“The Cove” director Fisher Stevens on his newest film, and keeping up the fight

by flaunt

“The Cove” director Fisher Stevens on his newest film, and keeping up the fight

There are 18 mature trees in a small lot behind my second-story Silver Lake bungalow. Each year, depending on many factors and formulas, the trees produce an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 pounds of fresh oxygen.

I tell this to the Los Angeles City Planner who is about to approve a gluttonous nine-unit “luxury” development that will remove all 18 trees, taking with them the roosts of Peregrine Falcons and Allen’s Hummingbirds. I also tell him the lot is 400 meters from the most congested section of the 101 freeway. That black soot falls on my windowsills.

After hearing twenty minutes of overwhelming opposition and witnessing my landlord’s tears, he callously says, “Approved.”

Bloody but unbowed, I wake the next day to interview Fisher Stevens, the actor-turned-activist-turned-director, whose new film Before the Flood is one of the most watched documentaries, ever, reaching 60 million views only a month after its October 21st release.

Stevens consoles me, “that’s what you have to do. You have to stand up to those people.”

He remembers where he got his bravery: his mother. Specifically, he remembers the late ‘60s–her “raging against the television, protesting the Vietnam War with her friends.” Then came her staunch voice during the 1980s AIDS epidemic when they lived in New York City’s Greenwich Village. “Recognizing injustice is a part of my DNA,” Stevens jokes.

His environmental activism came ten years ago, while SCUBA diving near the Great Barrier Reef in the South Pacific: his bucket list dive.

“I was devastated, he says, “we were going to places that were supposed to be amazing, but the coral was bleached. I was really depressed. I remember thinking, ‘Holy shit. This is climate change in action.’”

It was this trip that roused him into producing his Oscar-winner, The Cove (2009). The project originally set out to investigate the dying coral. His main question: How could such wonderful shelves of swaying neons be obliterated in only a few years? His investigation, however, chicken-walked straight into the bloodstained waters of Japanese dolphin slaughter in a cruel cove near the small fishing village of Taiji.

The 2009 movie featured the famous scene where Hayden Panettiere—actor and spokesperson for The Whaleman Foundation—paddled out into the cove with a group of peaceful protestors, the situation turning violent when the dolphin hunters attacked the protestors, poking them with poles and threatening them with their propellers.

Panettiere’s celebrity status garnered more attention for the film and started a worldwide outcry against the Japanese dolphin industry.

Stevens believes that the modern celebrity plays an important part in raising awareness in global and political injustices. He sees them as powerful educators when money-worshipping politicians often discredit scientists. Stevens admits his admiration for many celebrity activists, especially Mark Ruffalo, for calling attention to the protests around the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Of course, all of this brings us to Leonardo DiCaprio. The man who accepted his long-overdue Oscar with a call to action. The producer of and lead in After the Flood.

“I knew Leo briefly, but we got to know each other six years ago when I was filming Mission Blue in the Galapagos,” Stevens says.

Leo joined many other celebrities and scientists in a $15 million sea voyage. The five-day journey was spurred by the 2009 TED Prize awarded to oceanographer Sylvia Earle.

“We all went diving and I got to learn about Leo’s knowledge of environmentalism and saw his passion for fighting climate change,” he says. “Three years later he saw a my film Mission Blue (2014) and he called me and asked me to do Before the Flood.”

Over the course of three years the two worked tirelessly, in-between other projects, to amass footage from around the globe. The film features dramatic scenes of global environmental turmoil. The most powerful: cascading Greenland icecaps, an aerial shot of a cattle factory farm with a cloud of methane rising, and another aerial shot of tar sands bleeding where boreal forests once were.

The film breaks down climate change simply for any viewer. It scrutinizes America’s dependence on fossil fuels and the lobbyists, major corporations, and media who discredit scientific fact to make a small handful of individuals sickeningly wealthy.

The director is not looking to make money off the project, in fact, the production team paid a large carbon tax to inspire viewers to pay their own self-inflicted carbon taxes for their lives as a fundraiser, hoping that one day they are set into law.

“The working title was originally Are We Fucked?” he laughs, “I’m glad we changed it, although, after the result of the election, maybe not.” Stevens says he can’t solely look four years into the future. He mentions his two children and how, now, he peers twenty years ahead. It has him worried but it gives him all the fire to fight, inspire, and assemble more great films that tell truth.

Written by Miles Griffis
Photographed by Zach Gross