The Sustainability Oscars 2017: Celebrating the best of climate-change cinema

With the film awards season in full swing and the 2017 Oscars ceremony just around the corner, edie rolls out the green carpet to bring you this very felicitous - but by no means official - round up of the best actors, actresses, films and documentaries that have been taking climate activism to the mainstream.

The 2017 awards season has so far been dominated by La La Land, the blissful musical romance that is more likely to drown in critical acclaim than rising sea levels. Given the current geopolitical and climate backdrop, it is perhaps no surprise that a light-hearted musical provides audiences with the escapism they need in testing times.

But pressing climate issues – magnified by the world’s first legally-binding commitment to curb global warming – have captured the attention of international audiences in recent times. Last year, two global spectacles – the Oscars and the Rio Olympics – both placed the spotlight on climate change in some shape or form. And ahead of Monday night’s Academy Awards, we at edie are ensuring that spotlight shines brightly.

Dialogue-heavy political negotiations over emissions-sharing burdens may seem unlikely to draw in audiences similar to those of Hollywood movies like the Day After Tomorrow. But while politicians and the private sector set the stage for significant global warming mitigation efforts, some famous actors, directors and broadcasters have successfully magnified awareness over the past year or so.

So, with the Oscar’s celebrating artistry and film in its purest form, and edie’s engagement month well underway, we have extended the lense towards the films, actors and communities that are pushing boundaries in order to raise awareness of some of Earth’s most pressing issues. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the inaugural Sustainability Oscars 2017.

The Sustainability Oscars 2017

Best Political Film – Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth II

Photo Credit: Jensen Walker

The Paris Agreement brought nations together, but governments across the world are now tackling climate change at various speeds. On the one hand, we have the likes of the Swedish Government, which has just pledged to phase-out emissions by 2045, and then we have the political turblance being seen in the US, with the Trump Administration’s desire to support ‘clean coal’.

Regardless, any form of media that can bridge the gap between yawn-inducing political jargon and engaging and educating awareness deserves recognition. Former US Vice President Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth won Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song in 2007 and placed a high-ranking politician at the heart of its agenda.

Al Gore is back this year with the sequel to Inconvenient Truth, as the cameras follow him around the world to showcase first-hand the impacts of climate change. The film was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is scheduled for mass release later this year.

Best Climate Change Comedy – Hot Winter

Hot Winter also appeared at this year’s Sundance Festival and the film’s director, Jack Henry Robbins, described it as a “porno about climate change that’s really funny”.

This short film follows a leading climate scientist and bodybuilding champion as he tries to get to the bottom of global warming through a series of VHS tapes. All sex scenes have been omitted so that the film’s environmental ethos can really shine through.

Climate change in films tends to create a serious “now or never” exploration of the world’s changing environment. Either that, or it forms the crux of a disaster movie, so the ability to address the issues in a humorous way that neither lectures or warns is somewhat refreshing.

Best Director – James Cameron

Plundering far-off planets in search of natural resources to stave off environmental exhaustion is the dystopian future that Canadian director James Cameron brought to life in his 2009 film, Avatar.

Cameron is currently working on a sequel but that hasn’t stopped him from working on less-fictional pieces. In the build-up to the US election, Cameron produced a climate-themed film, narrated by Sigourney Weaver and featuring actors such as Jack Black and Don Cheadle.

The ‘Not Reality TV’ film paints climate change in a catastrophic light, warning that Trump as president would lead to environmental ruin. But the result of the election suggests this didn’t resonate as highly as Cameron had hoped.

But Cameron has not given up. Last month, the first season of his ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ series – which sees the likes of Harrison Ford, Michael C. Hall, Matt Damon and Olivia Munn all provide first-hand accounts of climate change – went onto Youtube and has been well-received. Cameron is developing a bit of a climate portfolio, it seems.

Best Documentary – A Plastic Tide (Sky)

Built on the shocking statistic that plastic now accounts for 95% of the rubbish in our oceans, Sky launched its Ocean Rescue digital campaign last month, alongside a 45-minute documentary which has been aired across the company’s TV channels.

In its ‘A Plastic Tide’ documentary, Sky also showcased new data gathered by environmental charity Thames21 and Tideway, which found that 75% of the plastic waste found on the River Thames foreshore was packaging rather than actual products. 

Celebrities have also been enlisted in the Ocean Rescue campaign in order to create more personal and persuasive reasons to change behaviour. Sir Richard Branson, Ben Fogle, astronaut Tim Peake and Sir Ben Ainslie are among those that appeared in vignettes during a special Sky News report last week. While other documentaries cover the broad climate agenda, Sky’s focus on one alarming detail enables the documentary to educate on a more specialised level.

Best Visual Effects – Under the Canopy (MacArthur Foundation, SC Johnson et al)

The concept of virtual reality (VR) is growing in the entertainment world, but Conservation International’s new VR film – which also debuted at Sundance – takes the experience to a new level.

Sponsored by cleaning firm SC Johnson, Under the Canopy allows viewers to experience the eco-system of the Amazon rainforest in 360-degree format and will educate viewers on the role of the area in absorbing carbon and regulating climate.

The film practically places you in the rainforest, encouraging you to soak in the sites while explaining the issues and solutions to deforestation in the area. Just watch out for the snake in the river!

Best Animated Film – Moana

Disney’s attempt to follow-up on the box-office hit of Frozen has seen animated and lovable characters swap icy mountains for Samoan Islands. Ice caps are commonplace in many films and documentaries about climate change, but Moana superbly depicts the impacts of global warming in a different light.

