10 minutes with Al Gore

Since taking his global-warming slideshow to celluloid with “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore has been a nonstop traveling machine, spreading the word about his film and continuing to speak out about the dangers of climate change.

The former U.S. Vice President wrapped the Davis Guggenheim-helmed documentary in late 2005, hit the Sundance and Cannes film festivals earlier this year, then immediately embarked on a world tour for the pic’s foreign rollout. Meanwhile, he’s watched the film’s U.S. box office grosses swell to nearly $24 million, and is back Stateside for a short spell to help launch the DVD.

Variety managed to get a 10-minute slot with the busy eco crusader; senior editor Sharon Swart checked in with him for an update.

The last time I saw you, we were standing on top of a hotel in Cannes, with the unseasonable Mistral winds blowing like crazy. Where have you been since?

“I think it would be easier to list the places I haven’t gone. I haven’t been to Bhutan yet. I’ve been all over. I just returned from Australia and New Zealand, and the movie’s apparently had a big impact there — they’re in the middle of a 1,000-year drought in Australia.”

Do you fly commercial?

“Yes, though there are exceptions to that. But when I travel, I offset it 100% and live a carbon-neutral lifestyle. And beyond that, Paramount has made the decision at the beginning to have the entire promotional tour be completely carbon neutral. Everything associated with this movie is carbon neutral. The DVD is made of 100% recycled, post-consumer waste. I think it has been the most environmentally forward-looking and responsible marketing campaign ever. Paramount’s done a really good job on this.”

Your message is really catching on in the entertainment industry.

“Yeah, which is great, because it provides leadership for the rest of the business community. And it comes at a time when many other industries and companies are beginning to make the same decision. Hollywood has more visibility than any other industry and has a great opportunity to provide leadership, when we’re just nearing the tipping point, to contribute to a big change in the whole country.”

Could Hollywood be doing a better job?

“First of all, I’ve been extremely impressed with the commitment of the people in the business that I’ve worked with. It’s been a real joy. There has been a wholehearted effort on their part to bring about the changes that are needed. As for the industry as a whole, I think the key is making that commitment to become carbon neutral — everything else flows from that. Because that drives the process within the companies to identify where the carbon is being generated, how it can be reduced, and it often more than pays for itself by identifying a lot of waste and inefficiency that wasn’t visible until they went through that analysis.”

What have you learned about the film business?

“It’s been a fascinating experience on many levels. I did not fully appreciate the degree of excellence and dedication and professionalism in literally hundreds of specialized fields that go into the making of movies. I know that sounds like the comment of a naif, and it is. But when you see it firsthand, you cannot help but be impressed and overwhelmed by the depth of experience and expertise; all of the sudden it is absolutely no mystery why Hollywood continues to lead the world in this premiere art form, because it is hard to do it well, and it takes dedication and work and tradition. And the slow building of organizational competence is so important. Secondly, I’ve been very impressed with the level of individual commitment on the part of the people I’ve had a chance to work with in the industry. And on a more mundane level, even though I knew it intellectually, I didn’t realize how much reach movies have, and how quickly a message can be conveyed to so many more people through a movie than by trudging around night after night giving a slideshow to a few hundred people at a time. I’m still doing it, but the ability of a movie to deliver a message is just unparalleled.”

How are different countries reacting to your message?

“The impact is even greater in some countries than others, but everywhere the general impact has been almost exactly the same. Of course there are still a few countries that are protectionist and limit the number of Hollywood movies that can be shown, and that’s too bad. So I have a new appreciation for some of the reasons why it’s too bad. But of those precious few exceptions, it has had pretty much the same impact all over the world.”

Have you toured Asia?

“That tour starts in January.”

Will China be on that tour?

“It may be. But that’s one of the places where they have this quota. But we’re still looking for ways to crack that nut.”

I hear you’ve been training people to give your slideshow. Tell me about that.

“I have, I’ve been training about 1,000 people to give my slideshow, but in their voices. I started the training program in Tennessee, and next week I will begin another class of trainees. And I started a training program for Australians (in mid-November) — we had 1,700 applicants for the 85 positions. Cate Blanchett, incidentally, was one of the trainees. People from all walks of life. And I will launch one in the U.K. early next year, and then elsewhere in the world. But the main thrust of it will be in the U.S. They’ll show the slideshow to Rotary Clubs and high schools and all kinds of clubs, book clubs, etc.”

Will there be a sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”?

“Well, it took me 30 years to put together the slideshow on which the first one is based, but it took a much shorter period of time to put together the 30 minutes of fresh and original new material for the DVD. So I don’t rule that out. But right now I’m concentrating on getting the message out about this DVD.”

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