Film

Tokyo International Film Festival closes with an inconvenient message from Al Gore

by Eamon Dreisbach

Contributing Writer

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore Jr. still remembers the childhood experiences that inspired his passion for the natural environment.

“Some of my earliest memories are walking with my father over every hectare of our family farm as he explained the importance of caring for the soil,” Gore, 69, told The Japan Times via email. “The next formative experience for me was when my mother read aloud, to my sister and me, Rachel Carson’s (environmental science) book ‘Silent Spring’ — I don’t remember her doing that with any other books.”

Today, those memories have manifested in Gore’s life in the form of a lengthy career championing the movement against climate change. Aside from hosting presentations around the world, he has written two books and adapted two documentaries centered on the dangers of environmental destruction — the latest of which will make its Japanese debut by closing the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival on Nov. 3. The film is set for a wider release two weeks later.

Co-directed by filmmakers Bonni Cohen (“The Rape of Europa”) and Jon Shenk (“Star Wars: Episode I — the Phantom Menace”), “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” showcases the modern political difficulties associated with climate reform as well as the consequences of recent record-breaking storms around the world. Both directors boast a diverse background in the film industry: Cohen has been producing and directing documentaries since 2006, while Shenk has worked as a cinematographer for major entities such as National Geographic.

TIFF’s choice to close its event with “An Inconvenient Sequel” has puzzled some critics, but given the increasing popularity of documentaries among mainstream movie fans, and Japan’s own track record in pro-climate policies, the decision to feature Gore’s film at TIFF isn’t a random one.

“Thanks in large part to its rich history of reverence toward the environment as well as its willingness and ability to embrace innovation, Japan serves as a beacon of what can be accomplished through this sustainability revolution,” Gore says.

Unlike the film’s predecessor, “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), which landed two Academy Awards and grossed more than $49 million worldwide, “An Inconvenient Sequel” uses a more personal lens to tell its story, following events in Gore’s life over the past 10 years as well as the major climate-related tragedies that overlap with them.

One of the film’s more intimate scenes features a shot of the former vice president wringing out damp socks in a hotel room after walking through the flooded streets of Florida in the aftermath of a major storm. Another showcases an emotional visit to his childhood home in Carthage, Tennessee, where he draws parallels between his fight against climate-denying corporate entities and his father’s rejection of the tobacco industry following his sister’s death from lung cancer.

For Gore, this interpersonal approach to filmmaking is a more direct way to communicate the urgency of climate issues to believers and skeptics alike.

“Making the climate crisis personal is essential for motivating action,” Gore says. “One of the things that has changed since the first film is that an increasing number of people are experiencing the effects of the climate crisis firsthand. As these events increasingly occur in our own backyards and affect not only ourselves but our families, friends and neighbors, the sense of urgency to act and solve the climate crisis continues to increase rapidly.”

True to his word, Gore has spent the past decade traveling the world to host Climate Reality Leader Training Sessions — large-scale lecture-style presentations that offer attendees the statistical data, historical context and communication skills needed to explain the intricacies of global warming and other environmental issues to the public. Similar to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the sequel intersperses footage of these presentations throughout its duration, but this time includes Gore’s interviews with industry experts and journey to the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference running alongside it.

The appeal of “An Inconvenient Truth” stemmed largely from it being one of the first documentaries to accurately communicate the foundation of climate science in layman’s terms — an appeal that is retained in Gore’s latest film. Through animated graphs and statistically backed analogies, Gore’s presentations work to educate the viewer just as much as attendees of the Climate Reality Sessions being portrayed.

But interpreting dense scientific data was not a simple task for Gore. His educational background is in government and he did not develop an interest in climate science until he attended a class with renowned oceanographer Roger Revelle at Harvard University in the late 1960s. Prior to production of the documentary, Gore says he spent “countless hours” working with scientists from around the world to accurately convey data from outside of his line of work.

And this form of environmental literacy, Gore believes, is among the most important tools a supporter of the climate change movement can have.

“Those trying to understand and communicate such a complex issue as the climate crisis should first empower themselves with the knowledge and facts we have available, and harness that knowledge to win the conversations about climate,” Gore says.

With recent pro-coal initiatives and massive budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you might think the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump would be a harrowing source of discouragement for Gore and his associates. But despite these recent challenges, he continues to conduct presentations and push for reform with almost tangible optimism — a sense of optimism that is reflected both in the conclusion of “An Inconvenient Sequel” as well as in Gore’s daily attitude.

“We are very close to the tipping point for this climate movement, like the abolition movement long before it, like the women’s suffrage movement, like the civil rights movement, like the anti-apartheid movement, like the movement for gay rights,” Gore says. “It’s true that some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” closes the Tokyo International Film Festival on Nov. 3 (3 p.m. start). The film opens nationwide on Nov. 17. For more information, visit www.futsugou2.jp.

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