The mood at Sundance so far, at least compared to my experience in past years, has been kind of dour. Look, Thursday night at Sundance is when people are usually in good moods. The festival is their oyster! “Oh, altitude sickness and extreme exhaustion? Nope, it won’t happen to me! I’m indestructible. I will live forever!” It’s usually by Tuesday you start seeing gloomy faces. Not this year: People showed up with gloomy faces. This is because most conversations usually start and end with our new president.
The Sundance Film Festival is usually about the spirit of hope and promise. Hope and promise for young filmmakers, returning filmmakers all with a vibe that maybe the world can be a better place. This year it’s all doom and gloom. (On the Wednesday night before the festival starts, a lot of media people will meet at a pizza place that’s near where a lot of the condos are located. In the past the conversations have been about what movies people are looking forward to. This year the conversation was about what rights we all expect to lose over the next four years. Sundance fever, catch it!)
All of this was hammered home even more by the Sundance opening night film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk), a follow-up to 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth. After the film, Al Gore got on stage and still tried to preach that this was a movie of hope. Al Gore tries to be a positive guy! But, while watching, I couldn’t help but get the impression that we are all doomed. Somehow this sequel is more depressing than the first film, but for a few different reasons.
Look, no reasonable human being denies climate change is happening. We live in a world where Rick Perry, of all people, even admitted he believed humans are responsible for climate change (or, as he said, “partially responsible”). The film opens with soundbites of naysayers from 10 years ago basically calling Al Gore an idiot. See, when you’re proven correct, you can start a film with soundbites from your former detractors. To the point that Gore’s quoted in the film saying, “Our nightly news is a hiking trip through the Book of Revelations.”
There’s plenty of more proof offered – Gore visits Miami at a time when the Atlantic Ocean was making its way into some beachside streets – but the more compelling part of the movie is the political wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to make the climate change Paris Agreement a reality. (I would like to meet the person who still thinks this is all a hoax, but also buys a ticket to this movie to give Al Gore one last chance to change his or her mind.) India is a big holdout and Gore has to call in many, many favors to work out a deal in which India will agree to renewable energy. It’s pretty fascinating how this stuff works.
But the specter of Trump looms large throughout the film. Every time Gore gets some headway, Trump is on television saying this is all a bunch of baloney. Gore visits Georgetown, Texas – a city that’s almost completely running on renewable energy, run by a local Republican government. The Republican mayor doesn’t look at this as a political issue. I’m paraphrasing, but he says something along the lines of, “If you put stuff in the air, the air probably won’t be as good.” Well, yeah, but here we are where this is somehow a huge political issue. (Also, just to be clear, “somehow” means “lots and lots of money from oil companies.”) As this is happening, the camera pans over to a big field with a campaign sign for Donald Trump.
So we follow Gore trying to make the Paris Agreement happen. Gore is in Paris the day if the terrorist attacks on the city. We watch as world leaders come together – strengthened by resolve after the tragedy – to get a meaningful agreement worked out. This has been Gore’s life’s work. There’s true jubilation.
Of course, we know how this ends. Trump is elected president and is now threatening to leave the agreement – an agreement in which the United States took a leadership role to try and make the world a better place. Now, it’s probably gone. All that work, probably for nothing.
After the screening, Gore took one question from the audience. Surprisingly, it was a good one. (Seriously, audience questions are usually the worst.) A woman asked Gore how his meeting with Trump went. Even in the film, we see Gore entering Trump Tower, a meeting Gore’s been pretty mum on so far.
Gore, ever the statesman, said he would continue to keep that conversation confidential so that there could still be future meetings. But it was hard for Gore to hide his disappointment, going on to add that just two days after that meeting Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier.
Gore still maintained the new film was about hope and that it’s not too late. But, man, his face sure said something else.
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