SAN FRANCISCO — Against the backdrop of the Castro District’s colorful gay pride flags, former Vice President Al Gore pitches climate policy as social change in his latest documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”
From the suffragettes to civil rights to gay marriage, and now the fight to combat global warming, Gore sees an element of righteousness.
“This movement is in the tradition of every great movement that has advanced humankind,” he says in the film.
Gore echoed these sentiments in interviews with reporters on the red carpet prior to a screening this week at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Produced and financed by Participant Media, the film makes a limited release Friday. Paramount Pictures releases it nationwide August 4.
The latest film featuring the senior statesman follows “An Inconvenient Truth,” which debuted more than a decade ago. Addressing a standing ovation of 1,400, Gore spoke onstage before and after a screening at the largest and oldest Jewish film festival in the country. At the 37th annual SFJFF, which runs through August 6, the local Jewish documentarians who made “An Inconvenient Sequel” joined Gore in the spotlight.
The event capped the festival’s fourth annual “Take Action Day.” Inspired by the Jewish value of tikkun olam, the festival promotes the day of special programming to inspire audiences to “repair the world with our actions, to take what is broken and make it whole and to undo the harm we have inflicted on others and our planet. From Africa to America, these films move us to get out of our seats and into the streets.”
At the documentary’s debut earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, a more “convenient truth” struck SFJFF executive director Lexi Leban. “When we saw this film at Sundance, we dreamed of this very moment,” she told a packed theater prior to the screening. “Tikkun olam is about systemic change… and holiness is everywhere… Our hope is that this film will inspire us to take action.”
‘Where better to show this film than at the Jewish Film Festival?’
At a pre-screening red carpet event, reporters from select media outlets interviewed Gore and the film’s co-directors.
When asked why he brought his film to the SFJFF, Gore told The Times of Israel, “It is such an important festival and here we are in the historic venue of the Castro, with a fantastic overflow audience,” he said. “Where better to show this film than at the Jewish Film Festival?”
The new 88-minute documentary is the project of local Jewish filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. For two years, this married couple followed Gore around the globe, from Greenland to Miami to Paris and parts in between.
Gore, who served as vice president in the Clinton administration and as a senator from his native state of Tennessee, has long worked to raise awareness about the need for sustainable energy. Climate change became the Democratic presidential candidate’s primary focus after the US Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush edged him out to take the 2000 presidential election.
In the film, Gore recalls that cliffhanger in an interview with a Telemundo reporter with his characteristic southern ease.
Punctuated with such complex moments, the picture is both sobering and inspiring. It opens with beautiful and tragic images of blue and white glacial ice melting, forming rivers, streams and moulins, tiny pools of rapidly moving water that grow massively in size. It traces Gore’s work over the past two years, following him around the world presenting updates of his signature slide show on global warming that served as the launching pad for his first documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Both films counter claims from those who deny the science of global warming. In fact, “An Inconvenient Sequel” opens with voiceovers of Gore critics questioning his tactics.
One of the most controversial points of that film, Gore says in its sequel, was the projection that global warming could lead to the flooding of the 9/11 memorial site where the World Trade Towers once stood. The new film shows the sad turn of events when this actually occurred — well ahead of schedule.
World leaders and Gore himself were stunned when President Donald Trump announced US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, where Gore helped negotiate India’s historic participation, agreeing to limit India’s reliance on coal. The earliest the US can legally withdraw, however, is the day after the 2020 elections. Instead of negative impact, some argue that the announcement has, in part, served to help galvanize voters.
Gore remains hopeful even with these negatives. He shared these views in a TEDTalk entitled, “The case for optimism on climate change.”
In his 2006 blockbuster, Gore asserted that any claim that fossil fuels make no impact on the Earth’s thin atmosphere is vastly incorrect. The second film poignantly illustrates how the effects of climate change are more pronounced than predicted a decade ago. “An Inconvenient Sequel” also shows, however, how some countries have successfully exceeded projections for renewable energy. Costs for wind and solar solutions have also dropped.
‘Some of the experiences were so emotional and I actually forgot that they were there filming’
Having a documentary team shadow Gore for two years did not prepare him for witnessing this passionate portrait of an environmental crusader and policy wonk.
“An awful lot surprised me because Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk traveled with me for two years,” Gore told The Times of Israel. “And as you see in the movie, some of the experiences were so emotional and I actually forgot that they were there filming.
“People who haven’t been through that experience may not believe that but you don’t have any awareness left over to say, ‘Oh, they’re shooting this with a camera,’” Gore said. “So when I saw the first rough cut, I was really surprised at how much they had gotten on film.”
A married couple with children, Cohen, who grew up Conservative, and Shenk, the grandson of a Reform rabbi, are members of San Francisco’s Temple Emanuel. Their children attended the local Brandeis Jewish School. The pair, who met as students at Stanford University’s Film School, have substantial film credits between them. Co-director/cinematographer Shenk has won Emmy Awards for his documentary filmmaking and cinematography. The couple recently partnered up on “Audrie & Daisy,” a story of two life-changing online bullying incidents.
“They’re really talented filmmakers,” Gore said. “They come from the San Francisco film community, which is so creative. And I may be a little bit biased but I think Bonni and Jon are simply awesome.”
The married filmmakers have a bevvy of awards and nominations between them, and a long list of popular films. They’ve also worked extensively with top production companies and media outlets the world over.
Their latest film ends with a call to action along with many suggestions on how to get involved.
“I hope that this film adds to the momentum that we now have to solve the climate crisis,” Gore told The Times of Israel, “and I hope people do go to the website. They can buy advance tickets to this movie there, get the book of the same name. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to train climate activists around the world.”
Gore urged the public to use their rights as citizens to express their concerns.
“Use your voice,” he said. “When the conversation is on climate, use your vote. Be active as a citizen. Let the candidates and office holders know that this is important to you. Use your choices in the marketplace to send a signal to businesses that you want them to lead, too, as many of them are now.”
Despite its beautiful cinematography, the picture’s postscript is perhaps its most powerful message. In silence, it simply reads, “If President Trump won’t lead, the American people will.”