Sign in / Join
Leonardo DiCaprio, Enric Sala and Jake Awa in Before the Flood. Courtesy, The National Geographic Channel. ORG XMIT: RatPac Documentary Films

DiCaprio visits Canadian Arctic, Alberta oilsands in environmental documentary

Brutally cold temperatures are not the sort of thing one usually pines for.

But Jake Awa sounds downright nostalgic when asked how the Arctic has changed in the past half-century.

“I can tell you one thing,” says the longtime Arctic guide on the phone from Pond Inlet. “We used to have -50s and -60s in the coldest winters when I was a child. Today, -40 will be the coldest. They’ll be -50 anymore because we can feel the global warming and the ice is not like it used to be. When the spring comes, the ice will melt right away. We cannot use it anymore like we would like to.”

Awa appears near the beginning of the environmental documentary Before the Flood. On the tip of Baffin Island in the far Arctic, he discusses how global warming has affected his life and livelihood with actor and documentary host Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala. The melting of sea ice has disrupted hunting and fishing seasons. Awa is an Inuit hunter — Sala admiringly describes him as a “bad-ass”— who was eager to get the word out about the impact climate change has had on those who rely on polar bears, seals and other Arctic animals.

Awa’s segment is relatively brief in DiCaprio’s globe-trotting documentary, which will air Sunday on the National Geographic Channel. The Oscar-winning actor meets with some high-profile interviewees, including President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, activists and scientists. But he also meets with a number of people like Awa, whose life, health and livelihood is directly affected by climate change.

It’s an important distinction, particularly since some see DiCaprio’s wealth and fame as somehow disqualifying him from having an opinion on the environment.

Directed by Fisher Stevens, Before the Flood finds DiCaprio travelling to Beijing to talk with citizens taking action on the city’s stifling pollution. He visits farmers in India, where flooding has ruined a season of crops. He talks to people in Sumatra, Indonesia who are taking care of baby orangutans that have been forced out of forests being burned to produce palm oil.

He talks to experts who say drought conditions are essentially what fuels conflicts in Syria, Darfur and the Sudan.

And, yes, DiCaprio also tackles Alberta’s oilsands. That segment begins with Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, describing oilsands extraction as “the most devastating form of producing fossil fuels,” pointing to its energy requirements and impact on forests, water and Alberta’s native communities.

DiCaprio flies over Suncor operations in a helicopter with Marc Mageau, the company’s senior VP of oilsands operations. DiCaprio keeps his opinions to himself during the segment, other than telling a perplexed Mageau that the devastated landscape reminds him of Mordor from Lord of the Rings.

He also seems undeterred by, or perhaps just oblivious to,  the pile-on scorn heaped upon him last year when he linked Alberta chinooks to climate change. The actor brings viewers into the Calgary production offices of  The Revenant and to the Alberta set and again talks about how the province’s unusual dearth of snow in 2015 forced the crew to the southern tip of Argentina.

For Awa, DiCaprio’s commitment to the environment is admirable.

“I think he’s trying to help the north,” Awa says. “With global warming and melting ice and the animals, he’s trying to get the message out to the world. I really liked what he was trying to do.”

Awa has been conducting tours of the Arctic since he was a teenager in the 1970s. Increasingly over the years, he has seen his clientele shift from tourists to film crews.
“They are great, because it brings us out to the world,” he says.

That said, it seems unlikely that Awa was star-struck when it came to meeting DiCaprio. At one point in the interview with the Herald he forgets the actor’s name.

But he says his grandchildren were suitably impressed.

“I’m hoping I’ll get the film on a disc so my grandchildren can watch it over and over again,” Awa says.

Before the Flood airs Sunday on the National Geographic Channel.

Leave a reply