'Inconvenient Sequel' Directors to Change Film in Light of Trump's Climate Accord Exit
Says Bonni Cohen: “We spent a great deal of time with Al [Gore] thinking about how to respond. He’s been very engaged and frankly is much less diplomatic now."
The directors behind An Inconvenient Sequel are breaking their silence in the aftermath of President Donald Trump pulling the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.
In a sit-down interview with The Hollywood Reporter at the Nantucket Film Festival, where the Al Gore-fronted climate-change documentary was the closing-night film, Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen say they have been scrambling to make additions to the film, including a new epilogue, before its July 28 opening.
“We spent a great deal of time with Al thinking about how to respond in the film,” says Cohen, who previously issued a joint statement with Shenk on June 1, when President Trump withdrew U.S. participation in the global climate agreement. “He’s been very engaged and frankly is much less diplomatic now. Since Trump pulled out, Al’s gloves have come off. And he’s been utterly disheartened and publicly doesn’t have to be diplomatic anymore.”
In an interview with THR ahead of the film's Sundance world premiere, Gore answered tactfully when asked about a widely reported meeting he had with Trump: "He was receptive to some of what I had to say, and I appreciated that. Candidate Trump made a number of statements and wrote a bunch of tweets that caused concern, but he also has other statements that at least give rise to the possibility that he and his team will take a fresh look at the reality of what we're facing here.”
The film, which screened twice at the Nantucket fest on Sunday evening, drawing an enthusiastic response, just as it did when it made its world premiere at Sundance in January and ay Cannes in May. The Nantucket crowd did not see an updated version, and instead saw the cut that played in Cannes, which had been slightly tweaked from the Sundance print to reflect Trump taking office (the inauguration took place a day after Inconvenient Sequel debuted in Park City as Sundance’s opening-night film).
“It felt like we had to add something because this film’s climax takes place [at the 2015 Paris Accord],” says Shenk. “Of course we were devastated, having been there and watched that agreement come together. But on the other hand, we were inspired and amazed by what happened afterward. Mainstream news was actually doing climate stories 24 hours a day. And that doesn’t happen enough. States like Rhode Island, New York, California, Vermont ... the Mayor of Pittsburgh said, ‘Wait, we’re going to stay in this accord.’ In the absence of leadership in Washington, the American people know the difference between right and wrong now and are stepping up. So it’s an opportunity.”
The pair said that a hopeful message will be incorporated into the new footage, but they will also call out Trump for attempting to undo the progress made on the climate front.
On the day of Trump’s controversial move, former Vice President Gore released a statement, slamming the president’s decision as “reckless and indefensible” and a threat “to damage humanity's ability to solve the climate crisis in time.”
The film, which was produced and financed by Participant Media, follows Gore at the Paris Accord as he plays the role of key negotiator, particularly with India, which initially balked at the emissions cuts the country would have to make. Paramount, which is distributing the film, shifted its own release plans in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision in an effort to gain a wider audience. The studio will give the film a limited release on July 28 (when it was originally set to go wide) and build up to a nationwide bow on Aug. 4.
After President Trump said he was withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement reached by 196 nations, all pledging to reach net-zero greenhouse gases by the end of this century, speculation mounted that Cohen and Shenk would need to recut and edit Inconvenient Sequel to reflect current events. But the pair remained mum as they worked with Gore to figure out how to best address the developments.
“It’s an opportunity to harness the anger,” Cohen says. “When we made this film, we knew what was possible and there are solutions to the climate crisis. And it’s just a matter of time. Here we have this situation where this president of ours has pulled us out — the only country to pull out — and it’s going to create incredible rage among the American people. Hopefully that will catalyze more cities and states to take up the charge."
The pair say they just finished the new cut before heading to Nantucket.
“Of course it’s frustrating to have to re-edit the film, but it’s minor in comparison to the excitement of having a film that is so topical and so pertinent to what is going on right now,” says Shenk. “We felt like we had to get it right. We have a joke around the office that there’s probably not another film coming out this summer about the Paris Climate Accord.”
Indeed. On its new release date, An Inconvenient Sequel will offer a ripped-from-the-headlines counter-programming option, going up against the Dark Tower adaptation and Kathryn Bigelow's period drama Detroit.
As for why President Trump reversed course on climate, Cohen and Shenk remained at a loss.
“Trump is a total wild card,” says Cohen. “It’s hard to know whether he did it for any policy reasons or even for any political reasons. He may have just done it because on that particular day, he felt the wind to do it and wanted to make a splash. Who knows? It matters and is devastating, but it doesn’t matter as much as people think because of all the work people have put into to it. Systems are already in place that will continue to move us forward."
Shenk also sees a silver lining. “Even with his base, they’re seeing the effects of climate change. The farmers are seeing the rain isn’t happening like it should. Phoenix was too hot the other day for planes to take off. Florida and Texas are having floods,” he says. “There’s a disconnect between what Trump is saying and what everyday people are seeing on the ground. The truth is lining up.”