“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”: Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change premiers at AFI-Docs

Last night, AFI-Docs premiered Al Gore’s new film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” at the Newseum in Washington DC, with director (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) QA.  The film amounts to being “An Inconvenient Truth II”, following Gore’s first film on climate change in 2005.

Gore starts his film in Greenland, with spectacular shots of melting ice, before moving around the world and showing evidence of rapid escalation of climate change.  He stops in Miami, where there is sunny day street flooding at high tides. Warmer and more humid atmosphere promulgates more extreme storms and, ironically, droughts.  He shows Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in New York City (confirming a prediction from his 2005 film that the World Trade Center site from 9/11 could flood), and a typhoon in the southern Philippines in November 2013, which might have interfered with the production of my third book (the POD publisher had a plant nearby). He mentions how high temperatures shorten mosquito breeding cycles and might have contributed to the spread of Zika.

He also brings back his charts from the 2005 film, and adds illustrations showing that the number of very warm days constantly increases (even though we have cold days).  It is inevitable that if carbon dioxide levels rise, the planet will warm, unless something else happens (like a volcanic eruption blotting out the Sun with cloud cover).

Gore provides plenty of evidence that green industries are economically sustainable.  He notes anecdotes like that of Greensburg, KS, wiped out by a 2007 tornado, that rebuilt itself green (story), as in the 2009 Planet Green film, “Greensburg: a Story of Community Rebuilding” with Leonardo DiCaprio.

He also summarizes his personal history, his concession in Bush v. Gore in 2000, and then notes Bush’s actions which reduced satellite information gathering on climate issues by NASA, as well as catering to fossil fuel interests, anticipating Trump today.

His most startling ideas are that the drought in Syria starting around 2010 helped set up the urban refugees that set up the brutality of Assad and ISIS.  Then the film moves to Paris, just before the meetings at the end of 2015, as Gore is present for the Nov. 13 terror attacks, the aftermath of which is shown.

The film covers Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Leadership Corps”, which he calls “Truth in Ten”.  People can join this as a movement, be trained, and participate in a formal process.  My problem is that I like to retain my ability to speak independently, as I said in the QA. There is a hashtag “#Pledgetobeinconvenient”.

Another audience member pointed out the problem of tribalism:  many people won’t listen to rational arguments of they are made by someone from the wrong side – as we saw with the 2016 elections and the vitriolic personal divisions and odd forms of hyper partisanship.



2  (my question on joining a group vs. working alone on an issue like this)

3  (question about tribalism — “truth to power”)

Fact sheet:

Name: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
Director, writer:  Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, Al Gore
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 (as shown;  imdb says 2.35:1)
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, Newseum, 2017/6/16, Washington DC, almost sold out;  general release 2017/7/28
Length:  100
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount Independent;  Kino Lorber; Participant Media
Link:  Al Gore, Film

Picture: Far Rockaway, NY, March 2013, my trip after Hurricane Sandy

(Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

“The Great War” airs on PBS American Experience in 6 hour film

PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates.  It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II.   Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.

The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees.  He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.

In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain.  It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.

The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.

Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others.  Eventually, there were summer military camps.

The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.

Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.

People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day.  “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.

The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve.  (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.)   The Army remained segregated by race.  Native Americans were regarded as “white”.  But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.

There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”.  But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.

To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.

Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.

Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them.  The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.

Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.

J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds.  Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”.  The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.

In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.

The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.

The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918.  The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.

The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.

The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth.  A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.

Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future.  He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.

Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.

The best PBS link is here.

Another descriptive link is here.

(First posted on April 11 at 11 PM EDT)

“Unseen Enemy” on CNN gives dire warning about future flu pandemic, while covering them all

Unseen Enemy”, directed by Janet Tobias, is a somewhat rambling but comprehensive documentary aired Friday, April 7, 2017 by CNN Films (and Vulcan), covering the major pandemics that have shocked the world in the past few decades.   The film covers more material (mainly avian flus, Sars-like diseases and HIV) than “Spillover” (March 18) but with less detail .

The film is narrated by Jeffrey Wright, and Sanjay Gupta from CNN is a major executive producer.  Soka Moses, Peter Piot, and Laurie Garrett, among many others, appear.

Near the end there is a simulation of what things look like if an avian influenza pandemic really did break out.  The film does cover the 1918 Spanish flu at the end of World War I (anticipating Ken Burns’s next documentary) and predicts that 200 million deaths and a freeze of the world economy could occur with new avian influenza.  The growth of H7N9 in southern China, where people live near poultry, is cause for alarm, but so far when H7N9 or H5N1 is transmitted from poultry to person, it doesn’t seem to continue a person-person chain.

