Posted July 30, 2017 by Jeff in Flicks

An Inconvenient Sequel: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

An Inconvenient Sequel
An Inconvenient Sequel

A decade ago, the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth brought the issue of climate change to the foreground and showed how former Vice President Al Gore had tried to educate the public about the dangers of what scientists call “the greenhouse effect.” Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk revisit the issue with a follow-up film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. They follow Gore as traipses the globe with a cadre of climate champions, many of whom have gone through is training. Cohen and Shenk recently phoned us to talk about the movie.

What made you want to make a sequel?
Shenk: Bonni and I were called by Participant Media in July of 2015. Our main contact is the head of their documentary division, Diane Weyermann, who is a longtime friend of ours. Jeff Skoll the founder of Participant Media, and Diane and Al had been talking about possibly doing an update to An Inconvenient Truth. The original director, Davis Guggenheim, thought it would be important to bring a new team on board to perhaps find a new way of looking at the story. We spent an entire day with Al getting a ten-hour version of the slide show, which is an amazing experience. We wanted to spend a lot of time with Al, filming him behind the scenes as he did his climate work and traveled to Paris and the Philippines and Greenland as he tried to solve the climate problem. We noticed there was natural drama going on as the cost had come down so much for solar and wind. It was a real chance for the world at large to start moving toward solutions for the climate crisis.

He works on an international level.
Cohen: Christiana Figueres, who runs the climate conference in Paris for the UN body saw An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 and was in the second training Al Gore ever gave. We would see trainees all over the world. In Paris, Al said, “These are my peeps.” They all knew him and either went through his training or worked with him. When Christiana calls him into service, you see his creative mind at work. He’s pulling strings on the business side and the political side. In this post-political way, he’s able to work all those different angles.

That element of the movie played itself out naturally.
Cohen: Most of the people who do the main work in Paris are negotiators and they’re part of their country’s delegation. Al showed up there as a lone wolf. He even looked at us and said he didn’t know what he would do. He was called into service in a particular way to work with the developing countries.

It must have been intense to be in Paris when the terrorist attacks happened.
Shenk: It was really frightening for us. We went there two weeks before the conference to be with Al. He was doing a 24-hour broadcast designed to raise awareness about what was going to happen at the conference. A couple of hours into the broadcast, we heard sirens and ambulances. We started hearing this tragic news. We decided to keep rolling. It was a moment that we thought Al provided an emotional leadership role. He was able to step up and tell the French crew working on the show that America was with them and that we had to work together to remind the world that we can provide a moral compass. Al points out something that we found to be true, which is that the tragedy led to leaders around the world galvanizing and helped provide the impetus to get the deal done. Leaders came into France bound together by the tragedy.

We see Al behind-the-scenes. I planned to ask you what he was like off camera but we see him off camera.
Cohen: We were rolling so consistently that there were many times when Al forgot the camera was there. He talks about this. When he first saw the film, he said there are scenes he didn’t remember filming. He felt like the longer we worked with him, the more he was able to forget the cameras were there.

Did Al meet with Donald Trump?
Cohen: He did meet a couple of times. He has a relationship with Ivanka [Trump], as well, who has shown interest in pursuing the right path for climate change. Early on, he was reasonably hopeful that the President might stay in the Paris treaty. He thought there was a 50/50 chance he might go that way. Unfortunately, he didn’t.

Did you try to get Trump on film?
Shenk: It was a non-starter. There was no media allowed. We had amazing access in other places in India and even in Paris when he talked to world leaders. Al said he wanted to respect the privacy of his conversations with the President, which was somewhat of a holdover from his time with Clinton, I think.

How did this issue become so political?
Cohen: That’s why we wanted to go to Georgetown, Texas, in the heart of oil country. They’ve made that city renewable. The point of that scene is that it doesn’t need to be political. We want to leave the planet cleaner than we found it. It makes good economic sense.

Shenk: Solar jobs are growing fast as are wind jobs.

Cohen: From a clean air perspective and from an economic viability perspective, it’s the way to go.

Shenk: The reason that it’s political is based on a campaign of falsification perpetuated by the fossil fuel companies for the past 30 years. When studies started to come out and even when oil companies’ own scientists started warning them about the dangers of their own products, instead of doing the right thing, many of the oil companies started to pay for the campaigns for politicians and make talking points that lied about the effects of carbon pollution. Democratic and Republicans broke into tribes. That never should have been the case. Republicans are finally waking up, including Mayor Ross in Georgetown. They know the reality and want to do something about it.

A healthy population would be good for the economy.
Shenk: We are at a point now where most Americans know the facts. They know that climate change is dangerous and is a man-made problem. They know that there are man-made solutions. Countries from around the world were excited about the Paris Accord. They know there’s a giant economic gain to be had. China and India want to build the factories. They know the sustainable energy revolution will be as significant as the industrial revolution. It will happen faster. The doubling of solar is happening every year.

Talk about the ending. You had to reshoot it.
Cohen: We have to avoid the impulse to be reactive to everything that this administration seems to do. We thought long and hard about how to respond to the various promises that Trump has made about the environment. He’s appointed cabinet positions to climate deniers. We make quick work of it at the end of the film. It’s the tragedy of where we are. We quickly turn toward the good work that American people. Even more galvanized since Trump pulled out of Paris. The film ends on a hopeful note. We witness mayors and governors and ordinary citizens standing up and saying they will lead on the issue. That’s how we handle it in the film.

We live at a time when most of our sequels are for superhero movies. I guess Al Gore comes off as a superhero of sorts.
Shenk: We think Al is an incredible leader in the environmental movement. His life is so interesting. He’s worked on this issue all his life. He has suffered some defeat and yet managed to stay optimistic. It’s something that’s really important in this day and age as we try to solve this problem.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].