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Doc Corner: 'An Inconvenient Sequel' and 'Chasing Coral'

Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth was a brilliantly effective work of agitprop. It pushed Al Gore’s pet climate change cause into the cultural stratosphere and won two Academy Awards for the effort. Of course, one’s mileage with it as a good film or not likely depends on whether you consider good intentions as Oscar worthy. I personally don't care for the movie, and could easily list a dozen documentaries from 2006 worthier of the Oscar. Not the mention dozens of enviro-docs that are worthier of your time.

Still, despite this, I do not necessarily begrudge Guggenheim his Oscar (remember, Gore did not get a statue – something a right-wing commentator mistakes in the opening passages of this sequel). There is something to said about a film, documentary or not, that makes an audience feel and become as impassioned about as subject like this one did. It's just particularly frustrating with Truth given the inherently fascinating subject that inspires so many critical and scientific paths and which took the easiest and most pedestrian path.

Which brings us to a rare documentary sequel...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power does a better job than the original eleven years ago in presenting a bigger picture on screen. As it should, really, considering this is a film after all and not a lecture. Unlike the original, Truth to Power follows Gore off the stage as well as on. When Gore isn't giving the next generation of climate change fighters the tools they need to take his message to the people of America and the world, we follow him as he visits regions affected by climate change, we learn more about his personal life outside of politics, as well as his efforts in the private sector to convince India to join the UN Paris Agreement (with a detour through the Paris terror attacks of 2016 and a hastily added prologue about T****) despite his labelling himself as a "lapsed politician". Seeing him in political negotiator mode yet again is sure to infuriate people once more about what could have been.

The sequel is directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk who made last year’s Peabody Award-winning Audrie & Daisy and their influence is minimal. This is a better film than its predecessor, but Cohen and Shenk are glorified worker ants, pointing and shooting their camera. There is yet again barely anything of any visual interest here, nor do they seem to push Gore into challenging territories. Like the original, I have no doubt audiences who are already very well aware of climate change’s impact and Gore’s history working with it, will find much of An Inconvenient Sequel very moving and absorbing. This is a film that ends with hashtags and web addresses, after all. Even if its message is still a powerful one, it is a message that is once more done a disservice by being so uninterested in doing anything new, different, unique, or outside of its box when they had more of an opportunity than most. It blunts Gore’s message to his detriment.

Compare it to Chasing Coral, a film that wants to do so much and will garner far less of the attention. Jeff Orlowski’s film takes a much narrower approach to the subject, focusing on the natural phenomenon of coral bleaching, in particular that of the Great Barrier Reef of Australia (an area the size of Japan). Like Orlowski did with Chasing Ice – with its improbably Oscar-nominated theme song sung by Scarlett Johansson! – Chasing Coral uses technology far more advanced than a program that comes free with Microsoft Suite.

Warning of coral bleaching have been around for longer than many might suspect; John Heyer’s The Reef spoke of the potential for a cataclysmic coral disaster way back in 1978. As a work of eco documentary filmmaking, it offers the sort of visual details that make it essential viewing for anybody on the fence. And therein lies why this one works better than the Inconvenient movies. It uses the most basic tool at a filmmaker’s disposal, using the visual medium of film to present its case in the sort of fashion that proves undeniable and heartbreaking.

It is an incalculably better film, beautifully filmed – admittedly boosted by the blue ocean beauty of the tropical paradise locations – and offers fascinating insights, boring deeper into its subject than the surface skimming of Gore’s film. What could Gore achieved if he actually partnered up with a production like this?

Release: Chasing Coral is streaming on Netflix now, and An Inconvenient Truth opens in limited release this weekend with nationwide release to follow at the start of August.

Oscar Chances: I doubt the Academy will invite this franchise back to the ceremony, unless it proves to be another massive success. I like to think something like Chasing Coral would speak to the branch more in 2017. However, with Netflix releasing so many documentaries - and I say this every time - it's all a matter of which ones they want to push. Orlowski's reputation could give it an edge, though. Time has only made Chasing Ice feel greater, hasn't it?

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Reader Comments (3)

This movie was so ordinary. And it frustrated me afterwards when I couldn't recall any actual scientists being interviewed!

July 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

I don't think there are any. Another point to CHASING CORAL.

July 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

You should EDIT your work -- I realize it's probably pretentious of me to expect that, but I can't take anyone seriously when their work is overflowing with typos.

August 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnotherCritic

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