“An Inconvenient Sequel” brought to campus
USD screened the sequel to the revolutionary documentary An Inconvenient Truth with a live Q+A with one of the film’s directors
Celina Tebor | Feature Editor | USD Vista
Ten years ago, Al Gore released his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, revealing some of the most hidden and dangerous aspects of global climate change. It won an Academy Award, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, an NAACP Image Award, and several other accolades. A decade later, it was revisited with the release of “An Inconvenient Sequel,” which was released in theaters July 2017.
In October, Paramount released “An Inconvenient Sequel” for educational distribution, and granted USD a special screening and Q+A with the director, Jon Shenk. The USD community experienced this unique opportunity on Oct. 2.
Gore is still working to inform people about climate change and influence public policy.
The combined efforts of Chair of Communication Studies, Roger Pace, and Chair of the English Department, Abe Stoll, brought the special screening to USD. Pace first saw the movie in 2016 during the annual Sundance Film Festival.
“I saw the premiere on the very day that Trump was inaugurated,” Pace said. “I knew there was a strong film about the environment, but a political tone too. And I was excited about that.”
Stoll realized that his old college roommate, Jon Shenk, was directing the film after talking to him about his latest work. “I was emailing [Shenk], and he had to stop because he was taking a call from Al Gore,” Stoll said.
After informing Pace about this connection, the two made it a goal to bring the film to USD.
“I hope very much that [the screening will] reinforce the notion that there’s a problem and we need to do something about it,” Pace said. “There’s lots of different types of documentaries, and this documentary is aimed at political action. This is a documentary that calls us to take action and make change. And we’re a changemaker university.”
First-year Anna Scharrer was happy that the film came to campus. “I hadn’t seen the first one, but I thought this one was really eye-opening, and it was really inspiring and good to learn about,” Scharrer said.
Director Jon Shenk was more than willing to come to USD and speak to college students.
“I have a personal connection to the college audience, because college is when I woke up for the first time and started seeing the influence that documentary films could make,” Shenk said. “I think students who are in college are particularly in a point in their life where they start to think seriously about what they’re going to do in their life, what’s important, what values they stand for.”
Over the course of two years, Shenk and his co-director and wife, Bonni Cohen, followed by former vice-president Gore on his journey to combat climate change.
“We followed him in the Cinéma vérité style; we’re flies on the wall of his life,” Shenk said. “We went to Greenland with him so he could get the latest data and information about what’s going on with our ice sheets. But we also went to Paris with him when he went to the climate negotiations.”
Scharrer was inspired by watching the progress that had been made. “We have significantly decreased our carbon emissions,” Scharrer said. “I was surprised how much progress we’ve made in such a short amount of time, and it gives me hope for the future.”
The documentary focuses on the impact and future of climate change, but is also a story of Gore and his personal mission to inform the world.
“[Bonni and I] felt that we were able to show the audience a very different Al Gore than the world knew when he was vice president and when he ran for president in 2000,” Shenk said. “He’s just someone who’s kind of grown even more passionate for the issue that he fights for — we call him the Energizer bunny because he just doesn’t stop, he just keeps going, his batteries never run out.”
Stoll said that the film would do more than just teach students about climate change.
“It makes perfect sense to bring this film to campus,” Stoll said. “It’s of crucial importance right now when the politics of the moment are so against the health of the planet. Right now, Republicans make the outrageous claim that global warming is not true. It’s an utterly outrageous claim that they make, because it goes against all science, and it really goes against all logic.”
Stoll hopes that the film will encourage students to take a stance on climate change and fight for it.
“We need to find ways to demand that those people who are making decisions about the people who control the globe use some common sense,” Stoll said. “And I think those demands are activism. And so that would be my hope, that this event and other events like it can focus people’s attention on the idea that you have to go out and act on something as crucial as this issue.”
Scharrer agreed that bringing the film to campus was a good idea. “Keeping students involved with global issues is really important,” Scharrer said. “[The film] definitely did change my views on [climate change]. I didn’t really realize the economic impact that environmental changes had. It really made an impact on me that we, as a country, need to be doing more, but then also helping underdeveloped countries, because that’s where most of the pollution comes from.”
Pace also stated that he wants the film to come to USD for more than just information about climate change. “We thought this would be a good kickoff for our film studies minor,” Pace said. “The filmmaking is part of why we’re inviting the director here.”
Shenk mentioned that the film touches on more subjects than environmental science. “The environmental health of the planet starts to touch on our politics, and that starts to touch on the way we educate on our country,” Shenk said. “So there’s so many different avenues you can approach this subject from.”
The movie screening and Q+A with Shenk was an experience unique to USD. While later in the month, it will be screened nationwide over a livestream. USD is the only school besides Stanford University and Yale University to host the screening and director on campus.
USD students certainly took advantage of the opportunity, as the theater filled up quickly. “I didn’t have a seat, personally,” Scharrer said. “It was so packed that you couldn’t sit down and the students were obviously very excited about it. Excited to learn, and excited to learn what they could do to help.”
Stoll recognized the importance of bringing the documentaries to academia. “The film is being promoted by Paramount, so it’s been in theaters all over the country,” Stoll said. “But recognizing that it’s a film is more important than just selling some tickets. They’re also doing a lot of work with universities, and so this is evidence that they’re trying, that this isn’t just make a move and sell tickets, it’s really crucial to get it where they can. I think it’s pretty unique that it’s at USD before that screening.”
Shenk believed that bringing the film to the younger generation would have a greater impact. “I do think that it’s natural when thinking about damage to our ecological system, to think about young people,” Shenk said. “Because young people are the ones who are going to inherit the earth from my generation. They know they have more to lose.”
Pace hopes that the screening does not just affect students’ views on climate change, but inspires them to take action within the USD community as well. “It seems like the environment is one of the things that our changemaking ethos puts our mind to,” Pace said. “I hope students understand that this is a problem and we need to get involved, and this is a problem you can get involved in. It starts with your own personal decisions on sustainability and renewability.”
Scharrer was inspired to make changes within USD after watching the screening. “It really made me want to open it up and let people know the importance of doing what you can in the smallest ways,” Scharrer said. “Whether that’s recycling and walking that 20 extra feet to the recycling, or making sure that you compost. I’m really wanting more composting in freshman dorms and making it a topic of discussion, and not something that’s swept under the rug.”
Stoll also shared that he believes the community can reach higher to make more change. “What I think USD doesn’t do as well as they might, and I’m not talking about only the administration, I’m talking about the students and the faculty, is activism,” Stoll said. “How many of us are really going out there in the streets?”
Many parts of the movie seem grim; its original ending at the Sundance Film Festival ended on a triumphant note, focusing on the Paris Accords. Since then, President Donald Trump has withdrawn from them, leaving the final scenes in the film despairing.
As discouraging as the statistics and realities in the film may seem, the film’s purpose is ultimately to inform people of the problem and take steps to combat climate change.
“Giving up and becoming full of despair and losing hope is really part of the problem,” Shenk said. “That’s what the fossil fuel companies and the people who want to keep the world going the same direction, that’s what they want. They want you to give up, they want you to not feel hope. But the amazing thing is that there is hope.”
“An Inconvenient Sequel” will be aired on a livescreen to campuses across the nation on Oct. 26, followed by a live Q+A with Al Gore. The second screening will take place at Hahn University Center, Room 107.