Climate Change and Movies

Written by Amanda Martinez, ESLLC 2017-2018

In “Can Hollywood Movies About Climate Change Make a Difference” by Melena Ryzik, the art of presenting climate change in the media, cli-fi, is evaluated. Fisher Stevens, a filmmaker and actor explains that creating movies that capture the peril of climate change is, “not a very sexy subject, and people just don’t want to deal with it and think about it.” This rings true, especially with modern pop culture. People desire plot and happy endings, whereas movies in the cli-fi genre often come off as grim and driven by fear. Furthermore, a plot needs a villain, and unfortunately for us, we are the wrongdoers in this environmental catastrophe, making it especially depressing to witness.

An example of a successful climate change movie is Stevens’, Before the Flood. This film uses a basic plot line, star recognition of Leonardo DiCaprio, and positive ending, including a list of ways to help the environmental movement. Successful movies like this give the viewers the power. Stevens educates them, uses some eye-opening graphics, and intense music to keep the viewers interested, and then finishes with the ways they can fix what is going on. It leaves the viewers passionate, and ready for action.

Conversely, movies like, An Inconvenient Truth push the boundary of fear and hope. This 2006 film, as Maibach, a professor and director for the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University evaluates, is “100 percent about fear’” and that only in the credits did they offer solutions. He believes that these should have been what the movie was centered on, rather than merely terrifying the audience. In support of Maibach, Ryzik explains, “Copious research shows that this kind of dystopian framing backfires driving people further into denial and helplessness; instead of acting, they freeze.” This sort of reaction is exactly what filmmakers do not want. Again, the point of cli-fi is to invoke change, not scare everyone away!

How can we successfully get climate change related topics across? Debbie Levin, president of the Environmental Media Association, explains that narrower titles (Agriculture, water issues, environmental justice) and children’s shows can be extremely effective. Children’s programs are inherently positive, and it is not just the kids watching them; parents often times view them as well, leading to a multi-generation audience. This connects back to the main goal of climate change programs, to educate people about the impacts of their actions.

When creating a cli-fi, it is vital to make it entertaining and hopeful. Boycoff, a professor and director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says, “If just scientists talking about their research and findings were successful we’d be sorted by now. But that’s not true. A lot of people don’t engage with these things through scientific ways of knowing. So the arts, the cultural sphere, is a really important part of this that’s underexplored so far.” It’s simple, if people don’t want to watch the film, they won’t, and entertainment has everything to do with that.



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