Island nations are the ones most at risk from climate change, and that is no different in Moana’s home of Motunui. Dry fisheries and failing crops provide the backdrop for the protagonist to go on a journey to appease nature.

As a film, Moana highlights how dependent some communities are on the immediate environment around them, and how global warming can drastically impact their everyday lives. What’s better is that Disney have presented this tale to Western audiences in light-hearted fashion. The key is in the subtlety.

Best Music – A Love Song (The Climate Coalition et al)

Technically this is a poem. Well, technically this is an advert. But spoken word is appearing in iTunes libraries across the globe. A Love Song was produced by the Climate Coalition, Ridley Scott Associates and a host of other organisations committed to tackling climate change.

The video was produced to raise awareness of climate change and features Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance and fellow actors Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs and David Gyasi. Accompanied by music from Elbow, the video aims to ignite an emotional reaction to climate change.

“Lakes still embrace shoals of fish, while icebergs melt like snow on lips. Seasons start to run from each other, while love is left to shiver on the edge of a leaf,” Dance says in the video. His Game of Thrones co-star believes that a picture can say a thousand words, but sometimes less really is more.  

Best Costume – Emma Watson

Again, we’re flirting with technicalities here because this is a dress rather than a costume, but the message behind it serves to prove a very important point. Aside from the actual awards, the morning after any awards night sees timelines littered with who was wearing what.

Fast-fashion is a complex challenge for those attempting to live more sustainably, and Sky has already highlighted how plastic plagues the ocean. With the help of Calvin Klein, Emma Watson sought to tackle both of these issues.

At the 2016 Met Gala, celebrities such as Emma Watson, Lupita Nyong’o and Margot Robbie wore Calvin Klein Collection to take the ‘Green Carpet Challenge’, championing sustainable fashion. Beauty and the Beast star Watson’s dress was made from a fabric uniquely designed from used plastic bottles sourced, processed and spun into yarns exclusively in Italy.

Best Picture – Before the Flood

Produced by none other than Leonardo DiCaprio, this documentary aired on Natural Geographic in October, capturing the actor’s travells across some of the most vulnerable parts of the world including Greenland, the Pacific islands, Sumatra and China to examine the impact of climate change, as he comes to the realisation that this may in fact be the last generation that can limit the damage.

The eye-opening documentary draws on opinions and exclusive interviews with the likes of Al Gore, Elon Musk and Barack Obama to highlight the humanitarian and business opportunities that come with limiting global warming.

Ahead of the October launch, DiCaprio interviewed Obama during the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas to discuss how businesses can “build a bridge to a clean energy future”.

Best Actress – Emma Thompson

Famed for her roles in Sense and Sensibility and Love Actually, Emma Thompson has strived to install both sense and love back into the public’s relationship with the environment. The Oscar-winning actress has previously highlighted the role of climate change in the plight of refugees.

A few factual inaccuracies aside, Thompson has appeared at numerous marches and activist events in an attempt to heighten the profile of climate change issues. Thompson joined Aurora – the huge polar bear puppet – and other activists to march outside of Shell’s headquarters last year. The UK actress also wielded whisks and spoons for an unusual display against fracking – the Frack Free Bake Off.

Highly Commended – Thompson’s passion has been unrivalled, but Jessica Alba deserves some recognition in this category. Alongside her appearance in the aforementioned ‘Years of Living Dangerously’, Alba has also co-founded of The Honest Company, which offers ‘eco-friendly’ products, to highlight the role that business and consumers can play in combatting climate change.

Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio

Who else? DiCaprio ended his 22-year wait to finally take home an Oscar last year, and used his acceptance speech to urge people across the globe to act on the “urgent threat” of climate change. Bravo.

DiCaprio has been a vocal activist in raising the profile of climate change threats. Named as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, the actor has pledged to divest his personal wealth and charitable foundation’s fund from fossil fuels – joining a group of investors worth more than $2.6trn. His ‘Before the Flood’ documentary set an unprecedented standard for global warming commentary and expertise.

Highly Commended – DiCaprio isn’t the only actor attempting to re-write the climate agenda. Mark Ruffalo, star of the Best Picture-winning film Spotlight, recently sent a passionate plea to UK Prime Minister David Cameron to stop fracking and instead embrace the global renewable energy revolution.

Lifetime Achievement – David Attenborough

No round-up of on-screen climate activists would be complete without the legendary broadcaster that is Sir David Attenborough. For those growing up in urban landscapes, the comforting voice of Attenborough usually accompanies images of exotic nature. Famed for his Planet Earth work, Attenborough has spent his career, spanning six decades, warning of the destructive nature of humanity if it fails to change its ways.

Attenborough marked his 90th birthday last year, and amidst the celebrations, he warned that rising temperatures caused by climate change were top of his list for global concerns, stating it was “a very, very serious worry indeed”. 

The man isn’t just famed for his connection to nature, and has extended his hand to extra-terrestrial help in the past. Attenborough joined the likes of Unilever’s Paul Polman, former UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey and 25 leading scientists, business executives, academics and politicians to sign a joint letter backing an Apollo-style research programme to make renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

edie’s engagement month

The month of February sees edie shift the editorial spotlight to engagement, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the best way to bring the people you want on the journey with you.

From consumers to clients, investors to employees, ensuring your key stakeholders are on board and engaged can mean the difference between success and failure. edie’s engagement month will explore some of the most effective methods being used to drive positive behaviour change.

Read all of edie’s engagement content here.

Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

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