An hour before his documentary on climate change was screened for a Miami Beach that knows the impact of sea-level rise all too well, the concerns of the looming storm were not lost on Fisher Stevens.
“It’s just weird to be here when everybody’s talking about this hurricane,” said the filmmaker and actor. He was filming a television series in the Keys in August 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated south Miami-Dade. He stayed during the storm, which made landfall on Aug. 24, 1992, and saw the destruction firsthand.
“I think subconsciously that’s another reason I’m doing what I’m doing. I saw Homestead, and it freaked me out. I just felt so bad for those people. They were climate refugees,” he said. “Let’s not have another Homestead.”
On Tuesday night, a few days before Hurricane Matthew was expected to hit Florida, Stevens and actor Leonardo DiCaprio screened their new film “Before the Flood” at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The film debuted before a packed house.
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The film shows DiCaprio, a longtime environmentalist and United Nations messenger of peace on the issue of climate change, traveling to places like Indonesia, Greenland and India to interview experts on current and future impact of the earth’s changing climate. The film portrayed melting ice sheets and massive deforestation for cash crops.
The documentary, which will air on the National Geographic Channel on Oct. 30, has a decidedly political message. It urges viewers to vote for politicians who believe in climate change, support a tax on carbon and advocate for funding renewable energy initiatives.
Part of the 96-minute documentary highlights South Florida’s vulnerability amid rising sea levels brought on by climate change. It also criticizes politicians who either don’t believe in human-driven climate change or don’t acknowledge its threat to coastal communities.
DiCaprio is seen interviewing Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the fall of 2015, amid construction of anti-flooding pumps in South Beach. Levine takes aim at Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, saying South Florida will need state and federal help to safeguard against rising tides. In the spring of 2015, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting reported that supervisors in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection banned employees from using the term “climate change’’ in any official communications.
This unwritten policy went into effect after Scott, who has repeatedly said he isn’t convinced climate change is caused by humans, took office in 2011. Rubio, too, has been skeptical of humankind’s contribution to global warming.
“I think it’s politics,” Levine says, sitting across from DiCaprio in his office at City Hall. “I think it still has to do with lobbying and industry.”
The pair are also shown walking on raised roads along West Avenue as pumps are being installed. At one point, DiCaprio asks the mayor about how much time the infrastructure work will buy Miami Beach.
“I would think about 40, 50 years,” Levine says.
“That’s it?” DiCaprio responds.
After the screening, actor Mark Ruffalo introduced a panel discussion that included the filmmakers, Levine, and two local voices on the environment: University of Miami marine anthropologist Kenny Broad and Rachel Silverstein, a marine biologist and executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, a nonprofit aimed at ensuring South Florida’s waters are kept clean.
The panel discussed the Beach anti-flooding infrastructure work, the role of politics in funding climate change projects and the danger of salt water intruding on South Florida’s freshwater supply.
The specter of Hurricane Matthew loomed over the conversation. The film makes mention of climate change’s role in fueling extreme weather, though Broad noted that hurricanes have long been part of South Florida and other coastal communities.
“How many of you were were here during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons?” Broad asked the crowd. Dozens raised their hands. “There were giants spikes in the media about linking it to climate change, but we all have selective amnesia.”
Levine referenced Monday night’s flooding in areas depicted in the film, including Sunset Harbour, where the pump system was not fully operating in the middle of a bad thunderstorm. Other spots in South Beach without improved drainage systems also flooded Monday.
“We learn by trial and error, and by no means are we perfect,” the mayor said. “We had a situation literally yesterday when it rained so fast and some of our pumps weren’t on, that the area got flooded,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers. We have so many questions. But we do believe that we’re going in the right direction.”
At the end, DiCaprio closed the evening with a little gallows humor.
“With that, we’re going to let you all go home so you can prepare for the flood.”