Al Gore on An Inconvenient Sequel, embracing cinéma vérité, and Trump
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Former Vice President Al Gore has faced dilemmas much greater than whether to make a sequel to his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. “But I was reluctant,” Gore says from his home in Nashville, “because we’d already presented the basic science.” That film was based on a PowerPoint presentation that Gore had presented (and still does) around the world about on the growing dangers of climate change.
Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk proposed following Gore around the world for two years — and the idea clicked. The result is a film that’s slim on slide shows but more challenging than its predecessor, especially in its complex portrait of Gore as a savvy ambassador. EW talked to the 69-year-old Democratic Party lion and Nobel Peace Prize laureate about his experience of making the film and the potential rough waters that lie ahead.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is being released to theaters by Paramount Pictures on July 28.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This film opens with shots of melting icebergs matched to the voices of commentators calling you everything from a con man to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
AL GORE: Goebbels, yeah. Gosh, I’d forgotten about that.
Do you read all your critics?
Well, I’m aware of the deniers. My staff puts together a daily summary of all the climate news stories around the world. People with even one ear paying attention to the media over the last decade have certainly heard a lot of fire trained on me. The [archconservative billionaire] Koch brothers paid to fly a hot-air balloon over my house. And I’ve developed a thick skin, for sure.
They flew a balloon over your house?
It was part of a gimmick that they used in a number of locations, but my house was the one that they picked here in Tennessee. They spend a lot of money, along with some of the other deniers, in trying to fool people into thinking that there’s nothing to see here, move along.
Is it true that you were not only wary about doing this sequel, but you were also wary 10 years ago about making the original Inconvenient Truth?
Yes. I feel silly going through that now because I really love what the directors have done, but a decade ago I didn’t think it made sense to try to make a slideshow into a movie. [Director] Davis Guggenheim certainly proved me wrong. During the production of the first movie he won me over to the idea that it had a lot of potential for creating a change in public attitude. The issue is so difficult because of the complexity and it challenges the moral imagination with the scale and size and how high the stakes are. That wasn’t really the source of my reluctance this time around.
What was it this time?
Well, I was wrong, of course, in not fully appreciating the impressive skill of [directors] Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk. The sequel is a very different kind of movie. They followed me around all over the world for two years, and it’s more of a cinéma vérité movie. After a while, you live with these people for two years, you kind of forget they’re there. It’s just human nature to stop being constantly aware of it. Honestly when I saw the first cut I was astonished at a lot of the stuff that they got that I had really not even realized they were filming.
In one of those incredibly candid scenes, we see you comforting a heartbroken man who survived the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines. It’s a very raw moment.
I’ve met so many people with burdens on their hearts that are just impossible to imagine. Honestly, I was astonished when I saw that in the film. It sounds incredible, but I wasn’t aware of the camera’s presence.
You say in the film that when there are setbacks in the movement, you can’t help but experience those as personal failures.
Yeah, that’s true.
That’s a very confessional thing to say.
You know, just being open and candid about it is the most natural way to proceed. There’s no point in not opening up when you’re as deeply involved in something like this as I have been for decades now. And now, there were some moments in the first movie where Davis Guggenheim did extensive audio interviews, sometimes the sessions would last many hours, and there were certainly times in that where I had to dig deep and just lay it all out there. But certainly the style of movie making that Jon and Bonni have perfected, it invites more of that.
In this film you mention that your most ridiculed claim in Truth [see video below] was regarding a computer simulation depicting the flooding of lower Manhattan.
Absolutely, the 9/11 Memorial site. And since then we’ve seen Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when it did flood. Every night on the television news now is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. Just last week a million acres burned up in the Southern High Plains, thousands of cattle burned up. You look at what’s going on in Peru right now. I mean, I could do a different slideshow every day just based on the last 24 or 48 hours of climate related extreme weather events. And some of these carbon polluters say, “Oh, there’s no problem.” Ridiculous.
You have a warm meeting in the film with a man named Dale Ross, the right-wing Republican mayor of Georgetown, Texas. His city is at the forefront of alternative energy. What was that like?
Oh, that was fun. And he makes me optimistic. There are now 30 Republican representatives who have changed positions on this issue, up from 17 last year. We’re not that far from having a working majority in the House and the Senate — if not before the 2018 elections, then right after. That dam may break soon.
And that’s also a sign of the continued changes in public opinion, right?
Yes. Just two weeks ago a congressman named Darrell Issa in San Diego switched sides. He was put under pressure in town hall meetings and is facing an opponent next year who is making this an issue, and he switched sides. There are going to be a lot more like him. And where the Senate is concerned, there are about ten Republican senators who are considering changing positions on this issue. That would be enough for a working majority in the Senate as well. We’re not there yet. We’re not there yet in either chamber, but we will be.
So you are optimistic?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the new realities about the climate crisis that has emerged in the last ten years is that the cost reduction curves for solar and wind and batteries and all kinds of efficiency improvements has reached the point where, in a growing number of locations, renewable electricity is now significantly cheaper. That’s even on an unsubsidized basis, it’s cheaper than electricity from burning coal or gas or oil. That has changed the dynamics of this issue dramatically. Just in the last six months we’ve seen the contract price for solar electricity come down. It hasn’t crossed that threshold everywhere yet but it’s in the process of doing so.
You met with Donald Trump shortly after the election. Could you see him changing his position?
I don’t know. With the right kinds of policies we could move even faster on these issues. So it’s a shame that the current administration is trying to slow down the progress because they are beholden to the large carbon polluters. Will Trump consider reaching out to Democrats? They say they are considering it but I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t know. I think there is a 50 percent chance or better that they will decide to stay in the Paris Agreement, but President Trump and most of his closest advisors seem hell bent on eliminating any of the EPA programs and other programs to try to speed up this transition. It’s a shame. But we’re still in a moment that’s pregnant with the possibility for great change. And I’m completely convinced we’re going to win this.
Is it too early to think about another film in this series?
Well, yeah. I love this one but it’s a bit early to be thinking about doing a third.
And you’ll probably think it’s not a great idea when the idea comes around.
Yeah [laughs]. You know, I’ve gotta keep my perfect record.
[Correction: An original version of this article quoted former Vice President Gore as saying, “The current administrations seems hell-bent on pulling out of the Paris Agreement.” But, in fact, what Gore said was this: “I think there is a 50 percent chance or better that they will decide to stay in the Paris Agreement, but President Trump and most of his closest advisors seem hell bent on eliminating any of the EPA programs and other programs to try to speed up this transition.”]
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power