Lawrence Bender, Producer of An Inconvenient Truth (Podcast)
TreeHugger: Do you consider yourself an activist first or a documentarian first? Or how do you prioritize those roles?
Lawrence Bender: Definitely an activist first. I'm obviously a filmmaker, I love making movies. I don't really consider myself a documentarian, although I love documentaries. Making them is very hard, and I love the process. I have great respect for documentary filmmakers because it's such a difficult process. So many are made, and most don't get seen in the movie theaters. Very few that get into movie theaters last very long. So it's a tough world.
But I guess I'm an activist and love to be able to use my filmmaking skills to support that.
By the way, another wonderful thing happened in the early days of An Inconvenient Truth. I went with Al Gore to the TED Conference (which at that point was in Monterey, now it's in Long Beach). He gave his slideshow there and announced that I was producing this movie. He said that we'd be having breakfast the next morning and everyone should come that was interested. I came back with the entire community of TEDsters behind the film: Google, Yahoo, MySpace, on and on and on.
This was kind of the launch of the movie. The movie came out through Paramount Vantage, but it was the early digital group who got involved with it. It was one of the early parts of the launch of the movie, which was really a fantastic thing for us.
TH: Are people in Hollywood still interested in climate change the way they were around the time when the film came out? Or is this something that's trailed off a bit?
Bender: Well I think it trailed off a little bit. But there are many, many people here who spend a lot of their time on it. And of course, it's just natural. The movie came out. It did extremely well, much better than anyone dreamed that we would do. It was a global event. It did mobilize people quite a bit. People here in Hollywood love Al Gore. But yes, as time goes on and other things come into your life...
And I'm an example of that myself. When I made An Inconvenient Truth I felt almost like I left the film business for about a year. I spent the year traveling with Al. We did a big project with Wal-Mart. We did the first sustainability day. Wal-Mart had quotas and I was part of helping create that. I got a call from them, they said, can you help us.
But then I went back to making movies. First I went and did Inglourious Basterds. I was in Germany for seven months. It was very hard to concentrate on climate change as I was making a movie with Quentin.
But having said that, there's an enormous number of people here in Hollywood who are involved. The National Wildlife Federation helped create all the materials for the slideshow and staffed Al Gore's first Climate Project, the training program. I was one of the 50 people in the beginning. The Climate Project has grown tremendously.
TH: Have you gone out and given the slideshow to your own network?
Bender: I've never actually done the slideshow per se. I've certainly been in many meetings and debates. I had a wonderful, wonderful opportunity once when then Senator Obama was doing an environmental, global warming panel for the Congressional Black Caucus Week down in DC.
He invited me down to be on the panel with Van Jones and about five others. Thousands of African American leaders were in the room. And he talked quite eloquently about why this is such an important issue for the African American community. It's obvious, but when you heard him talk about it, it was very compelling.
TH: Countdown to Zero is a new film that you just produced. Could you tell us about this and how this project was born?
Bender: After An Inconvenient Truth I was very excited about the effect a movie could have in terms of educating people and helping inspire people to join a movement. I was approached by a lot of different people with different ideas. Bruce Blair and Matt Brown from a group called Global Zero was among them. And at the same time, I was with Jeff Skoll in Iceland when Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize and we talked about this issue. Jeff had just come back from another trip saying disarmament is something he's really interested in. So a lot of us came to this decision at the same time.
Skoll has as amazing woman named Diane Weyermann at his company who heads the documentary group. We all basically put our heads to the ground and for about six months worked on an idea. The movie came out last summer in the U.S. We were an official selection for Cannes Film Festival.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted us at the United Nations and we showed it there. We showed it at the CIA headquarters. I was in Kazakhstan and showed it there (they are a country that has given up their nuclear weapons).
But basically the movie is about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Whether they're used by an accidental launch or in conflict or acquired by terrorists. Many people think that today we're in a much scarier position than we were during the Cold War. And many, many conservative people have changed the way they think about nuclear weapons.
About four years ago there was an article written by a group that call themselves The Four Statesmen: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and Bill Perry. Two Republicans, two Democrats, all very conservative. They wrote an op-ed article about how things have changed.
The Cold War's over and the biggest danger today is terrorists getting their hands on a bomb. And really, the only way to make this world safe at this point is to decrease the amount of nuclear weapons we have in the world. And ultimately, as they said, reach the proverbial top of the mountain was, to get to zero.
That's what this movie is about: the dangers that exist and what the solution is.