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Premieres & Events

Stranger Than Fiction Plays it Cool

(L-R) Stranger Than Fiction programmer Thom Powers with Everything's Cool directors Judith Helfland and Daniel Gold and producer Adam Wolfensohn (Photo: Christopher Campbell)

By Christopher Campbell

IFC Center began a new season of its Stranger Than Fiction documentary series Tuesday night, and the weather couldn't have been more suspiciously perfect for the occasion; surely it is no coincidence that the global warming film Everything's Cool had its New York premiere on the warmest day the city has had in weeks. Obviously the doomsday climate-change propagandists have got themselves some kind of weather machine to aid them in their lies.

Of course, I am kidding. But exaggerated statements like this have not been uncommon during the twenty years of global warming debate, the history of which is chronicled in Everything's Cool. The documentary takes a look at both sides of the discussion, though naturally it concentrates on the stories of the "global warming messengers" who have been educating the nation on the seriousness of climate change and who are constantly trying to undo the damage done by skeptics and deniers.

"When we started out," co-director Daniel Gold said in a Q&A following the screening, "the whole idea of the film was to show how global warming is impacting Americans, how this is something that's happening in people's lives. Then we started thinking we're going to have to talk about the science, and the more we read about the science the more we realized there is no debate. This led us to being fascinated with what Ross Gelbspan wrote about, which was people are confused because there is a very conscious effort out there to confuse the public about the science of global warming."

The film pretty much presents specific persons and groups as global warming villains, including The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which is an environmental think tank that produces research alleging the uncertainty of global warming. But producer Adam Wolfensohn clarified to the audience that members of that organization and others aren't necessarily evil. "I think it's a misconception," he said, "to think that these guys are just puppets of the coal and oil industry and that if Greenpeace were to offer them more money that they would start shilling for the other side. These are ideologues and they have to be debated on the merits of the science. You can't just discount them because the coal and oil industry are amplifying their message."

You can't discount them, but you can learn to comprehend them, according to the doc's other co-director, Judith Helfland, who promoted the importance of her film in the present political environment. "Right now everyone is talking about global warming again," she said. "With all the new Democrats that have just been voted in, there's a whole new movement afoot to reexamine what has been going on in the Bush White House and it's actually very exciting. But with all the new examination of what we haven't been doing about global warming and what they have been keeping from us, I think we're going to hear from [CEI] again. So I hope our movie is going to be useful as a primer for the general public so in this next round people will know how to understand them."

Apparently Al Gore and his PowerPoint presentation are not enough. "A lot of people asked us at Sundance if this is a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth," Helfland said, "and I'm not sure it's the next movie; it's an interesting companion piece. Because he doesn't really talk about the politics -- and so now you get it."

"We're starting a global warming film festival," Wolfensohn said, jokingly regarding the idea that documentaries on the subject are currently in fashion.

Wolfensohn also told The Reeler that the popularity of An Inconvenient Truth makes it easier on Everything's Cool because it built an audience for global warming docs and covered territory that his film didn't need to get into. "We had a lot more science in there that we were given the license to take out," he said, for example.

One of the most interesting things about Everything's Cool is that it features a rather self-aware acknowledgement of the significance of film and its influence as a medium of communication in a debate. The doc particularly addresses the impact of the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow on the discussion of global warming. While I had had the notion that the movie was accepted as so ridiculous and silly that it was actually damaging to the public's perception of global warming, Wolfensohn told me that the opposite was the case. "A lot of people saw it," he said. "Far more people saw it than An Inconvenient Truth. An Inconvenient Truth moved the elite opinion; it moved the journalist, the businessman, and the senators who saw The Day After Tomorrow and thought, 'What a stupid movie.' But the mass popular opinion was changed by The Day After Tomorrow."

Posted at February 21, 2007 4:29 PM

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