Sundance Diary: Seeing the big picture with the director of 'Everything's Cool'
Here’s interview number two in my ongoing series, “Three Depressing Issues and the Men Who Brought Them To Sundance So I Could Get Really Sad About the State of the World.” It’s a chat with Daniel B. Gold, who, along with Judith Helfand, directed Everything’s Cool, a documentary about the people in the fight to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a very everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to the global warming issue—and far less cut-and-dry than Al Gore’s Inconvenient perspective—but the overstuffed film did get people talking at the festival (and the free compact fluorescent light bulbs they were giving away could be officially classified as “hot swag” once Year of the Dog director Mike White started bragging that they were the only free stuff he took).
Daniel and I talked at the EW Photo Studio, as he scanned the newspaper for word on what President Bush was going to say about climate change in that evening’s State of the Union address; Mr. Gold also left behind a very yummy salad, so I’d like to thank him for that.
So tell me if I’m summing this up correctly: Everything’s Cool takes off from the science we learned in An Inconvenient Truth, and shows real people who are actually involved in the debate.
That’s heading in the right direction. Essentially, what we ideally hope for is that people who have seen Inconvenient Truth would finish watching the DVD and be angry about why they didn’t know this sooner. How is it possible that the situation could be so dire—we’re now being told that we’re running out of time to do something about it—and we’re being told this NOW? Why didn’t we hear about this on CNN every night? What happened to the message? Our film addresses that.
addCredit(“Everything’s Cool: John Quigley“)
You tell the stories of people like Heidi Cullen, theclimatologist at the Weather Channel, and the work she’s been trying todo.
Heidi Cullen is perhaps the one character in our film that makes thegreatest arc of transition. When we met her, she had just startedworking for the Weather Channel, she had no experience on camera, andshe was coming from a hard science background. And she was workingextremely hard to be conservative with her language and yet strugglingto try to make that language simple enough that it could work on TV, inthree minutes a week. In the span of time that she’s in our film [about2 years], she grows much more confident. The science becomes morerobust. The physical evidence gets greater. And by the end of the filmshe not only has a 30-minute show, but she’s also stepping up to theplate and taking a lot more responsibility for what she knows, withoutcalling herself an advocate. A couple of weeks ago she wrote a blogthat basically said this: Meteorologists all over the country have totake responsibility for what is known about global warming. Sheimmediately came under attack from Senator Inhofe’s people—SenatorInhofe is the guy who said global warming is the greatest hoax everperpetrated on the American people. The Weather Channel has gotten over500 e-mails and phone calls to her boss. And this one guy named MarcMorano—he’s the guy who did the Swift Boat campaign—he’s in Inhofe’soffice, and he posted a blog calling her a Nazi,because he said that she was trying to restrict free speech of themeteorologists. The reason why we haven’t done anything about globalwarming is, it’s a very partisan issue. If you’re a conservative, youprobably have to not believe in global warming. Abortion, gun control,global warming. And until the topic transcends that, we’re sort of introuble.
Where did the idea for the movie get started?
The early phase was, we’re going to make a film that shows howglobal warming is affecting Americans right now. We’re going topersonalize this. And so we started shooting here in Park City. I wasdoing a cinematography workshop at Sundance 2003, and we had researchedthe film for 7 months and didn’t know how we were going to start it.And I was sitting in a hot tub with a snowmaker from New Zealand, whowas downing beer after beer. And I was like, Uh, how you doin’ there?And he said, I can’t pay my rent. I’m a snowmaker, and I’m not gettingcalled into work cause it’s too warm to make fake snow. And here it is,second week of January at 8,000 feet, and it’s not getting colder than26 degrees. So we started shooting the next day. One of the biggeststruggles of the message of global warming is people think, oh, youknow, it’s probably affecting some native people at the top of theworld, or maybe hit some coastal communities in India, but we’re gonnabe safe here. We’ve got our buildings, and our air conditioning, andour ways to defend against natural disasters. But I think that thecombination of Katrina, Inconvenient Truth, and increasingly bizarre weather—
Like the 72-degree day we had in New York this January?
Yes. These things are starting to bring it home, but people don’tfeel an imminent enough threat in their own lives, in their own homes.
How many people came out to the Park City photo shoot yesterday [pictured], in response to the message from the people in Iqaluit, Canada, you show in the film?
About a thousand.
Because what struck me about the Vermont protest that you show inthe film is that there are 450 people, and it’s the “largest protest”in the history of global warming or whatever. You can get 450 people tocome out and protest Evian changing the label on their bottle.
Well, I know. To be fair, by the end of that day, it was up to 1,000people. But still. When we looked at the footage, it was both sopathetic, but so telling, and since then, that march was really thebeginning of this whole idea of the “Step It Up”movement. On April 14th, there’s going to be rallies all over thecountry with one message, which is, Step it up, Congress. We want 80percent carbon emission cuts by 2050. And that’s the message on theaerial shoot yesterday.
So let’s say there are people out there who are lazy, like me.I’m not a rallier, I’m not a marcher. So what’s a practical thing I cando right now to help?
The things people can do right now are to increase the efficiency ofthe way they use energy. And it’s easy. The most popular, common one isto change out your lightbulbs and use compact fluorescent bulbs. Alongthe same lines—I don’t know about you, but when I turn the lights offat night to go to sleep, there are like 17 blinking lights of thingscharging in my world. You’ve got the cell phone, the iPod, thecomputer. And the best thing is, as soon as those things are donecharging, unplug them. Right away. You leave your computer plugged inall night, you’re draining electricity. And that electricity is usuallybeing generated by burning coal. So you’re burning coal to just haveyour gadgets plugged in all night, and not using them. Obviously, ifyou own a vehicle, try to get a vehicle that has the very very highestmiles per gallon, because every gallon you burn emits carbon dioxideinto the air. A lot of hardcore folks are riding their bikes more,which some people just scoff at, but some people are into. That has allsorts of added benefits, like not having to go to the gym.
Is trying to do carbon offsetting—having someone inventory howmuch carbon you’re emitting and then paying for it or whatever—is thateasy for normal people?
Very easy. There’s all kinds of websites where you can go and calculate your carbon footprintand figure out, you know, I drive this many miles a week, and fly fromhere to here. And there’s two ways to offset that: By planting trees,you’re absorbing the carbon dioxide in the air, or by investing inalternative energy. We’ve offset the first 300 miles of the travel foreveryone who comes to our film here at Sundance, and the money has beenspent investing in wind energy.
But this kind of behavior—is it actually going to make adifference? Or is the problem so large that this is just a sort of dropin a bucket that evaporates?
It will make a huge difference. It isn’t a drop in a bucket—but itisn’t anywhere near the scale of what needs to happen. We can’t do thisalone. We’re not going to solve global warming by changing ourlightbulbs and unplugging our cell phones. It ain’t gonna happen. It isfar, far, far huger than that. But it’s almost like PR, because it getspeople talking about it, talking to each other, and it gets peoplerealizing, “Wait a minute. I should be voting for someone who’s talkingabout this. I should be putting somebody into a political position ofpower who considers this important.” Because changing lightbulbs isworking from the bottom up. It has to come down from the top, too.