Aspen Ideas Festival: Co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk on ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’
The Aspen Times
It’s been more than a decade since “An Inconvenient Truth” — the paradigm-shifting, Oscar-winning documentary based on Al Gore’s global warming slideshow — thrust climate change into the mainstream.
In the years since, we’ve seen the advent of “green jobs,” affordable solar power, the signing of global agreements to curb carbon emissions and we’ve seen continued devastation from rising seas and a warming climate. Al Gore, all the while, has been fighting the same battles, serving as a diplomat for clean energy, giving presentations and training people around the world to do the same.
Two summers ago, the former vice president brought filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk to meet him in Nashville about making a sequel to the watershed 2006 documentary.
“We, like a lot of people, were curious about, What has Al Gore been doing for the last 10 years since ‘An Inconvenient Truth’?” Cohen said. “We were surprised at how relentless he is in pursuit of truth around the crisis and the solutions.”
Next month, Cohen and Shenk’s “An Inconvenient Sequel” will be released in theaters nationwide. They brought the film to the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30 for an early public screening.
At that first meeting, Gore showed them a 10-hour version of his latest slideshow presentation to give them a crash course in all of the latest data and sacience and solutions to global warming. And he told them what he’s been up to, training thousands of people to give his slideshow, negotiating international climate deals and pushing businesses to create solutions to curb carbon emissions.
The pair had proved adept at telling the story of climate change on film — their acclaimed 2011 film “The Island President” profiled Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, as he battled rising sea levels. (The pair’s 2016 cyber-bullying doc “Audrie & Daisy” screened at last summer’s Ideas Fest and went on to win a Peabody Award.)
Since “An Inconvenient Truth” won Best Documentary a decade ago, a cottage industry of climate change media has emerged — films, books and journalism along with scientific research. Thanks to that film, just about everybody knows the basics. So while the original film was really an expanded version of Gore’s slideshow, explaining the causes of climate change and its threat to life on Earth, the sequel is about Gore himself and his mission to save the planet.
In the new film, we see Gore as a globe-trotting crusader adding the latest current events to his slideshow — inserting new flood and fire footage from the day’s news before taking stages around the world. Gore also walks on melting glaciers and wades through the streets of Miami, he comforts flood victims and he confronts world leaders, challenging them to take action (the film’s full title is “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”).
“An Inconvenient Sequel” includes jaw-dropping imagery from the front lines of climate change: we see ice sheets in Greenland literally exploding, horrific flooding in the Philippines, a “rain bomb” falling on a city. Gore is our tour guide through the current state of a warming planet.
And it includes some terrifying statistics, like the fact that 14 out of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have been since 2001. But it trusts that the audience knows what climate change is, and looks instead at solutions big and small. In one of its most powerful segments, Gore talks about how “the most criticized scene” in the original film suggested that rising sea levels and more powerful storms would flood Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial downtown. But Gore was right. It did flood in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy.
A large segment of the film plays out like a thriller in its portrayal of Gore’s backchannel communications during the 2015 Paris climate talks. With seemingly unfettered access and working in a cinema verite style, Cohen and Shenk exhilaratingly document how Gore helped convince India to sign onto the climate agreement.
But, as we all know, there also was an inconvenient election last year. And, in the months since “An Inconvenient Sequel” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, President Donald Trump has vowed to pull out of the Paris accord and to undo the work that Gore did.
They recently edited a new cut of the film that incorporates Trump’s exit from the Paris agreement. However, Trump’s denial of climate change and his anti-environmentalist policies, Cohen and Shenk argue, do not undercut the progress their film documents.
“The truth is that, in practical terms, a lot of the work that needs to be done in order to fulfill the Paris accords, from the perspective of the United States’ obligations, is already underway at the local and state levels,” Cohen said.
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