Switch to energy-saving lightbulbs. Reuse your plastic bags. Just say no to SUVs. The public is being slammed with environmental messages, so a film needs to spark people’s imaginations – not simply finger wag – to stand out in the green movement. That’s why sisters Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners went beyond relaying the standard yawn-enducing eco-tips in The 11th Hour, which they co-directed and co-wrote. The feature introduces audiences to lesser-known earth-friendly technologies, like one that can power a nightclub using the movement of feet on the dance floor.
‘When you start tapping into people’s imaginations, literally everything is an opportunity for rethinking,’ says Conners. ‘We get to remake the way this world works.’ The film’s new type of thinking is reaching audiences all over the world – it screened at the Cannes film fest and Durban Wild Talk Africa, and also recently hit theaters in North America. Conners Petersen, who’s also one of the co-producers, summarizes the film: ‘What is the state of the world? Why are we here? And how do we fix it?’
It doesn’t hurt that one of Hollywood’s most successful young actors – Leonardo DiCaprio – provides onscreen narration to help get the answers. The sisters had worked with the A-list star on two nature-themed shorts previously, and knew they wanted to make a feature to tell the definitive environmental story.
The topic has been on their minds for years – they co-founded Santa Monica-based Tree Media Group almost a decade ago to use Web and film platforms to draw attention to the earth’s health. The company is one of the prodcos behind The 11th Hour, along with GreenHour and DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way. The Oscar-nominated actor is no newbie to the green cause, either. He started a foundation to help increase environmental awareness in 1998, and is even involved with a TV series about the construction of an eco-friendly town for Discovery Communications’ soon-to-be-launched Planet Green network.
But rather than play up DiCaprio’s star power, The 11th Hour uses his voice as a concerned citizen and puts the spotlight on over 50 environmental pundits, from David Suzuki to Stephen Hawking. Their findings set what Conners calls the ‘urgent wake-up call’ tone of the film, which ends on a purposefully somber note. ‘We want people to know that the environment will only be okay if they engage,’ says Conners Petersen. ‘If we had a happy ending, you might think the issues are being handled and you don’t really need to worry much. But no scientist can look you in the eye and say ‘It’s going to be okay’ – they’re going to say ‘It’s going to be okay if we do these things and we have to do them soon.” One of several jaw-dropping facts the movie drills into the audience is that, with existing technologies, we could reduce the human footprint on earth by 90%.
Conners Petersen hopes audiences walk away from the theater with ‘a subtle, but profound shift in consciousness.’ She’d love people to see things in a new light, and realize there are consequences to our consumer-driven lifestyle. ‘It’s an exciting message because it means everything you do can have a profoundly positive or negative effect,’ says Conners Petersen.
These women practice what they preach – they were even eco-friendly in their filmmaking. The bulk of The 11th Hour is built on over 2,000 stock footage shots. ‘We like the idea of recycling footage,’ says Conners Petersen. ‘And think of all the carbon we would have spent flying around the world and reshooting all that stuff.’ What about the original footage of DiCaprio that was woven throughout the film? It was shot in la and New York, says Conners. Did DiCaprio and the crew take the bus to save even more carbon? Both sisters joke simultaneously: ‘They walked.’