Where “An Inconvenient Truth” deployed frightening images of rising sea levels to illustrate the threat of global warming, director Michael Nash hopes to send an equally compelling wakeup call with the-sky-is-falling docu “Climate Refugees,” using infographics of giant red arrows moving from threatened Third World countries to your backyard. “Consider the concerns we have about a few million people crossing the border from Mexico,” the pic warns, assembling stunning footage and all the right talking heads into a tiresome, TV-ready essay (like an extended “60 Minutes” segment), repeating the same point from different corners of the world.
Billing itself as “the human face of climate change,” “Climate Refugees” depicts the impact on two very different scales. First, it shows actual human faces — the frowning victims of Mother Nature’s wrath — in heart-wrenching closeup as Nash interviews individuals in countries hammered by hurricanes, floods and the like. Then there are the larger-scale pictures of devastation, overwhelming montages of destruction bound to make auds feel like ants drowning on a planet gradually slipping underwater.
Some may choose to contest the idea of global warming or question man’s role in it, but as Nash’s narration insists, “The fact remains, our climate is changing.” With leading researchers and high-profile political figures (including John Kerry, Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi) popping up at regular intervals, “Climate Refugees” presents a swell of compelling opinion about the challenges such change puts on the global population. Nash’s sources are uncannily on-message, using virtually the same wording from interview to interview, which gives the impression of either consensus or coaching, depending on your personal stance on the issue.
Traveling from one continent to another over the course of 18 months, Nash witnesses the alarming effects of changes in the world’s distribution of water (visiting spots that suffer from either too much or too little), which in turn affects the distribution of the world’s people. In Darfur, Sudan, Nobel-winning professor Wangari Maathai explains how the expanding desert impacted the conflict there, while on the rapidly sinking islands of Tuvalu, children play in knee-deep water as their parents negotiate emigrating to New Zealand.
For nearly an hour, Nash piles on the Roland Emmerich-worthy disaster imagery, coming off as the Sally Struthers of the cause with his constant, too-personal narration, which he pairs with such devastating images as a stack of children’s books destroyed by flooding or a displaced infant with flies in its eyes. Just when the helplessness seems to reach its hysterical peak, Nash takes the conversation where it should have gone much earlier, finally bringing things back around to Western consumer culture and what we can do to help, courtesy of environmentalists Lester Brown and Ed Begley Jr.
“Climate Refugees” may improve upon the PowerPoint presentation style of “An Inconvenient Truth,” but it’s emotionally exhausting. The staggering mix of photography and high-definition footage, rendered all the more crushing by Michael Mollura’s haunting score, should have been enough, but Nash overstays his welcome. The cause may be important, but the execution overwhelms.