And even seasonal flu can cause unpredictable death, as a Minnesota family recounts the loss of a teenage daughter.

The film also pays covers up front the Ebola virus, giving some case histories in West Africa, and only briefly mentioning cases coming to the US for treatment.  There is a scene late in the film where people are given “certificates” from a department of health in Sierra Leone of their recovery.   There is also a scene showing the incredible amount of protective gear and decontamination needed for health care workers.

Likewise, it covers the sudden development of the threat to unborn children from mosquito-borne Zika, starting in Brazil, although it doesn’t add much that is new.

It also lays out a progression of infectious disease: outbreak, to epidemic, to pandemic, to endemic. HIV is a good example.

The film has striking aerial photograph of many shantytowns around the world, from West Africa to Cambodia to India.  There is a history of a quarantine for an unusual disease in astern India.

The film takes the position that man’s destruction of wildlife habitat drives animals into more contact with humans, where transmission can occur.  An example is with bats, which can spread nipah, rabies and histoplasmosis, as well as Marburg, which is similar to Ebola.

The film ends with a plea to personal responsibility, in not infecting others:  not going to work when sick (presentism) and in hand sanitation in public, as people with weaker immune systems are more easily infected by others. The hashtag is “#ItTakesAllofus.

The film was followed by a brief panel discussion where Anderson Cooper quizzes Gupta, Garrett and Anthony Fauci from NIH, well known from the days of AIDS (“And the Band Played On”). Fauci said there is hope for a generic vaccine for all types of influenza with cross immunity, as this may be the only way to prevent an eventual bird flu pandemic. Significant progress was reported on vaccines for both Zika and Ebola.  The Trump administration’s plans to reduce funds to NIH could place the nation at greater pandemic risk, as would “vaccine denial”, as herd immunity is an important factor.

Vulcan link.

CNN link.

Monsters and Critics link.

The film is a World Health Day presentation.

(Posted: Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)


“The Wailing”: dense Korean horror, with “stranger”, shaman, and a pandemic, and a lot of symbolism, but still dangerous parallels

The Wailing” (or “Goksung”), directed by Hong-jin Na, may strike many viewers as a long (156 minutes), repetitive and cult-like Asian horror film.  But the director goes for slow-space mystery, involving immediate neighborhood, local life, and family, to give what otherwise would seem like a zombie premise some sense of real menace.

In a mountain region in South Korea, in a small village, people start falling sick with a kind of rabies, behaving wildly with violence, then bleeding out and frothing and disintegrating into rigor mortis quickly. Policeman Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) first buys the theory that the disease could be caused by unusual poisonous wild mushrooms.  But then he learns of a new Japanese “immigrant” or “stranger” in town, and a mystery “Woman in White” (like the classic film) literally called “No Name” (Chun woo-hee).  Then his own daughter (Kim Hwan) is sickened.

What follows may seem like a confined metaphor for AIDS (at least the visual horror of some early Kaposi’s sarcoma cases) , or perhaps a bio-terror event.  Films like “Outbreak” (1995, which I saw while working as a sub in a chemistry class) and “Quarantine” (2008), and even “The Andromeda Strain” may come to mind, but this film, for all the outdoor scenery (augmented by rain machines in filmmaking) still seems rather stagey in comparison. A few of the death scenes are on the edge of real-life horror (I recall Laurie Garrett’s book “Coming Plague”, which pretty much anticipates the real life horror in Liberia (brought home to the US for a few health care workers overseas) with Ebola in 2014.  (Note: the latest news is that the Ebola vaccine is going to work.)

The movie works in a shaman (Hwang jung-min), who presumably has been exalted by overcoming an existential trial and managing to keep people loving him.   But there is real question as to his connection to the stranger, and the stranger’s death.   Then there are the ritual dances and burnings, as well as the expected plot development over suspicion of outsiders – very relevant to our own political debates today.

The film uses a lot of symbolism that is apparently familiar in oriental religion and used in manga (maybe even in Japanese Danganronpa), and some specific notions about demons and devils.   For example, a worm provides an early metaphor with what will happen. Yet, western audiences may find plenty to compare with their own perils.

Most of all, there is a continual somber mood.

There are several YouTube videos with lengthy (spoiler) analyses of the symbolism in the film.

Name: “The Wailing”
Director, writer:  Na Hong-jin
Released:  2016/5
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD; also Amazon instant available
Length:  156
Rating:  R(?)
Companies: Fox Searchlight International; Well Go USA
Link: official 

Wikipedia: garden pavilion in South Korea, link.

(Posted: Friday, December 30, 2016 at 11:45 PM EST)