‘An Inconvenient Truth’ might have made for depressing viewing, but Al Gore’s sequel sounds a note of optimism in the fight against climate change and those who are trying to scupper recovery, writes Helen Barlow
As former US vice-president Al Gore, producer Jeff Skoll, and directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk sat in the green room at the Sundance Film Festival before presenting their opening night film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, they were watching reports regarding president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration the following day, still half in shock that Hilary Clinton hadn’t won.
The filmmakers would understandably make a few tweaks and
additions by the time their climate change documentary screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and they now include President Trump’s June announcement of the US
withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.
“We’ll keep an online evolution of the film going forever and ever until things are solved,” explains Skoll. “When the first film came out it had a very long life both in theatres and on DVD and then on television.”
Skoll, 52, an amiable Canadian billionaire who made his fortune as an internet entrepreneur (he was the first president of eBay) had been bowled over by the injustice he saw as he travelled around the world in his youth.
He decided to try to use some of his money to effect change through movies via his company Participant Media established in 2004.
“When I started I was wanting to build on films like Schindler’s List, Erin Brockovich, The China Syndrome, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, films that had great impact on society at the time,” he explains. “Every film we tackle takes on a big issue in the world and in many cases they’ve done very well.”
Indeed. Skoll’s past ventures include the Oscar-winning dramatic features Spotlight, The Help, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies, while Citizenfour and Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth won for best documentary.
Of course in the subsequent 11 years since An Inconvenient Truth, where Gore presented frightening climate-change facts mostly via his well-developed slide show, the situation has progressed. Now with temperatures soaring in the Middle East during a generally erratic summer of wild weather in the northern hemisphere, few are denying that climate change is real.
“When we premiered An Inconvenient Truth, we never knew what we would unleash,” says Skoll. “Things changed very much over the subsequent years and we were talking about doing a sequel. Then a year-and-a-half ago, Al agreed to reflect on the past 10 years and on what people still do not know.”
Cohen and Shenk went to meet Gore at his Tennessee ranch. “Al
welcomed us into his home, popped off his shoes and climbed up on the sofa to lower the shades in order to enhance our viewing experience for what we called, ‘the 10-hour version’ of the slide show,” Cohen recalls with a chuckle. “After four to five hours of hearing how the climate crisis has evolved, we both fell into the depths of despair. We left Nashville knowing we had begun the most important film of our lives.”
It probably helps that Cohen and Shenk are married as they spent 18 months filming the former vice-president on his latest travels as he spread the word regarding developments in solar and wind power.
For Gore, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007, the news he delivers is positive.
“This movie gives me an extra burst of hope,” says the 69-year-old, “because what the directors have done effectively is tell the story of how much hope there is for transforming our energy system to become more efficient and for changing our way of thinking. We’re going to win this. No one can stop it. There is a remaining question as to how quickly we will win it as regrettably damage has been done.”
Cohen and Shenk formulated the film as they went along. “What we discovered is the battle that’s going on between the fossil-fuel industry and the alternative energy industry,” says Shenk. “It’s a natural drama and it happens to be an incredible drama for the sequel.”
“The barriers are political,” says Gore. “But we have to step back, take a deep breath and say this is not a political issue, it’s a moral issue, it’s an ethical issue, it’s a spiritual issue. Who are we? Are we a pathetic self-interested, short-sighted species who’s run on the planet will soon be over because we destroyed ourselves? I refuse to believe that.”
“Al has dedicated his life to essentially rise above politics which makes him this unusual character,” says Shenk. “He was involved in politics, he had what he calls ‘a detailed plan for his life’. But it turns out life had a different plan for him.
“The film became a metaphor for one of his quotes, ‘We all need to rise above politics and ask ourselves what is important’. Certainly things are getting bad. The environment is changing, sea levels are rising and it’s really dangerous. But on the other hand technology is being invented by the Solar CITIES of the world. So we tried to put all these pieces together in the movie.
“It was like a puzzle where the pieces kept changing as we were shooting and in the editing.”
Keen for millennials to carry on his work, in the film, Gore has a constant stream of communication with two young assistants armed with
laptops and providing information, especially when he is at the all-
important Paris climate summit in December 2015.
The film also shows how he has been educating others to help carry on the struggle. We see him going to Greenland to meet with scientists to get first-hand information about the melting glaciers depicted in the film and wading though floodwaters in Miami alongside the city’s mayor. He also goes to visit president-elect Trump in his tower.
“I will not go onto the specifics of that conversation out of respect,” says Gore. “I went for eight years as vice-president never divulging private conversations with President Clinton and I’m no more comfortable now giving you a readout of the specifics.”
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