It’s hard to imagine “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” having a happy ending. The follow-up to 2006’s Oscar-winning climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” includes Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election, a result that some environmentalists view as disastrous for the future of the planet.
But 10 years after former U.S. vice president Al Gore frightened audiences with his slideshow of photos, charts and reams of data bluntly displaying the impacts of the global climate crisis, “An Inconvenient Sequel” finds a surprisingly optimistic Gore working tirelessly on his mission of spreading awareness about both the impacts of global warming and the concrete solutions humans can take to avert disaster.
“It’s just astounding how both absolutely devastating it is in terms of where we are with the environment, but on the other hand absolutely hopeful in terms of where we stand with the choice of alternative energy,” co-director Jon Shenk told IndieWire in a recent interview, adding that the film also captures the landmark 2015 climate agreement at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris.
Shenk directed the doc with his wife Bonni Cohen, who previously teamed up on the 2016 Netflix documentary “Audrie & Daisy,” about the effects of online bullying on teenagers.
One of the first screenings at Sundance this year, “An Inconvenient Sequel” serves as the centerpiece of festival’s New Climate program. Participant Media produced the doc, which Paramount Pictures is distributing. Richard Berge and Participant’s Diane Weyermann are the film’s producers.
Courtesy of Sundance
One of the reasons Gore has an optimistic outlook in the movie has to do with the progress that has already been made in combatting climate change.
“Although Trump seems to be a climate change denier and is making cabinet appointments related to oil, even a figure like him may not be able to stop what is already underway,” Shenk said. “That’s part of the hopeful part of of the story — that there’s just this incredible well of work and support that’s going on in the alternative energy world.”
Instead of relying heavily on Gore’s famous slide presentation, “An Inconvenient Sequel” follows Gore as he travels the world to discuss climate change in places like Florida, Greenland and the Philippines. Part of his strategy involves framing the climate crisis as human issue rather than a political issue, and the film focuses on his individual journey much more than the original.
“We really strive to capture as much humanity as we can in our films,” Shenk said. “Powerful people who are trying to do herculean tasks are just fascinating to watch.” The doc also includes negative reactions to the first movie from many climate change deniers. “There’s an endless amount of footage of people calling Gore a gross exaggerator, somebody who panics and worse,” Shenk said.
In the 10 years that have passed since “An Inconvenient Truth,” however, some of Gore’s predictions about the dangers of climate change have proven to be accurate.
One slide in particular from the original film predicted that the combination of storm surge and rising sea levels could flood lower Manhattan. “It was a slide that Gore was really criticized for dramatically at the time,” Cohen said, adding that she and Shenk included it again in the sequel. “We obviously immediately cut to Superstorm Sandy, which did exactly that.”
Though a number of Gore’s predictions from the original film have taken place in an even shorter period of time than Gore originally estimated, the movie makes a point to explain that alternative energy technology has advanced significantly since 2006. “We are in a position now much more so that we were 10 years ago to turn this around,” Cohen said. “The question is just how quickly.”
Shenk and Cohen were a natural choice to direct “An Inconvenient Sequel,” having already collaborated on the climate change documentary “The Island President,” directed by Shenk and produced by Cohen. The doc focuses on former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, whose country is the lowest-lying in the world and has already been submerged in certain areas by rising sea levels.
“For us, climate change is not something in the future,” Nasheed told IndieWire. “It’s already happening.” Gore and Nasheed will both take part in a Power of Story panel on January 22 at Sundance. Perhaps surprisingly, Nasheed shares Gore’s optimism about slowing the effects of climate change, even in the Trump era.
“We must understand that the United States is the biggest democracy in the world and you can’t lose everything through an election,” Nasheed said. “I have been told that President Trump in many many capacities has been advised on the kind of national security threat that climate change issues can bring. I’m sure President Trump would be mindful of the impact climate change will have on the United States in very many ways, as it is going to start producing immigrants and refugees.”
For Shenk and Cohen, “An Inconvenient Sequel” is not a piece of activism and doesn’t have a climate change agenda. “We really wanted to make a dramatic, character driven film that would be both surprising and emotional,” Cohen said. “That was the original intent and that’s still the goal.”
“An Inconvenient Sequel” premiered in Documentary Premieres at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.