His film The Eleventh Hour is a “complexly new departure” for superstar and green idol Leonardo DiCaprio, “and about as far from everything else that I’ve done that it is possible to be”.
“It’s a documentary about how the world is today, seen through the eyes of 60 or so specialists in their fields. They are allowed to talk, uncensored, on all the issues that concern them, from food production and over-packaging, to eco systems and carbon emissions. It’s not just about global warming – far from it, it’s about everything that affects us and how our planet is changing.
I’ve written part of it, I’ve produced and directed some of it and, yes, I’ve also put my money where my mouth is, and I’ve partly financed it. It’s a whole slew of subjects that fascinate (and concern) me, and what we’ve got together so far, I am very proud of.”
The Eleventh Hour premiered at the Cannes film festival in May in a blaze of publicity, fanned by the star’s exchanges with the throngs of reporters.
Asked whether he had taken a carbon gushing jet to reach the French Riviera, the Titanic star sarcastically replied: “No, I took a train across the Atlantic.”
Don’t shoot the messenger
Obviously irritated, he went on to say that he couldn’t understand why the media were so interested in trying to find inconsistencies in the lives of high-profile campaigners such as him and Al Gore (whose An Inconvenient Truth picked up an Oscar in February).
“We’re all trying the best we can, truly, we really are,” he said. “Attacks on Al Gore, for example, I think are misdirected. Don’t shoot the messenger. This person is truly trying to relay a message to the public and the way he travels and leads his life should not be splayed out like that.”
DiCaprio, it seems, quietly funds a great many causes in which he has an interest, or where situations have impacted on him. He’s not saying whether or not he has actually returned to the Thai locations where he shot his movie The Beach, and where he first suffered the stinging accusation of hypocrisy, following claims that the film impacted badly on the local environment.
But he does say that the effects of the 2004 Tsunami were particularly devastating for that area. “It’s a part of the world that I’d grown to love a lot, that as soon as I knew that money would be directed to the places where it would be needed most, and where it would do the most good, yes, I made a contribution. I do believe that if you take out, you should also have a duty to take back.
“Environmental issues? I’ll keep on fighting that cause.”
Possibly still hurting from criticisms of The Beach, DiCaprio feels certain he left a very positive mark when he finished filming Blood Diamond in various locations across Africa.
“We were all delighted when, at the end of the shoot, everything that we’d bought in – with the exception of lights and camera equipment – was left behind. There were things that were carted off to local schools, any sets that we’d built were taken apart carefully, and the lumber was re-used for housing projects – all sorts of things.
“So, all in all, stuff worth about $40m (£20m) was left behind to fuel the local economy.
“You kinda forget that when a movie moves to a location, there is a huge knock-on effect for the local population. You employ some drivers. The driver goes home at the end of the day. He gives his wages to his wife.”
“The wife pays for food for the table. She gives money for the kids to go to school. It’s going back into the grass roots lives of these people – and not into the pockets of the (frequently corrupt) local politicians.
“If ever there was a changing point in my life, it was in making Blood Diamond. Definitely. It is such a cliche, but it’s true, that we in the West have generally no idea about the way other people live, how fortunate – in general – all of us really are.
“We ought to be just a lot more thankful that we have access to the basics, to food and clean water, which most of the people of the countries in Africa do not.
“When you go to an orphanage, and you see children there whose parents have been killed in civil wars, or who have lost parents to Aids (there are some places where four out of five people are infected), or where their hands have been severed in brutal attacks by so-called ‘freedom fighters’, then it sure does change your perspective on life. And that’s not me being a bleeding-heart liberal movie actor. That’s me, as a person, wanting to do something, and if I can, practically, then I will.
Making movies is a privilege
“And if I can make people out there more aware of what’s happening in the world through my movies, then that’s another way I can help. It’s astonishing and appalling, but true, that when the civil war in Sierra Leone was raging, there was more coverage on TV in the West about the Monica Lewinski affair than about millions being massacred.
“And it doesn’t change. There’s more talk about American Idol than there is about the deteriorating situation in several states in Africa, than about global warming than about… oh, anything that really matters.”
He’s always looking, he admits, “for stories that engage me, and how lives can be described within the context of those stories”.
“Making movies is a privilege, and I never ever forget that. The best films always have something political about them – not just as we normally understand relationships, but also the dynamic of the relationships between people.”
• Originally published in GreenerLiving magazine in May 2007