Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth: Why it works

It’s not that no one has heard of Global Warning before. In fact, Discovery Channel’s excellent multi-part Global Warming: What You Need to Know narrated with facility by Tom Brokaw set the standard on this topic when it aired last year. The Al Gore powered documentary An Inconvenient Truth doesn’t break much new ground in terms of informing us about what’s happening. In fact, it’s really a slide show by a former presidential candidate. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And the details make An Inconvenient Truth a very compelling film.

Unlike what the DVD sleeve says, Gore does politicize the issue of Global Warming. At one point he even essays a non-too subtle call to displace the current government based on its inability to act on issues of environmental significance. There’s a lumbering section on his abortive attempt to become the President (Gore starts off the documentary by introducing himself, rather gamely, as “the man who was the next President of the United Status”. After some applause, he genially admonishes the audience with “I don’t find that funny at all”). And as mentioned before, no new scientific ground is broken in the documentary regarding the topic it elaborates. In one mildly exploitative segment, Gore dwells on footage from natural disasters to bring the danger close to home.

But the following few things make Gore’s movie a joy to watch.

Gore uses his unique position and contacts as the former Veep of the US to accumulate charts, pictures and facts that would normally evade other documentarians. And he puts all this together steadily, often playfully, into a compelling global picture. Somewhere in the documentary he says that he’s given his presentation over a thousand times and he’s constantly fine tuned it for the masses. It shows!

He presents himself as an expert without sounding pompous. He constantly talks about his work as an environmentally focused office holder which is then spliced in with related footage from his political career.

He is not afraid to take the US to task. He shows evidence that the US is the major offender in terms of CO2 emissions and isn’t afraid to mention that it's CO2 output is way out of whack in terms of both territory and population. The enthusiastic response the movie received shows that Gore’s respect for the intelligence and propensity of the American audience did not go unrewarded.

In perhaps the most clever and winning bit, Gore talks about a painful family memory as an analogy to help us understand why people are slow to react to this threat. This deft bit of humanizing hits the audience at the right time in terms of understanding that the issue of climate change, no matter how large, has to be solved at the grassroots.

Finally, instead of ranting on, he ends on a positive note, telling us that we have everything we need to start addressing Global Warming today. And he uses examples from American history to encourage his audience to get going. It’s a disarming and engaging way to finish a documentary about something that threatens our very existence.

No comments: