Truth of the Matter

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An Inconvenient Truth

Directed by Davis Guggenheim

Predictions of impending hurricanes along the eastern seaboard come as no surprise to An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim, nor for that matter, to the film's principal protagonist, Al Gore, whose current mission is to inform the public about the dangers of global warming.

Indeed, An Inconvenient Truth, the cinematic platform for Gore's global warming warning, presents a veritable end-of-days scenario, but unlike conjectural doomsday thrillers currently on the boards, it's based on carefully researched scientific data. Actually, it's a filmed version of the very convincing global warming lecture that Gore delivers in person—in laymen's language—to audiences worldwide.

Guggenheim uses news footage to put the alarming message into context, and his reveal of deeply moving, intimate moments in Gore's life—the death of his son, the chad-counting fiasco that ripped the presidency from his grasp and others—makes the former president-elect's environmental message all the more compelling.

"There were things he didn't want to discuss because they were so personal. It took time for him to feel he could open up and trust me because he's been beaten up about these events and personal things, and unfairly accused of exploiting them," says Guggenheim. "There were intense times—he would say painful—when I'd push to get to the emotions, to his true feelings about things."

MERIN: How'd you get involved in the project?

GUGGENHEIM: The producers said Al Gore does a slide show; let's make a movie of it. I thought it was a terrible idea. How do you make a movie of a slide show?

And I thought he had baggage. I mean, I voted for Gore, was disappointed he lost the electionbut I didn't know where he was at politically. But I went to his presentationin a hotel conference room, with waiters shuffling plates and rubber chicken. It was an awful place to see it, but it was Al Gore.

First thing, he made a funny joke, and I realized, OK, he's not bitter. He's moved on. Then he told this soulful, thoughtful, fair story. The information was so compelling, so strongI'd never understood global warming the way he described it. In the newspaper, you read about problems here and therethere's science and politics, and it's confusing. The points of data are so spread out. He pulls it together. That's so powerful. By the end, I was hooked. I knew we had to get as many people as possible to see this.

So, how'd you make a film out of a lecture?

To me, films are personal. So, I had the idea to tell Al's storydescribe how he got involved, how he learned about global warming, the times he was ridiculed for speaking out. Showing why he's invested in this issue enables audiences to hear, understand and believe what he's saying. His biggest campaign is delivering this message. You feel that when you're up and working at 2 a.m., and he's outlasting everybody half his age.

He's presented his lecture over 1,000 timeswithout pay. He's in another hotel every night. He's rolling his bag through another airport. There're more glamorous things a former vice president and historical icon can do.

How much of the script was yours and how much was his?

You're the first person who's asked that, and it's taken so long. I'm impressed. Actually, the scriptthe filmis a collaboration. Many people wanted to make this movie with him.

His friend, Tommy Lee Jones?

Perhaps. But he chose us. It was clear from the start that the science, the datawhich he researched and which is precious to himmust be carefully described. I couldn't alter it; I'm not qualified. And, it's hishe's the author. But together we adapted over 500 slidesanimating, enhancing them to make them more effective for film and clearing rights. That was our mutual responsibility. I determined how we'd tell his personal story. These lines were clear. Basically, he did the science; I worked on biography.

What was most difficult to exclude?

Trimming the presentation was challenging. There's a lot of science. We had to avoid information fatigue: Most films don't have this much information in them. And there were many more anecdotes that fortify the argument. It was hard to exclude them. And I should say, the hardest thing to include was the 2000 election.

You can imagine his trauma about it. But I didn't anticipate my own traumahow raw the wound was for me. Not just because I'm a Democrat. There're Republicans who feel the same way. You think that as a storyteller you can cover anything easily, but we all have taboos, things we avoid. I unconsciously avoided thinking or talking about the 2000 election because I just couldn't deal with it. And still, in the film, with the footage of Tom Brokaw announcing the election for Gore, then Bush, then Gore, it kills you. Audiences hiss and scream. So, that was hardest to includeand to get it right.

Your father, [filmmaker Charles Guggenheim], directed Al Gore's father's political campaign ads. Did that help create the bond between you two?

It wasn't the clincher. But my father was a great filmmaker and had a real ethic. He quit the political advertising business because it was getting so smutty. But, I think it was more that Al saw we were genuine and had no other agenda. How could you have another agenda, when this is so important and urgent? We have to tell the story.

Who came up with the title, An Inconvenient Truth?

I did. He said it in an interview, and the minute he did, I knew that's our title. It was a hard title to sell, though. No one liked it. It's hard to sayand it doesn't exactly scream, Go see this movie! And maybe it sounds a little pretentious, but thematically, it's right. It's down.

What does it mean?

An Inconvenient Truth is the fact that all the choices we make in our lives, everything we take for granted in some way has some connection to global warming. The cars we drive, the electricity we use, the computers we use, the way our homes are heated. All these things that come so easily, without any conscious thought, have an effect on global warming, and it's inconvenient to acknowledge that truth. Some of us rant and rave at the current administration because of their environmental policies, but the inconvenient truth is that it's all of us. Most of our Democrat politicians aren't dealing with this issue eithernot taking it as seriously as it needs to be taken. It's inconvenient to think of taking the bus instead of a car, or to second-guess my lifestyle. And it's the most urgent issue in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. 

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