"An Inconvenient Truth," about former Vice President Al Gore's science-heavy slide show on global warming, was one of the most successful documentaries in box-office history when it came out in 2006. The film raised awareness of the global threat and is the 11th top-grossing documentary to date.
The film, directed by Davis Guggenheim, won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007, the same year Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Gore was "probably the single individual who has done the most to create global worldwide understanding of the [climate] measures that need to be adopted," the Nobel Committee wrote.
Now comes "Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," made by co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. The Bay Area filmmakers' were already well-versed in the issue of climate change: Their 2011 documentary, "The Island President," told of efforts by the leader of the Maldives, a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean, to save his nation from the threat of rising sea levels.
The sequel brings viewers up-to-date with what's happened to the climate in the 11 years since the film came out, and the green energy solutions taking hold. It also follows Gore's ongoing efforts to move the country and the world away from fossil fuel consumption and toward sustainable energy.
President Trump, who has said climate change is a hoax, factors into the film though it was completed before he pulled the United States out of the landmark Paris climate accord on June 1.
The News recently spoke to Cohen and Shenk about their new film.
How did you become involved with the sequel?
Cohen: The idea was not ours. It was Participant Media's idea. They were involved in the first one, and came to us to direct what was already a nascent idea for a sequel. We agreed to do it.
While it was daunting to try to make a sequel to a film that made such a mark in the world and was such a successful documentary, we also thought this was a more important time than ever because there is hope. There are solutions in place to solve the climate crisis. We thought we had a lot of clay to work with for a new film.
How did Al Gore feel about another film?
Cohen: He was initially hesitant. He didn't understand what the significance of it could be, but became convinced that because of the sustainability revolution there could be an excellent film made. Once we started, he was really on board.
Shenk: When we first met Al Gore in July 2015,, we went down to his house in Nashville. We sat through a 10-hour version of the slide show. It was quite a day. We learned two basic things: You see the devastating effects of the temperature rise that's already occurred. The storms are more intense, the weather patterns are shifting, we're getting these once-in-a- 1,000 year weather events. As Al Gore said in the film, 'Couldn't you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?'
"On the other side what we learned at Al Gore's house is the incredible progress that's occurred in the sustainable energy markets. As you see in the film, the cost curve of solar and advances in wind technology have really been getting us to a point where it's as cheap, if not cheaper, to get our energy that way in many parts of the world.
Gore comes across as noble, but someone's who's hard to know. What was your experience with him like?
Shenk: He's an incredibly upbeat, energetic man who gets up every day and tries to figure out how to move this issue forward.
For many, the 2000 presidential defeat would have been the end of their career, and we would never have heard from them again. But somehow he was able rise from that and find a new, meaningful career. He deeply cares about environmental issues, and educated himself to know a lot about the climate crisis and about the solutions. I think he really feels like that's where he is the most effective and can make a difference.
The film shows little of Gore's personal life, with the exception of a visit to the family home in Carthage, Tenn. Was there any resistance on his part to filming that scene?
Cohen: There wasn't. He's very proud of the family farm and of his family's political history. He started telling us about all the pictures on the kitchen wall, and when we said we wanted to shoot inside he didn't mind at all. He was very touched by the letter he's show reading aloud from his daughter on the pros and cons of running for president.
We wanted to provide some context for who this man is to this country and the complicated history he had. It's an important story to know as you see him go about his work with the climate crisis.
Gore has had a strained relationship with President Bill Clinton, although the former president has for years prioritized climate change in the work of the Clinton Foundation. Did you get a sense whether they collaborate on this issue?
Shenk: Al Gore's relationship with Bill Clinton never came up during the time we were with him. The one thing we didn't film was that he was passionate about Hillary's campaign, and really felt her stance on the environment and the continuation of a lot of the policies Obama started to put in place during his second term would continue during a Hillary presidency.
What are your hopes for the film?
Cohen: We hope people will go see it. We really feel that seeing a film can be the first step in winning the conversation about the climate crisis. It' s a way for the audience to become educated about how far we have come with the climate crisis, and the solutions that are out there to solve it. We're hoping it is going to cause people to act in small and maybe larger ways.
We're also hoping there's a way that, as Al Gore said in the film, we are at a tipping point with this movement where people can be galvanized to act in a way they may not have thought to do so before. I think a lot of people feel really paralyzed by the devastation of the climate crisis, and I feel the film proves there is hope for how we as a community and as a country can come together to move the needle.