This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
There are two people in this world: climate skeptics and people who’d listen to Al Gore. Over the past 10 years, the former almost-president has become somewhat of a figurehead for environmentalism, much to the chagrin of conservative naysayers. A staunch proponent of reform and communication between nations, Gore’s image is a complex, stigmatized tapestry. No conservative has any interest in listening to the man, and there’s little convincing left to do for those that still want to lend him their ear. That is to say, Al Gore has accumulated the persona of an environmentalist Michael Moore; he’s smart and articulate, but his reach only extends to those already inclined to support him.
At the heart of any documentary is the question of, “Why is this being made?” 10 years ago, when Gore gave us AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, the answer to this question was simple: spread the word about global warming and start a dialogue. The film was a data dump, and for the most part, it worked. Climate change became a brazenly partisan issue, but it dominated the public discourse for a decade now without halt. Call AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH what you want, but you can’t call it ineffective. So that’s why AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL is such a challenging task to undertake.
“And this building is where the global warming happens”
For the first hour of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s sequel to the 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, Gore and his team play catch-up with the audience, helping them understand what exactly has happened since the release of the original film. Some imagery is harrowing—the calving of glaciers and the flooding of the World Trade Center memorial remain highlights that will sear themselves into your retina—other segments feel a little less effective. But to a large degree, this is an opportunity to remind people that this crisis is real and imminent. For much of AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL’s first hour, the film operates as if its audience hasn’t been paying much attention to the media coverage on the issue. But that’s not exactly a bad thing, because it sets a solid foundation for a far more compelling film.
You see, what Cohen and Shenk quickly realized was that with the ongoing debate on the issue, and the growing urgency to address it, filmmakers have dive-bombed into the topic. From CHASING ICE to BEFORE THE FLOOD, we haven’t really had a year go by without a AAA climate documentary. Each of these films serve as very specific, niche pieces of exposition on a sub-topic within the umbrella of climate change. They’re all compelling in their own right, but really only serve to reinforce data that AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH had already prophesied. So when AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL transitions from an information injection to a study of activism, it kicks into gear with resounding effect.
An Inconvenient Bathtub
It appears to me that at a certain point AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL realizes that it needs to be a portrait of Al Gore “the activist,” not a hammering down on “the message.” The reason for this is simple: we all know what’s at stake, and if we’re watching this film, we’re probably already on Al Gore’s side. But studying him as a larger-than-life deal broker between nations, putting blood, sweat, and tears into India’s commitment to the Paris agreement is beyond inspiring. Al Gore’s greatest strengths are measured in his diplomacy, and AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL is a wonderful showcase of how a good tactician can move the world towards renewable energy.
There’s a sense of hope here that is often absent in most climate docs. That’s the real takeaway. AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL isn’t concerned about fear-mongering. It spends just enough time reminding us that Al Gore’s original film was (and remains) a credible source for information, only to sidestep and become a case study in how to navigate the minefield of global politics. It’s a testament to Gore’s commitment, and urges the viewer to be just as steadfast. This is doubled down on through speeches that Gore gives to his environmentalist trainees, and traumatic interviews with survivors of life-altering natural disasters. AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL may not be the game changer that its predecessor was, nor does it exhibit any cinematic ingenuities of its own, but it’s committed to saving the world; and sometimes, that’s all that matters.