Four Reasons to Go See Al Gore’s Hopeful, Compelling An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power rattles out of a world where typhoons and wildfires wail and rage, where warm climate-fueled Zika virus menaces an ever-widening swath of the globe, where streets melt in India, where the coastal United States is swamped on normal days (sunny day flooding in Miami) and extraordinary ones (Hurricane Sandy in New York City).

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, Al Gore’s sequel to his Oscar-winning 2006 An Inconvenient Truth hits just two months after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 195-nation Paris climate agreement. While the timing of the film’s release is coincidental, An Inconvenient Sequel acts as an emphatic counterpoint to the climate-denying, march-with-fingers-in-our-ears-saying-la-la-la-as-the-planet-catastrophically-warms crowd. Here are five reasons to go see it as soon as possible:

1) The documentary frames climate change in an easy-to-understand way

One of the great strengths of An Inconvenient Truth was its distillation of a complex global phenomenon into black-and-white data points. While the sequel has dispensed with the Power- Point-as-documentary narrative device of its predecessor, Gore nonetheless synthesizes the intricate into the straightforward, this time with a blend of graphics and anecdotes

“The man is wonky, no question. But that’s what has made his climate-change crusade persuasive for so many,” writes Bob Mondello on NPR.org. “He gets the figures, turns them into easily digested factoids, says things that initially sound outrageous, and handles the pushback. … The single most exhilarating moment may come from a bar graph — seriously, you’ll want to cheer — but there’s no shortage of human stories on screen: The woman whose shoe gets stuck in pavement that’s melted from the heat.”

That is not to say that the film is without nuance. When Gore evacuates from his Paris venue as ISIS-affiliated terrorists slaughtered 130 people around the city in November 2015, it inspires a cause-and-affect musing that lays out the complexity of the global climate jigsaw puzzle: a drought in Syria led indirectly to social upheaval and civil war, which pried open the social order enough to let ISIS thrive and propagate throughout the world.

VP Al Gore with former Mayor of Tacloban City Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya, in the Raya family home; Tacloban City, Philippines, March 12, 2016

2) Climate change is not a partisan issue 

Dale Ross is a proud Republican-voting Texan, mayor of Georgetown, “the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas.” And yet, he has oriented his city to become the first in the state that will be 100 percent renewable. Asked why, he said that it simply made economic sense to do so.

“It’s a heartening moment at a time of horrendous political division, but it’s also central to the movie’s approach, which is to insist on facts over ideology and show why it’s a good idea to present the practical as well as the moral argument,” writes Newsweek’s Charles Taylor.

By stripping out partisan moralizing and reframing the argument in economic terms, Gore is both conceding Republicans’ economy-first argument and providing them an excuse to reconsider alternative energy sources without having to admit that such actions could forestall a climate shift. Who cares, after all, when your utility bills are lower?

Read More

Spike Continues Documentary Excellence With Story of Heath Ledger

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

In the wake of its powerful six-part Time: The Kalief Browder Story docu-series scorching the American prison system, Spike is returning with another riveting documentary.

I Am Heath Ledger explores the life and tragic death of a rising Hollywood talent. The film, produced and directed by Derik Murray, is an astonishing posthumous profile of the fiercely talented and energetic actor stitched together from previously unseen footage shot from Ledger’s own cameras.

The actor died in 2008, long before the rise of the smartphone dropped a camera in everyone’s pocket, yet the film underscores the centrality of the device to Ledger’s life.

“There were always cameras around,” said model Christina Cauchi – one of many friends, family, and industry peers interviewed for the documentary – in the recently released trailer. “A videocamera or a Polaroid camera or the film camera. That’s the only way that I think of him, with the camera in his hand.”

“He was always a director,” said musician Ben Harper in the same video. “Acting was just a way to get there.”

Watch the full trailer below:

Ledger’s talents as an actor were considerable, however, and included the role of gay cowboy Ennis in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and an Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

“Before Brokeback Mountain came out, it would have been unthinkable to have romantic tragedy involving two gay cowboys,” said actor Ben Mendelsohn. “This is one of the biggest heartthrobs on Earth taking on that character. That’s an artist.”

