Given that the biggest climate news of the past year has been the decision to pull the United States out of the landmark Paris global climate accord, it may seem as if the most inconvenient aspect of the new “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” documentary is its timing.
Isn’t this follow-up to 2006’s Oscar-winning “An Inconvenient Truth” outdated and beside the point because as major a player as the U.S. has gone its own way, leaving the rest of the world in the lurch?
In fact, watching this involving and unexpectedly passionate film will persuade you that just the opposite is true. The need to pay attention is ever greater, no matter which leaders pretend otherwise, and the possibilities of making a difference have increased as well.
Though the actions of former Vice President Al Gore, the tireless happy warrior of the climate crisis movement, are once again front and center, new directors have come on board for the sequel and brought a different creative tack with them.
In charge this time are the team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, whose credits include a previous climate documentary, 2011’s excellent “The Island President,” about the battles of Mohamed Nasheed, the leader of the Maldives, to keep his political career afloat and his low-lying nation from washing away.
While the original “Inconvenient” was largely a dramatized re-creation of Gore’s traveling scientific slideshow, the new film is a classic cinéma vérité production, with the filmmakers shadowing Gore for months and recording his frustrations as well as his determination to do the right thing and make the world respond to what he sees as an existential crisis.
Though his efforts have won him the Nobel Peace Prize, Gore has hardly been without his opponents, and “Sequel” begins with a quick audio recap of some of the more confrontational things that have been said about him, including commentator Glenn Beck warmly comparing him to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
To watch [Al] Gore ... is to see a man who understands how difficult it is to change thinking and how important it is to try.
We also get to see a 2007 Senate hearing faceoff between Gore and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhof, who doesn’t believe in climate change one little bit. To watch Gore attempting to find a way to reach his implacable opponent on a human level is to see a man who understands how difficult it is to change thinking and how important it is to try.
Like its predecessor, “Inconvenient Sequel” throws a lot of facts at you, some of them hopeful — investment in wind and solar power have gone through the roof — and some of them, like the continued rise in the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels, decidedly not.
Much of this information comes in the context of Gore’s continuing climate leadership training sessions (10,000 graduates and counting), which he constantly updates with new facts and new visuals. Truly, as Gore says, “every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Apocalypse.”
But the film is at its best following the former vice president as he spans the Earth both gathering evidence and promoting his message. We see him in Greenland, talking to scientists who are “shell-shocked” at the way the glaciers are shrinking, and in Miami Beach, where flooding has him wringing out his own socks on camera.
If those trips have an emotional high point, it is likely Gore’s visit to Georgetown, Texas, which Mayor Dale Ross gleefully describes as “the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas.”
Georgetown is also, however, the first city in the state to be powered by 100% renewable energy, a decision the town made not out of ideological preference but because it made sense economically. And because, as the mayor says with amusement, “doesn’t it just make sense — the less stuff you put in the air, the better it is.”
A key obstacle to that success, however, was India, whose leadership, as video of Gore conferring with a key official explores, felt its coal-fueled economy was essential to ending poverty. How Gore became a key player in ensuring the country’s agreement is one of the film’s strongest sequences.
Though the voice of Donald Trump can be heard early on proclaiming his lack of belief in global warming, it’s not till the very end that a title card acknowledges that America has pulled out of that very treaty.
Gore does not deal with this on camera, but given what else he says, it is not hard to imagine how he feels. By definition, he admits, this battle is a contest between hope and despair, but that doesn’t stop him from getting angry from time to time.
“Didn’t you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?” he imagines future generations saying to today’s Americans. “What were you thinking?” What indeed.
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
Rating: PG, for thematic elements and some troubling images
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: ArcLight, Hollywood; Landmark, West Los Angeles