Sonoma County officials interviewed in new Leonardo DiCaprio film, ‘Ice on Fire’

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After experiencing years of drought, devastating wildfires and recent floods, the North Bay has become excruciatingly familiar with the conversation around climate change. As the region attempts to manage the aftermath of these natural disasters and mitigate future ones, it’s come become powerful material for filmmakers near and far, including award-winning actor, film producer and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio produced and narrated the documentary “Ice on Fire,” which highlights scientists, innovators, farmers and first responders across the globe who are working on technologies to remove carbon and reverse climate change — including people from Sonoma and Mendocino counties. “Ice on Fire” premieres June 11 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

The film’s crew and acclaimed director Leila Conners, who worked with DiCaprio on the 2007 environmental documentary “The 11th Hour,” interviewed members from the Mendocino-based Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc., the public charity Community Foundation Sonoma County and two fire officials from the Santa Rosa Fire Department for the film, which recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and had a special showing in Los Angeles this week.

Current SRFD Chief Anthony Gossner and Battalion Chief Mark Basque, who retired from the fire department in early May, were both interviewed on camera following the October 2017 wildfires to speak about the surprising force of the wildfire and its impacts on the community. Gossner said that since he was interviewed 1½ years ago and has “talked to hundreds of people about the fires,” he could barely remember what he’d said to the film crew, but planned to attend the Los Angeles showing of the film with his wife this week.

Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County, was also interviewed in the film and attended the LA showing.

“The disaster was so devastating and there’s so many other communities that this is going to happen to,” Brown said. “So anything that we can learn from our experience and kind of pay it forward in a way that others can learn from I think is really positive.”

Brown described how DiCaprio’s film presents a contrast between natural disasters and climate solutions, bringing something innovative and hopeful to something as devastating and scary as climate change.

“One hope I have is that perhaps this film can motivate us — people locally, nationally and internationally — to some of these positive climate solutions that are going on,” she said. “I think it would be great that a result of this film is more young people decided to study climate change and be the advocates and change-makers for the next generation, which requires scientists for sure, but also great nonprofit leaders and great public sector leaders and businesses who want to do more work on the green economy. So I think there is a lot of hopefulness there of what messages like this can lead to.”

In addition to inspiring the next generation, Brown hopes the film will draw and retain attention on recovery needs in the area resulting from the fires, especially around housing and healing community trauma. She recalled referring the film crew to the ecology research institute Pepperwood Preserve in Santa Rosa, where scientists have been researching impacts of the fires; however, the interviews with Pepperwood members didn’t make it into the final cut of the film.

“Our expertise is really understanding climate change and helping develop scientific products that will engage our community and help develop solutions,” said Lisa Micheli, president and CEO of Pepperwood Preserve. She recalled introducing the film crew to the areas of Pepperwood that burned in the fires and sharing hypotheses and data on the relationship between climate and fire.

“Part of what’s really inspiring right now and I think part of what films like this do is mobilize our youth,” Micheli said. “So the film, I hope, will be a catalyst for action and a catalyst for making this real to people, that is real in the here and now, and is not something that’s off in the future or going to happen far away from us.”

Lin Morgan Barrett, Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc. community development director, told Sonoma Magazine that she hoped the documentary would shed light on the work her organization is doing and inspire people to take action against climate change.

“We’re thrilled with the opportunity to be able to get the word out about our projects — reforestation, forest management, basically sustainable forest practices,” Barrett said.

According to RFFI’s press release, the documentary’s film crew visited the nonprofit’s 50,000-acre Usal Redwood Forest and interviewed the chief forester, Linwood Gill, who highlighted the foundation’s carbon storage project and reforestation practices. Raymond Baltar, the manager of RFFI’s North Coast Biochar operation, was featured in the film to discuss storing carbon in the soil by removing excess brush and trees and converting it into carbon-rich fertilizer that will improve plant growth.

“It’s actually quite technical,” Barrett said of the upcoming film, noting the scientific aspects of the practical climate solutions presented, like the ones from RFFI. “It does urge people to take action.”

In a statement for Warner Media, DiCaprio said “Ice on Fire” will highlight “much-needed solutions across renewable energy and carbon sequestration” from dedicated people on the front lines of climate change work, hoping it will inspire audiences to take action to protect the planet.

“I just want to thank Leonardo DiCaprio,” Brown said. “I think it’s wonderful when celebrities use the influence that they have, not just with their financial resources to give money away, but their actual reputation, credibility and standing to draw attention to issues.”

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