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’11th Hour’ eco-film by DiCaprio arrives

It Takes a Village to Make ’11th Hour’ Documentary

By Rose Apodaca

Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD — By all the hype over “The 11th Hour” – the latest Earth-in-crisis documentary that opened in Los Angeles and New York last week, and screens nationwide on Friday – it would seem that Leonardo DiCaprio’s celluloid crusade is a one-man show.

The actor did co-produce, co-write and narrate. He also spent long nights in the editing bay, pruning the 150 hours of interviews and days of stock footage down to 91 minutes.

DiCaprio also was the one locked in back-to-back media interviews in the days leading up to the opening. He has enjoyed support from A-list pals such as Tobey Maguire and Kate Bosworth, who both hit the movie’s green-carpeted premiere. And even DiCaprio concedes, in his characteristic yet genuinely reluctant manner, that his star power is likely behind Warner Independent Pictures’ decision to pick up the privately funded film for distribution.

But just as the documentary — which critics have deemed too gloomy or too hopeful — underscores how everyone and everything on Earth is linked and concludes it will take a collective shift of individual determination to save the planet, the project proved a collaboration among a network of allies just as committed to the cause.

“When you get down to it, it was a homemade movie, really,” DiCaprio says. “Everyone involved was just really passionate about donating their time and money to make it happen.”

Jean-Pascal Beintus composed his music at no charge, and much of the small camera crew, led by Andrew Rolands, whom DiCaprio knew from “The Departed” and “Gangs of New York,” also worked free.

Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, who are credited as co-directors and co-writers, were as instrumental to the project’s realization as their superstar partner. The sisters are founders of Tree Media Group, a production company that leverages new technologies to examine environmental and civil issues.

DiCaprio saw a film they produced with Woody Harrelson and reached out.

“Immediately, we realized the three of us have the same take on the environment and where we needed to focus this film,” recalled Conners. “The collapse of the environment is not the problem — it’s a symptom. The real problem is industrial civilization and how we organize society.”

Thus, the premise became a matter of human rights.

“We recognized we needed to remind people that it’s not exclusive to one place or problem,” said Conners Petersen. “It’s all connected … the solution requires a huge shift in human consciousness.”

It all came down to the experts to convey the message, no fewer than 54 commentators crammed into a feature-length cut, including former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

Physicist Stephen Hawking’s voice is heard almost as much as DiCaprio’s, whose infrequent appearances on screen might bum out some fans more than all the traumatic images of destruction, which play out in a barrage of color-saturated montages like vintage “Nova.”

Another central player was Ken Ausubel, co-founder of Bioneers, a solution-oriented collective of environmentally and socially minded scientists, economists, educators and others from every field imaginable.

Ausubel highlights the commitment of DiCaprio, his new eco-mate, whom he met in May at the film’s world premiere at Cannes.

“Leo often gets the attack-the-messenger treatment. He downplays his own knowledge. But, in fact, he’s extremely diligent about doing his homework. You don’t get what you have on screen without tremendous discernment and real sophistication of these issues. I don’t think anyone can question his authenticity and long-term involvement in this.”

The project is so personal to DiCaprio that he strove for “no corporate ties, no studio involvement in the making of it … We didn’t want to be told we couldn’t touch a subject. We wanted to let leaders on the forefront of these issues speak openly and freely, without having to defend something that’s actually happening, something they’ve spent their lives’ work studying.”

As producer, DiCaprio wasn’t the only one putting his money where his passion is. Financing also came from such disparate donors as philanthropist Adam Lewis, godfather of modern poker Doyle Brunson and skateboard entrepreneur Pierre Andre Senizergues. All of them environmentalists, and all brought to the project by friends.

Like DiCaprio, Senizergues lives in an eco-house. His south Orange County headquarters, the $200-million home of Sole Technologies, whose brands include Etnies and Emerica, also boasts 616 solar panels, the conversion to water-based cement manufacturing, the first-ever environmental-affairs manager in the action sports industry, corporate-wide recycling efforts and the launch of a sustainable footwear and apparel collection.

“When Leila and Nadia came to me about this film, I was excited because I have been trying to figure out how I can also educate and motivate my employees, my industry toward action,” said Senizergues. For the premiere last week, he wore a sharp custom suit made of recycled audio tapes that resembled the shimmer of a fine sharkskin weave.

Senizergues said that he is continuing the chain by showing the film to his hundreds of employees from Southern California and to workers at his factories in China. He also has scheduled a screening of the film at the highly attended Action Sports Expo in San Diego in September.

DiCaprio’s lifetime of environmental activism became official in 1998 with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which participates with and supports a slew of groups.

“I’m donating those profits right back into environmental foundations,” he said.

It doesn’t stop with the film either. Plans are underway for posting the extra hours of interviews on YouTube.com and providing curricula to schools.

“The plight of the environment, of this planet, is very much the issue of my generation, of generations to come,” he added. “We know the best way to reach younger people is virally, putting it on YouTube, creating an action site, providing curriculum to schools, having that outreach and getting them really involved, getting them connected.”