Shining Star Power on a Crucial Subject - NY Times Article
Harrison Ford is struggling to keep from jumping out of his chair.
His face flushes. The veins in his neck bulge. Across an ornate desk, under sharp questioning by Mr. Ford, the man in charge of Indonesia’s forests smiles wanly as he tries to explain just how he managed to allow a national park to be chopped down for the production of palm oil.
This is one of the more vivid scenes in “Years of Living Dangerously,” an award-winning documentary series that ran on Showtime this summer. Viewers — after watching wanton forest destruction earlier in the episode, and seeing Mr. Ford gently caress endangered orangutans made homeless by it — will be hard pressed not to root for him as he confronts a representative of the Indonesian government, known for its corruption.
Showtime is a premium channel, which means that many American households did not have the chance to see “Years of Living Dangerously.” That is a shame, and now it is fixable: The series has become available on streaming services like iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo on Demand, with more to follow. The series is also out on DVD for $50.
With nine episodes running nearly an hour apiece, “Years” represents a serious time commitment. But that time will be rewarded, because this is the best American television series ever done on climate change.
Admittedly, there is not much competition. Ask anyone in the television news business why the industry has done so little on the subject, and the answer you will probably hear is, “What are the pictures?”
In “Years of Living Dangerously,” Joel Bach, David Gelber and their colleagues have provided the answer. Frustrated by the poor coverage, Mr. Bach and Mr. Gelber — who are former “60 Minutes” producers — raised some $15 million to go after the subject in a visually arresting way. They helped their fund-raising by signing up Hollywood celebrities to appear on camera.
But Mr. Bach and Mr. Gelber did not fall into the trap of asking the celebrities what they think about climate change. Instead, the crucial, unexpected plot twist that helps make the series work is that the producers essentially turn their celebrity talent into journalists.
They sent actors like Mr. Ford, Ian Somerhalder, America Ferrera, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle to the front lines to ask questions. (The producers did use a few working journalists, too, including Thomas L. Friedman and Mark Bittman, who write for The New York Times.)
As the series unfolds, the stars head to burning forests, dying fisheries, eroding coasts and drought-stricken farms. The answers they get about what is happening to our world come from scientists who are candid about the uncertainties and from ordinary people who are experiencing the effects of climatic disruption.
The producers do not shy away from the issue of why so many people in the United States still have trouble believing climate change is real, which steers them repeatedly into the tense dialogue between science and evangelical Christianity. Every episode has gripping moments. Mr. Ford’s confrontation with the Indonesian forest minister became national news in that country. In one segment, a daughter devoting her life to climate change has a fierce argument about the causes with her father, Rick Joyner, a megachurch pastor.
Mr. Gelber and Mr. Bach earned accolades for their work last month, when they won an Emmy award for best documentary series. They have begun plotting a second series.
Yes, they will use movie stars again. Doing so can open doors, and hearts and minds. In an interview, Mr. Gelber pointed out that the dashing Mr. Somerhalder had managed to interest his five million Twitter followers in the subject.
“We’ve got millions of young women who are all about climate change now, who wouldn’t have been in the absence of this project,” Mr. Gelber said. “You can’t do that with some low-budget documentary that reaches 100,000 people.”