Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 05, 2017 9:22 am 
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An update on the future of the planet, with Al Gore

The first Al Gore Climate Change documentary, 2006's An Inconvenient Truth, was "just a powerpoint lecture," some said. The criticism was justifiable: it was. But the subject was crucial, the speaker was passionate, and An Inconvenient Truth became the primer on Global Warming for millions. (It also won the Oscar.) This followup, 11 years later, is not a lecture. It can instead be accused of verging, at times, on celebrity profile, because it follows Al Gore around, and Al Gore is a famous, important man: some from remote countries think he was the US President, and ask if he still is. We find out just how important he is now - the roster of world leaders on the electronic Rolodex of his gold smartphone; how much, how easily, and how far he travels. And yet this is also the story of his defeat and frustration. But this big, hefty, sadly rather dull man is strong, and this is a profile in moral courage. It's also an update. "Should you watch it?" The Atlantic asks. Only if you care about the future of planet earth and the beings living on it.

There is good news and bad news. The bad news first: Global Warming and its effect proceed apace. Stolid on the road, Gore can get deeply angry when lecturing his environmental trainees (whose growing numbers are chronicled here), and borderline tearful. Everything he explained 11 years ago has continued, and is happening faster than predicted. He explains that really well: the rising sea level, the heating water causing bigger and more unpredictable or unprecedented storms; the drying up and cracking of land that once was fertile. He reminds us Syria was an eco-disaster (an unprecedented drought) before it was a political one. A signal example of wising up of the public: Gore's original warning that the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan could be flooded in a storm was one of the most scoffed at of his statements. During Hurricane Sandy, it happened.

On the plus side, while the use of fossil fuel may not have cut back much, the availability of sustainable sources, mainly solar and wind, has moved rapidly forward in many places in the world. It's safe to say more people are aware of the problem and getting on board to do something about it.

Global agreements, moving toward Paris, have taken a positive turn lately. But this is the aspect that's in between good news and bad news. Good news: Gore (apparently) was a major help in getting India to come on board and down-pedal its plans to open new coal plants, in exchange for a deal with Silicon Valley's SolarCIty to have their technology for free. This may be disputed, but Developing Countries' need to use bad energy for cheap growth that we in the West don't need any more, because as the Indian leader pointed out we already got to use it for 150 years, is a big issue.

And then, there was Trump. The film runs Trump's climate denying throughout, and adds his promise of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement at the end. Actually, it doesn't tell how big a damper Trump's election was on the accord. But Al Gore, this big, stolid, powerful, lonely man (separated from his wife Tipper since 2010, though the film doesn't delve that deep, even if it does follow him changing his wet socks), is an admirable man. And though he uses (some think naively) the name of Elon Musk in brokering a deal to get India to sign a major climate agreement, Gore explicitly rejectsMusk's idea of solving Earth's problems by escaping to Mars. We aren't going to do that, he says: "This is our home."

What's wrong with this documentary? As we showed in referring to its "celebrity profile" aspect, it's too much about Al Gore. And correspondingly not fresh, exciting, original, or galvanizing enough on its central global issues. It starts and ends with images of big melting chunks of ice. But the way it does that just shows how much less powerful and haunting this film is than Joe Orlowski's 2012 Chasing Ice. An Inconvenient Sequel isn't addressed to climate deniers; but there is a film about the climate denying industry and who's behind it, Robert Kenner's 2014 Merchants of Doubt. This new film is best as a brush-up on the key issues, an update, a role-model portrait, and a close look at the UN Climate Change conferences. When you see Obama, Putin, and the rest at COP21 (2015), you realize these things do have some kind of clout. Are we going to survive? Stay tuned. Very closely tuned.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, 98 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2017; also four other festivals including Cannes. Release, limited, 28 July; wide, 4 Aug. 2017.

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