Read More

Channel 5’s Powerful Slum Britain: 50 Years On Stirs Viewers, Spurs Parliament

Last December, Viacom’s UK-based Channel 5 screened a 90-minute documentary, Slum Britain: 50 Years On, which cleverly compared the housing and homeless crisis of today with the situation 50 years ago. It was a powerful piece of television created through a rewarding partnership with housing charity Shelter using unique photographs of the slums commissioned by the organization from the 1960s.

Producers Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis (who incidentally were nominated for an Oscar for their film, Watani: My Homeland, on Syrian refugees in Germany) combined a strong human interest story with a powerful argument, making Slum Britain: 50 Years On essential viewing.

At 90 minutes, with black-and-white visuals and a seriously angry point of view about the conditions many of our fellow citizens endure in 2016 Britain, the project was a risk. The film rated better than we anticipated, with more than 1 million people tuning in for the whole film.

Slum Britain - Images sent to Shelter by Nick Hedges in January 2016 for the 50th anniversary. Nick Hedges was commissioned by Shelter to cover poor housing conditions and abject poverty in the UK between 1968 and 1972. According to a 1965 White Paper, 'three million families were living in slums, near slums or grossly overcrowded conditions' in the UK. The Hedges archive is part of the National Photography Collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Slum Britain – Images sent to Shelter by Nick Hedges in January 2016 for the 50th anniversary. Nick Hedges was commissioned by Shelter to cover poor housing conditions and abject poverty in the UK between 1968 and 1972. According to a 1965 White Paper, ‘three million families were living in slums, near slums or grossly overcrowded conditions’ in the UK. The Hedges archive is part of the National Photography Collection at the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The reaction from viewers across social media was amazing – I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a powerful, immediate and supportive response.

And not just from viewers. In partnership with Shelter, we had previewed the film and held a discussion chaired by David Mackintosh MP (Member of Parliament), chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, who has an ongoing campaign to raise the issue of Britain’s housing crisis in the House of Commons.

Read More

Who Needs Turkeys? CMT to Serve Up Chicken-Themed Treat for Thanksgiving Eve

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Have you ever heard a chicken being favorably compared to Paris Hilton?

Or being described as a warrior?

Or being analyzed for its behavior in its social cliques? Its cliques of, you know, other chickens?

Well, you will. And you will because you will watch CMT’s documentary Chicken People, a deeply engaging and human exploration of the surprisingly enormous world of prize chicken breeders. And when it’s all over, you will understand why the Ohio National Poultry Show is considered the Westminster of Chickens, and why the subjects of this film care so deeply about the competition that they dedicate enormous portions of their lives to cultivating the perfect fowl.

Critical reception has been strong since Chicken People, directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, debuted at SXSW earlier this year before going on to screen at nearly a dozen other festivals, including Nashville, Seattle and Atlantic. Reviewers have responded favorably to the documentary’s success in distilling meaning from the sprawling, intricate and exacting world of competitive chicken breeding.

“As enthusiastic as [the other main characters] are, however, their narratives are overshadowed by the poignant story of Shari McCollough, a homemaker and mother of five (children, not chickens) from Crawford, Ind., who credits poultry breeding and competition with helping her overcome depression and alcoholism,” writes Variety’s Joe Leydon. “When she says, late in the documentary, ‘Chickens make me brave — they make me face fears head-on in life,’ her matter-of-fact sincerity carries an unexpectedly potent emotional wallop. Just as important, it encourages a viewer to consider just how common her attitude is among the other breeders.”

Read More

Macklemore Enlists President Obama to Discuss Opioid Epidemic in MTV Docs’ Debut Offering

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

More people died of drug overdoses in the United States last year than in car crashes.

How big of a deal is that? An estimated 38,300 people died in auto accidents, so the scale of the drug deaths is almost unimaginable.

Tonight, MTV bores into this explosion in drug deaths, a spike largely attributable to an eruption of opioid use, with Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis, a one-hour documentary hosted by Grammy Award-winning artist Macklemore, himself a recovering addict.

This powerful documentary, the first from MTV’s new Docs division, is an incisive exploration of the opioid epidemic that is gutting American communities. The doc not only explores the scope and trauma of the rampage, but takes a frank look at why what is certainly not the country’s first drug abuse problem is getting so much more sympathetic attention than past scourges. The meat of this is explored in a candid conversation between Macklemore and President Obama:

Read More