Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk on the making of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
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We met Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, directors of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, to discuss this new film and their experience working with former US Vice-President Al Gore. We even managed to get them to reveal a deleted scene…
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What are your favourite scenes in the film?
Bonni Cohen: When Al Gore goes to Georgetown, Texas, and meets up with the Republican mayor whose city of 60,000 people is going carbon neutral - total alternative energy in the heart of conservative Texas. It’s a great scene because it takes the politics out of this issue and gets down to the basics of what we need to think about the climate crisis and how we are going to fix it. There are economic viabilities around the alternative energy market, creating jobs etc., and it can be done all over the world.
Jon Shenk: I really love the scenes of Paris where we follow Gore through the Paris Accord. At first, he doesn’t really know how to get involved in negotiations then puts himself out there and is asked to help negotiate with India to try to get them on board with signing. You see Al in a vulnerable state there. He’s not sure if he’s going to succeed and he’s trying to pull every string he can with the people that he knows in the solar industry. To watch that behind-the-scenes, political thriller take place is an amazing opportunity for us as filmmakers.
There have been some criticisms that the film focuses too much on the life of Al Gore, reducing time for environmental issues. What are the unique benefits of having Al Gore as a central figure in the film?
JS: There is room in the world for all types of films, books and articles on environmental issues - it's so complex. One thing that is moving, a really emotional experience for people in films is to connect to a character and their personal struggle. That’s where our instinct always goes in the way we tell stories about social issues. We really look for people - what drives them and what moves them emotionally.
We were blown away by Al Gore’s passion, his lifelong desire, and emotional drive to move the needle in the direction of a solution to the climate crisis. There are not many people on the planet who have his history of working on this issue, all the way from the 1960s to the present. By getting to know Al Gore more as an in-depth character, the audience will walk away from this film having a deep understanding of where we are in terms of the damage that's been done, and the solutions that exist to the climate crisis.
TNS: Some of the stories you tell in the film are heart-breaking and it can be emotionally exhausting – what kept you going? Did you have days when you felt a bit hopeless with the scale of the problem?
BC: First of all, keeping up with Al Gore is a feat unto itself. It was something to behold how he can just keep going well into the night. That was incredibly inspiring.
It was interesting to be making this film during the time of the US presidential election. There was so much fear about the outcome and, to be making this film at a time when there was so much hopelessness in this country, we felt it was a gift to be able to capture and follow a real leader whose legacy is the environmental movement.
He lost hope at times. There is one instance in Greenland when he was meeting with Dr. Eric Rignot who had just released a report about the Antarctica ice sheets and the melt there. Al said to Eric, "I read your report and it makes me really upset, it really got to me. I need you to help me understand how I can go on and be optimistic." We didn’t hear that very often but we heard it in Greenland. Eric said to him, "I think you have to look at this as two hands. We’ve cut off a pinky on one of the hands but we can’t give up on the rest." There is some irreparable damage in terms of the climate but there is so much to save. Bearing witness to those moments for us as filmmakers, as people, as parents, was very impactful for us.
You had to make last-minute adjustments to include scenes about the US elections and Trump - can you tell us about any important scenes that had to be cut?
JS: Al Gore inherited an incredible piece of land in eastern Tennessee from his parents who were cattle-ranchers and tobacco farmers. In the last five-ten years, he’s modified and transformed this piece of land into an organic, sustainable agricultural operation. He has worked with agricultural experts to re-build the land the way that it was naturally. It’s an incredible operation for food production which he now runs as a community supported agriculture business in Tennessee to demonstrate how agriculture can be done in a really organic, sustainable manner in that part of the country. By the way, it produces amazing salads - we had several meals there and we shot a lot of material! At the end of the day, after Paris, the drama of the film became apparent and unfortunately we didn’t have time to tell that story - it just broke our hearts to leave that story in editing. We are hoping we can do something with it one day.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power - See it on Digital and DVD December 11
Images courtesy of GrapeVine Digital.