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A 'Green' Blessing on the Big Screen

By Diego Cevallos*

Despite its simplistic plot, "The Day After Tomorrow" is being applauded for tackling the prickly issue -- for the first time on the big screen -- of global climate change. Critics and audiences in Latin America share their opinions of the film with Tierramérica.

MEXICO CITY - The 'green' label that environmentalists have tagged on the film "The Day After Tomorrow" has given its Latin American debut a boost. In just a few days it has eaten up a good portion of the film market, leaving the battery of criticisms against it forgotten outside the cinemas.

Although its plot line is perhaps oversimplified, with a series of hardly credible catastrophes and a deluge of special effects, the film is being praised for bringing the potential consequences of global climate change to the big screen -- and increasing public awareness.

In some countries of Latin America, like Mexico and Brazil, there were long lines of moviegoers outside theaters for the premiere of the film, directed by Germany's Roland Emmerich.

The film's producer, Mark Gordon, said the idea was to make an action filmn for the northern hemisphere summer that people would find entertaining.

According to environmental watchdog Greenpeace, "'The Day After Tomorrow' Is Today!'", an argument that many spectators and critics have taken with a grain of salt.

The film depicts disasters caused by climate change. Millions of people will see the film and ask themselves, "How real is this problem?" Unfortunately, it is very real and the world cannot lose any more time in fighting it, says Greenpeace.

Argentine film critic Horacio Bernades said the film is "perhaps the first example of a catastrophe film with an ecological 'meta-text'."

The good thing about the movie "is that while a global disaster can be exciting and even entertaining, it still sounds a warning, while avoiding becoming too admonishing," he says.

Sigifredo Eusse, a film critic in Colombia, also underscores the fact that the film shows "the tragedy that human's depredatory actions can cause in the environment."

The creators of "The Day After Tomorrow" took just over six months and 100 million dollars to film the natural disasters that inundate the movie -- undoubtedly infinitely less time and money than what humans have spent as they have altered the Earth's climate.

Global warming, which is seen in various phenomena, such as rising sea levels, is attributed to the accumulation of certain gases produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, like petroleum and coal.

Various statistics indicate that there has been an increase of 0.3 to 0.6 degrees centigrade of the Earth's average surface temperature between 1860 and the 1990s, and that sea levels rose 10 to 25 cm during the 20th century.

However, the effects of global warming predicted by scientists will not be as sudden or as extreme as depicted in the movie, where in a blink of the eye huge ocean waves hit New York, tornadoes destroy Los Angeles, and a snowstorm envelops New Delhi.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is "very entertaining for those who like catastrophe films, because it has suspense and humor, but it is also very exaggerated," Susana Feldman, one of the thousands of Argentines who went to the cinema last weekend, told Tierramérica.

Eduardo Marín, a film critic from Mexico, thought the movie was interesting, but warned, "it falls down in developing the story, the development of the characters, the crossing of the various individual stories." It is a superficial script with a weak argument, he said.

Chile's Lídice Varas took a similar stance: "Without the vertigo of the special effects -- the only reason to see this sort of movie without guilt -- the two hours would be as cold as the glacier in the film was."

Varas said critics are well within their right to "destroy" the film "because it is obvious and cold," but its saving grace is its zeal in calling attention to the problem of climate change.

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters attributed to global climate change have increased over the past 30 years, according to studies sponsored by the United Nations.

Latin America has its own tragic experience in this vein. It is estimated that in the 1990s around 75,300 people in the region died in disasters related to natural events, including floods, storms, hurricanes and landslides.

Economic damages linked to natural disasters jumped four-fold between 1970 and 1990, reaching 28.5 billion dollars for Latin America alone, according to the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 with the aim of curbing so-called greenhouse gas emissions. But implementation of the treaty has yet to occur because the United States, the world's leading producer of those gases, refuses to ratify the Protocol, as do other industrialized countries like Russia and Japan.

* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. With reporting by Yadira Ferrer (Colombia), Gustavo González (Chile) and Marcela Valente (Argentina).

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