Green City: The last hour

Pub date August 14, 2007
WriterRachel Stern


GREEN CITY For sisters Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, the last possible moment to lessen humanity’s impact on the environment — the 11th hour, from which the new documentary they cowrote and codirected aptly takes its name — has come upon us. But unlike other doom-and-gloom envirodocs that engulf viewers with guilt about how we are tearing apart our only planet, this movie is supposed to demonstrate that it’s not too late to shift old habits.

The 11th Hour "really helps you understand what’s happening," Conners Petersen told the Guardian about the Warner Brothers Independent release, which opens in theaters Aug. 17. The movie places the often oxymoronic combination of pragmatism and idealism hand in hand: "You feel a better sense of control in that way," she says.

Conners Petersen and Conners spent three years conducting lengthy interviews with 71 top thinkers and activists, ranging from physicist Stephen Hawking to Paul Hawken, the Marin author of The Ecology of Commerce (Collins, 1994). In their film, they juxtapose 91 minutes of the ecoexperts’ wisest words with quick-paced, music video–<\d>style montages of both environmental destruction and at least partially counteracting ideas and innovations like biomimicry.

And unlike 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, this film — narrated and produced by seasoned ecoactivist Leonardo DiCaprio — spends only about seven minutes covering global warming. "Our film contextualizes global warming as being part of a larger problem," Conners says.

The codirectors emphasize this holistic, all-part-of-a-larger-puzzle approach, which they say the mass media seldom takes when examining any environmental problem.

The environment "isn’t a single-article issue," Conners says. "When Leo’s on camera, he says it’s a convergence of crises. It’s all of it together that’s making it a tipping point. And all of it includes our behavior."

It’s our habits of "disconnect, denial, and laziness," she adds, that keep people from bothering to examine — or change — their impact on the Earth. "It’s like you’re sick with a disease with a known cure, and the medicine’s right there, and you look at it and say, ‘I’m not taking that.’<\!s>"

Environmental action, they say, does not necessarily have to extend to planting trees in Kenya, as Nobel Peace Prize winner and 11th Hour interview subject Wangari Maathai did through the Green Belt movement, or running a scientific radio series, as did interviewee David Suzuki. It’s about being aware of organic peaches that are shipped to the supermarket from Chile and drinking water that may not be from the finest geyser.

"Once you start connecting the detergent under your sink to a dead zone, you start seeing the world as a whole, and your relationship with this planet and life on it will deepen," Conners Petersen says.

The sisters created the Web site to allow individuals and communities to discuss ways to bring the film’s broad-scale ideas and innovations to the local level, whether those efforts involve sharing the most energy-efficient household appliances (compact fluorescent light bulbs, anyone?) or putting solar panels on a high school.

Conners Petersen stresses her "Why wait for the federal government to take action?" mentality by pointing out that nearly 600 mayors in the United States have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol without permission from President George W. Bush.

"If you fight against these things that are so big and immovable, you’ll give up," Conners says. "So if you start locally, [ask] what’s the position of your city council person and the mayor?"

The sisters are no amateurs on the environmental-media scene. Conners Petersen is the founder and codirector of the Tree Media Group and executive editor of Global Viewpoint. They’ve produced two documentaries — Global Warming (2001) and Water Planet (2004) — for DiCaprio’s Web site, and Conners will soon be directing her first narrative feature, Earthquake Weather.

The 11th Hour used 150 hours of stock footage, more than any other documentary in history. The lofty quotes that didn’t make it into the film have found a home on YouTube and the movie’s official Web site,

"Even though there’s a lot of information, it’s an emotional film," Conners says. "Rather than just telling you information that you intellectually take into the world, I feel like the film is done in such a way that you feel the world in a different way."<\!s>*

Comments, ideas, and submissions for Green City, the Guardian‘s weekly environmental column, can be sent to