Film genre generates debate in discussion of climate change

Dan Bloom wanted to change the world. Hoping to use film to spread messages of conservation but lacking any screenwriting or directing skills, he created an annual awards ceremony in 2014 to honor the best environmentally themed films.

“I created it out of conviction that the world is in trouble,” said the freelance journalist.

Bloom’s award, known in the biz as a “Cliffie,” honors the best films of the year in the genre of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” a term he coined. “Taklub,” a film about several Filipinos following a super-typhoon, was 2015’s top movie, winning both best picture and best screenplay.

“I hope that the film indeed serves as a jumping board to recognize the need to do something about climate change and to protect our environment,” said Mary Honeylyn Joy Alipio, the film’s screenwriter.

Bloom and countless other movie buffs say cli-fi movies not only entertain crowds—they can educate them too.

Cli-Fli Credibility from Trevor Green on Vimeo.

Since the 1980s, films such as “Escape from New York” (1981), “Deep Impact” (1998) and “Wall-E” (2008) have given audiences visions of Earth’s destruction from mistreatment by humans.

But despite the entertainment value audiences find in these films, some question their credibility and accuracy. Michael Svoboda, a George Washington University writing professor, said it depends on certain situations.

“These films can be credible in different ways for different groups of people,” said Svoboda, who also contributes to the website “Yale Climate Connections.”

Svoboda cites inaccuracies as a reason for waning credibility. He describes “Waterworld,” a 1995 film where all the ice caps melt and flood the world, as inaccurate and misleading.

“One gets the sense from ‘Waterworld’ that just the tallest peaks of the Himalayas remain above water,” he said. “That’s far, far beyond what would happen if all the world’s ice melted.”

Experts may disagree on the credibility of these films, but moviegoers, such as self-described film buff Alec Di Lella, don’t see inaccuracies as an issue.

“Hollywood does not set out to create films with the intention of making them entirely factual or accurate,” said Di Lella, 18, a freshman at Miami Dade College. “Hollywood maintains an entertainment-driven economy. If you want a documentary, there are plenty of them to choose from.”

Despite the issues with science or accuracy, Bloom still stands behind his “cli-fi” crusade, asserting that these movies could be used to teach the public.

“Films’ facts should be left to the directors,” Bloom said. “Films should be as credible as directors can make them, but there’s room for imagination and far-fetched scenarios, too, to make viewers think.”

Critics, audiences and experts all have differing views on how these films can be used to help educate the masses to better protect the planet.

“Hollywood seems no more able to imagine a useful response to climate change than the rest of us,” Svoboda said, “but perhaps its films can agitate the rest of us to start coming up with solutions.”

Di Lella said movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” a 2004 film about the Earth plunging into a new ice age, can mobilize the masses into changing the world.

“Movies such as these are effective in educating the masses in doing what’s right to protect the planet,” he said, “in the sense that they take events that the audience will never live to see and display them as a difficult reminder of the consequences of their actions.”

Alipio, the “Taklub” screenwriter, said she hopes the cli-fi genre spreads throughout her country and around the world.

“I hope that other countries representing their film producers, filmmakers and government agencies also spearhead in making films that tackle climate change,” she said.

“I plan to research and write screenplays about mining, deforestation and other issues that define my country and its people in relation to humanity as a whole.”

Although such films can give the impression that the world is headed to total destruction, Bloom wants to reassure audiences that people are not without hope:

“There is still time to try to solve climate change problems and to prepare for the worst-case scenarios 300 years from now.’’