tzeporah Berman, Program Director for Forest Ethics, says during the film that "seventy countries in the world no longer have any intact or original forests," adding that the U.S. ninety-five percent of its old growth forests "have already gone."  During the film, Professor Hawking says in part, "we don't know where the global warming will stop, but the worst case scenario is that earth would become like its sister planet, Venus, with a temperature of 250 centigrade, and raining sulfuric acid.  The human race could not survive in those conditions."

As if to further underscore the weight of what has already been said during the film, the following comment would appear to put the proverbial cherry on top.  "The evidence is now clear.  Industrial civilization has caused irreparable damage," narrates DiCaprio during the documentary.  "Our political and corporate leaders have consistently ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence," he urgently says later on.  "We face a convergence of crises, all of which are a concern for life."  The $64,000 question, stated by Mr. DiCaprio during the film is, "will our pivotal generation create a sustainable world in time?"  The question remains yet unanswered, but the filmmakers are confident that their documentary will be a success and in turn that many who see it will feel compelled to act.  "The feedback we've been getting [from screenings] has been very positive," said Petersen, who said that there had not been any resistance to the film or the themes within it.

Leonardo DiCaprio during "The 11th Hour".  (Photo courtesy: Warner Independent Pictures)

Inevitably, there will always be those doubting Thomases and Thomasinas in the world who will say that the moon is made of green cheese, that the earth is flat, or that Egypt is not in Africa.  When the issue is posed to the filmmakers about why on earth, apart from the obvious reasons that people in prominent think tank organizations and research groups would declare that the environment is not in as dire a shape as films as "An Inconvenient Truth" or "The 11th Hour" conclusively and powerfully depict, Leila Conners Petersen responds with a very faint trace of irritation, not necessarily with the question, but with the so-called true (or untrue) believer aspects of those who can see but choose not to.  "Rather than me saying what their motivations are, just go and look at whose messenger it is . . . why are they doing -- who are they, what do they represent?  The truth of the matter is, overwhelmingly, that the earth is experiencing a loss of life and ecosystems are unraveling.  That's the truth.  And if anyone really wants the truth, that's where they're gonna end up.  And so we don't need to debate the issue anymore because we're losing time, and if you want to continue to doubt, that's up to you . . . so there's a train that's leaving the station and there's going to be other trains moving toward the path of sustainability.  I hope you get on the train, because that's where the future is.  The other future is a dead end.  The other future means significant loss of human life." 

Just prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, some liberal activists in America spoke of a rapture, where people who called themselves members of the religious and political right wing would be spirited up to heaven as the world burned around them in an apocalyptic meltdown.  Ironically, the world, where global warming is concerned, is already burning around them, and the consequences, say the filmmakers, are "not alarmist", a response to such a claim made by numerous debunkers or skeptics of the current crisis, including Steven Hayward of the Pacific Research Institute, to Mr. Gore and others characterizing the state of the earth as condition critical, in Mr. Hayward's 50 minute-documentary "An Inconvenient Truth . . . Or Convenient Fiction?", which screened to conservatives, the curious, and skeptical audiences alike earlier this year, including in San Francisco, a traditionally more "open-minded" city than many others in the United States.  Mr. Hayward in his film acknowledges that things are becoming worse in the environment, although not nearly as severely as the environmental activists would have people believe.  He believes that those such as Al Gore, who criss-crossed the globe giving lectures about the environmental dangers that the planet faces, are part of a political agenda on the left wing in America and elsewhere.  Nadia Conners combats such notions.  "Even the most conservative people will argue about climate change and whether it's human caused will say, 'yes, the earth has limited resources.'"

For those who still choose not to think critically and keep their eyes closed to the rapidly troubled world around them, Petersen is readily armed with facts from her vast research for her documentary.  "We've already displaced 1.1 million people from Katrina.  There's 20 million people as we sit here that are displaced in Bangladesh from flooding that they've never seen.  So it's already happening.  Islands off the coast of India have gone under and they've had to permanently relocate.  There are islands in the south pacific going under.  The Inuits are having to relocate -- they can't hunt where they normally hunt.  So it's already happening.  It's just a matter of how bad is it going to get." 

Another reason for such opposition in the face of scientific research and events said Nadia Conners, was the myopic dispositions and fears within the messengers who would attempt to trivialize the state of the planet they inhabit.  "There was a time where people were counting how many angels could dance on a pin, because they were reaching the end of their ideology.  Their ideology didn't make sense anymore.  And they started getting really hung up on the bizarre things.  And I think that just happens.  People spin out, and I honestly think that there's a certain group that are just spinning out because they don't see the future outside of what they've always believed.  And then there are those people that we call "the junk scientists", and they've been bought by the oil lobby, and there's a lot of them out there.  Fortunately in the rest of the world they are not having this dialogue anymore, and they're starting to do some really interesting changes in the infrastructure in their society," she said.

Several major corporations in the U.S. have been receptive so far to "The 11th Hour" and the filmmakers said DVDs of the film would be sent to legislators and other politicians in Washington, D.C.  Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that dramatically lowered tax breaks for oil companies and other initiatives concerning the reduction of profiteering re: the environment, but the filmmakers made it clear that while this was good news, the U.S. senate needed to do the same, and that overall, "major social change" needed to occur.

The filmmakers said that it was important to end the film with a hopeful and encouraging message, one which both is thought-provoking and upbeat, inspiring people to change some of their daily behavior in small, incremental ways, whether it be through recycling, taking local transportation, riding bicycles, or walking.  On a larger scale, the purchasing of hybrid vehicles as opposed to gas guzzling SUV's would clearly be a step that the filmmakers whole-heartedly approve of.  Both sisters have been passionate about political issues and social change throughout their lives, and beyond "The 11th Hour" they too have taken small everyday steps to change the way they live and operate during every day.  In their film, they manage to do something that is very difficult, which is to educate and balance current facts with future and present fears, without turning off the audience. 


For more information, visit www.11thhourfilm.com and www.11thhouraction.com

Originally published on August 8, 2007.



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