Davis Guggenheim's 'An Inconvenient Truth' (2006)


From Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth

Editor’s Note: On October 21 at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Los Angeles, IDA will present Davis Guggenheim in conversation with Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. The two will explore his wide-ranging body of work that includes culturally significant and brilliantly crafted films. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Al Gore has devoted 40 years of his life to getting the word out about global warming and An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim's documentary on the subject, shines all the way through. One emerges from seeing it feeling empowered and illuminated.

What could have been mired in political rhetoric or techno-speak is instead fascinating and often frightening. A thought-provoking cautionary tale that is also lively and entertaining, An Inconvenient Truth showcases the dedication, warmth and, yes, charm of the former vice president.

By delving into Gore's personal tragedies and setbacks (the near-fatal accident of his son, his sister's death from lung cancer and his oh-so-close loss of the 2000 presidential election), Guggenheim reveals an Al Gore who is admirably resilient. After his drawn-out and contested loss to George W. Bush in 2000, Gore chose not to retreat, instead hitting the road on a mission to inform the world about the peril the planet is facing.

Gore's commitment to reversing global warming had its origins in his student days at Harvard and continues as he takes his multimedia show (a blend of scientific data, startling photographs, statistics, cartoons and humor) around the world.

The former vice president's point is a simple one: We have a moral imperative, as individuals and as a nation, to do something about global warming. What resonates most powerfully for this critic is also what makes the documentary an important one in the annals of nonfiction films: Gore has a gift for making scientific data digestible, understandable and intriguing. He is so consumed by the subject and impassioned in his efforts to change minds that it is difficult not to get caught up in his fervor.

As documentary films have evolved, they have increasingly become powerful treatises lobbying for enlightenment and its necessary doppelganger, social change. Where documentarians once took pains to remain objective, increasingly they are proudly revealing, indeed proclaiming, a decidedly partisan stance. Employing film as an art form, not only to expound upon a problem but to make a powerful case, has evolved into viable entertainment. On any given weekend, in any major city in the US, it is not unusual to find a documentary with a strong point of view drawing intelligent audiences. Some, like this film, even make it to the local multiplex. As the ability to reach a huge audience increases exponentially, so does the public's awareness of a subject. An Inconvenient Truth not only entertains but informs. Seeing it could radically improve our planet. Not many other films could boast such a life-altering claim.

With his down-to-earth communication style and darkly humorous asides, he takes a deadly serious problem and makes it feel personal and, most important, fixable. Americans may be responsible for emitting 30 percent of the gases that cause global warming, but we also can be part of the solution, he insists. He stresses that this environmental condition is not a political issue, but a moral one. Gore's exploration of "the collision between our civilization and the Earth" comes alive in this resonant, haunting and inspiring film.

 

Claudia Puig is the chief film critic forUSA Todayand can be heard on National Public Radio's Film Week, available on KPCC-FM or kpcc.org. She lives in Los Angeles.

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