"The Trump victory sharpens Al’s message": The directors discuss Gore's progress in "An Inconvenient Sequel"

"An Inconvenient Sequel" chronicles Al Gore's process and progress as an increasingly human advocate for mankind

Published July 31, 2017 7:00PM (EDT)

VP Al Gore with former Mayor of Tacloban City Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya in "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power" (Paramount Pictures/Jensen Walker)
VP Al Gore with former Mayor of Tacloban City Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya in "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power" (Paramount Pictures/Jensen Walker)

Convenience is one of the hallmarks of our age. Alexa and Siri service us like concubines. We perform life-changing tasks with a swipe. The savants at Pixar sure got it right in "Wall-E" when they satirized us as obese, shake-sucking-armchair-potatoes in space.  

So it certainly was going against the grain when, 11 years ago, Participant Productions and director Davis Guggenheim smacked us with that human 2-by-4, Al Gore, with his message of climate change peril in "An Inconvenient Truth." The surprising thing was, people listened, and the film became a $23-million grossing hit that helped launch a new era of environmental consciousness.

It would have been facile to think that that success would resolve the problem and there wouldn’t be a need for a sequel. Finally, a sequel that really is necessary. And so, here it is just now in theaters; "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," a documentary again produced by Participant and also starring Gore’s message of environmental urgency, but this time directed by husband and wife team, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk ("Audrie & Daisy," "The Island President").  

We see Gore as less wooden and more alive this time, as a significant part of a humane and human movement to save the earth. Salon lobbed some questions to the directors of the film, which topped specialty box offices over the weekend.

How did the film come together?

We were hired by Diane Weyermann, Executive VP of Doc Films at Participant Media. She, Jeff Skoll, and Al Gore had been discussing a possible follow up to "An Inconvenient Truth." We traveled to Nashville, where we met Al Gore, who gave us a ten-hour long slide slideshow in order to bring us up-to-date on the climate crisis. We pitched the idea of doing a behind-the-scenes film in which we would follow Al for 18 months as he went about his work. The result is a cinema verité film in which the audience will see firsthand how Al travels to meet with scientists in Greenland, climate refugees in the Philippines and ultimately to Georgetown, TX to meet with a Republican Mayor who has decided to move his city to 100 percent renewable energy.

Leonardo DiCaprio and others have produced several climate change films in recent years; why did you think it was important to make this film?

Climate change is a highly complex, multi-faceted topic, and there have been many incredible films, books, and investigative Journalism on this topic. Leo D has spent a great deal of time and energy on fighting climate change, and we applaud him! Keep it coming. Climate change is the most important, most challenging issue humans have ever faced. Storytellers need to and should continue telling stories working on problem. Participant asked us to make a follow-up to "An Inconvenient Truth." We agreed because we think that Al Gore is an unusual figure in the climate movement. Davis Guggenheim’s film helped millions around the world understand climate crisis and also re-introduced viewers to Gore in his post-political life.

Al agreed to give us a great deal of access, and through the scenes that we gathered, we hope viewers will get to know him better and also come to understand that we are at a unique moment in history in which the solutions to climate change exist. In Paris, during the 2015 climate conference, Al is asked to help convince the Indian delegation that India has a great to gain by moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy. It’s a privileged view into international negotiations that people rarely see.

What's it like working with Al Gore and how involved was he in the edit?

We maintained control over final cut of the film. We did show Al some rough cuts because we wanted to make sure that we were communicating his slideshow material accurately and effectively. We enjoyed getting to know Al and found him to be generous and warm. We also found him to be tireless! We don’t know where he gets his energy, other that the fact that he seems driven deeply to help solve climate change.

What's your read on Gore's emotional and intellectual evolution regarding climate change since "An Inconvenient Truth?"

In the film you see that he is now quite optimistic about the solutions  — the cost down-curve for solar and wind tech has made renewable energy as cheap, if not cheaper, than traditional energy in many parts of the world. For example, he meets with the mayor of Georgetown, TX — a Trump supporter and a Republican — who has embraced wind and solar because it’s cheaper for the city and because it makes sense to him to pollute less. Al also now connects the movement to solve the climate crisis to other important social issues of the past. He compares the movement to the movement to end slavery, apartheid, the movement for gay rights, etc. We found him to be quite convincing and emotional on this topic.

How would the film have been different without a Trump presidency? Would it still have been necessary?

Well, the story of the film is about Al Gore’s on-going work to solve the climate crisis. The story mostly takes place before Trump’s presidency. And we think it’s very compelling. The Trump victory sharpens Al’s message because Trump stands firmly in the camp that denies the facts of climate science. What surprised us is the backlash to Trump’s speech in which we announced his intentions to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. Many mayors, U.S. governors and business leaders have stepped up and announced plans to keep America’s commitment to the agreement, despite Trump’s failure to lead on the issue.

Participant tends to have pretty involved outreach programs. What is it doing for this film?

Check out www.aninconvenientsequel.com. There is an incredible educational curriculum in the works as well.

Is there hope that if Trump doesn't get re-elected (or gets impeached, for that matter) that the US can return to the Paris Accord?

Yes! In fact, the first day that the U.S. can officially withdraw is the day after the next president takes office in 2021. The Paris Accord was designed for each country to voluntarily commit to carbon reductions. It seems somewhat likely that the U.S. will keep to its commitments, given the action being taken by many states, cities, school and companies.

By Tom Roston

MORE FROM Tom Roston