Stanford scholars gathered Oct. 27 for a packed screening of “Before the Flood,” a new documentary which stresses the urgency and severity of the risks associated with global climate change.

Produced by actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by documentarian Fisher Stevens, the film was released widely on cable and the internet this week.

The Academy Award®-winning pair first visited Stanford during filming to meet with Stanford Engineering Professor Mark Jacobson and his students.  Jacobson, who is known for his work on renewable energy research, invited Fisher back to campus to screen the finished film.   

“We think this is one of the most pressing issues facing mankind,” Stevens shared with the Stanford audience, on why he and DiCaprio decided to make the documentary.  

The film’s title was inspired by a famous 15th century Bosch painting, “The Garden of Earthy Delights.”   













The film opens on the three-panel painting, depicting the biblical origins of humanity, next to a scene of "overpopulation, debauchery, and excess,” narrates DiCaprio. The painting’s third panel shows Hell, “a twisted, decayed, burnt landscape. A paradise that has been degraded and destroyed,” DiCaprio adds.

The triptych’s center panel portrays mankind “Before the Fall,” which DiCaprio interprets as the current state of the world, a time before the effects of climate change are beyond solutions to counter it.

The audience follows DiCaprio through U.N. addresses, tar sands oil fields and melting glaciers in Greenland to illustrate the magnitude of the climate issue. On working in Greenland, Stevens described how hearing about the impacts of climate change does not compare to experiencing them first hand. When DiCaprio finds a tube that had been buried in over 30 feet of ice but was exposed after hundreds of cubic kilometers of ice melted over five years, “that really freaked us out” said Stevens.

In addition to Stevens, featured speakers at the event included a surprise addition, Cody Two Bears, a Councilman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, which is currently embroiled in protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Two Bears reflected on the importance of the film’s promotion of climate change awareness and discussed how the fossil fuel industry is negatively impacting his community and the future of the sole water source for Standing Rock, the Missouri River, near where the pipeline is set to be constructed.

During the question and answer period, Stevens was asked how he feels about the uphill battle in changing attitudes in the United States on climate change. Stevens responded that his relationship to the film was one of balancing pessimism with inspiration. “We’re not going to stop until people wake up.”

Last week’s screening was hosted by Stanford’s Atmosphere and Energy Program and the Solutions Project in association with the Stanford Energy Club.

“Before the Flood” began airing globally on the National Geographic Channel on Oct. 30 in 171 countries and 45 languages.

In addition to National Geographic’s website, the film is available to view for free until Nov. 6 on: YouTube, Hulu, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, iTunes, Xbox One, Google Play, Roku, Apple TV and Nat Geo Mundo.