(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on global warming takes us through a power-point lecture-demonstration that Al-Gore, (America’s ex-presidential candidate), has been presenting world over. This is interspersed with stark, arresting images of the effects of the phenomenon worldwide and occasionally a glimpse from Gore’s personal journey. With the lec-dem taking the lion’s share of the 96 minutes, the film comes across more as an educational tool than a cinema-verite feature. But it is this no-nonsense realism that makes the film an ideal vehicle for its very pressing issues.
Contrary to misconception the film is not about Al-Gore. Although it is as enriched as compromised by his association. He is the known face of the film and perhaps its main draw. But it cannot be overlooked that some very urgent facts stand to be dismissed as politically motivated simply because he is presenting them.
However, Gore comes prepared for the potential attack. He presents his arguments without being patronizing, boring or dry.
Gore never cosily assumes that we’re with him in accepting the theory, and instead lays out the evidence piece by comprehensible piece to build to a conclusion that is hard to dispute.
He has all the graphs and charts and time-lapsed photographs and peer-reviewed scientific studies he needs to underscore his message about where the planet is heading. He debunks the theory that these changes are “cyclical” and confronts head-on the “doubts” skeptics may have about the issue.
In the course of Gore’s lecture tour comes the unsurprising news that Bush aide Philip Cooney routinely red-penciled the conclusions of impartial government scientists; when exposed, he resigned and took a job with ExxonMobil. But despite his clear agenda, Gore is careful not to turn this film into a party-political broadcast for Al Gore or the US Democratic party. He presents saving the planet as a moral, cross-party, worldwide issue rather than casting stones at the current US administration (despite the fact that he has good reason to). Facts and observations that could point a direct finger are few, far-between and presented objectively. The closest he gets to political commentary is to rhetorically ask, “Is it possible we should prepare for any threats other than terrorism?”
That’s not to say that the film is flawless. It is conveniently soft on its examination of the Clinton-Gore administration’s less than glowing record on the environment. And it does put Gore on a pedestal, with interludes about his personal history that feel less than relevant and carefully designed to elicit sympathy for the man. That said, his spiritual journey is indeed transparent and compelling in its own right.
The film is by no means all you need to know about global warming, but like all good pedagogy, whets the appetite for further study, which is a very desirable achievement in this case.
Besides, is ultimately hard to fault a film that for all its dismal urgency does not leave you devastated by its implications. Gore ends the film with a series of practical solutions for the problem, convincing you that you can do something about it.
It is surprisingly absorbing for its format and even entertaining in bits, no less thanks to Gore’s disarming sprinklings of humour. He introduces himself saying, “I used to be the next president of the USofA.” One can only hope he gets the vote on this one.