Backed by Al Gore and calling for political action, An Inconvenient Truth is poised for controversy
Though the clamor caused by The Da Vinci Code has barely passed, the media have already turned their attention toward the next film campaign of the season - and in many ways, this one is even more primed for controversy.
Released last week by Paramount Classics and Participant Productions, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary in which the former Vice President communicates, via PowerPoint-displayed statistics and graphic imagery, the "dire need" to reverse the effects of global climate change.
Though its content is less than uplifting, a massive PR campaign, organized by the studio and myriad partners, aims to position it as the take-action movie of the year.
For starters, Paramount Classics has committed 5% of the film's domestic theatrical gross to be donated to the bipartisan Alliance for Climate Protection. The funds will be applied toward a national education and organizing campaign meant to "motivate a critical mass of the public and influential constituencies to demand strong and just action to cut US emissions and to make solving global warming a national political imperative." In addition, Rodale Books has published a text version of the film.
And at the center of Paramount's campaign is a Web site, climatecrisis.net. Accompanied by dramatic music, quotes, and images of smoke stacks, drought-ridden land, and Katrina devastation, the site encourages potential film goers to "see the truth," then take action by reducing their own carbon dioxide emissions, joining the "virtual global-warming march," donating to the Alliance for Climate Protection, and supporting "clean, renewable energy."
The movie has also garnered enormous editorial coverage: The May issue of Wired is dedicated to the film and the global warming issue. The magazine's editors, in fact, worked closely with the film's producers, Lawrence Bender and Laurie David, to arrange a panel discussion last week in New York featuring Gore, the producers, NASA scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, and Wired contributor John Hockenberry in front of an audience of 1,500.
"People have preconceptions about global warming," says Melanie Cornwell, Wired's director of editorial special projects. "We need to come at it from a positive perspective. It's not about politics."
To coincide with the film and contradict its message, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Libertarian-leaning think tank whose donors include major players in the oil and telecom industries, launched two 60-second TV spots and a "semi-satirical Web piece" claiming the looming climate disaster resulting from energy use was greatly exaggerated. Produced by DC-based Next Generation Advertising, the spots are airing in 14 US cities from May 18 to May 28.
"We've gotten some vitriolic e-mails and phone calls, but at least [the ads] aren't being ignored," says Sam Kazman, general counsel for CEI, adding that the $50,000 campaign is meant to target "global warming alarmists."
Scott Olin Schmidt, cofounder of LA-based new-media communications firm RSC Partners, acknowledges that An Inconvenient Truth PR is all over the place. But ultimately, he says, it's the box office that will determine the film's success.
"Are people going to pay to see Al Gore lecture them for 100 minutes? That remains to be seen," Schmidt says.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code, he says, "this is a different animal they're marketing - it's political communications, an Al Gore political vehicle more than entertainment. For Hollywood, that's a very different world."
"Gore is a very polarizing figure in the country," Schmidt adds, likening the movie to "a C-SPAN program with better production values." Paramount Classics "can write off half the country off the bat. People who see the movie are probably already convinced that global warming is an issue."
Still, with its savvy mix of fact-driven outreach, editorial saturation, An Inconvenient Truth appears to have - at least for now - resurrected Gore's image, from has-been presidential candidate to well-regarded spokesman for the global warming crisis.