Cool It

Film questions the comparative benefits of measured and alarmist rhetoric when it comes to climate-change debate.

With “Cool It,” acclaimed documentarian Ondi Timoner (“We Live in Public,” “DIG!”) finds her most well-adjusted and least riveting subject in Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish researcher whose books take exception to the inconvenient truths of Al Gore et al. Intermittently stimulating and only as provocative as Lomborg himself, the film does question the comparative benefits of measured and alarmist rhetoric when it comes to climate-change debate — or political documentaries. But while this Roadside Attractions pickup should attract truth-seekers of all stripes, reviews stand to be chillier than those of Timoner’s more visually intense and psychologically penetrating work.

Some will claim “Cool It,” like Lomborg, lets those with heavy eco-footprints off too lightly, as it asserts that the earth isn’t headed for catastrophe, or at least not as quickly as the Nobel Prize-winning Gore would maintain. Other viewers will wish Timoner — in the spirit of her critical looks at off-his-rocker Anton Newcombe of “DIG!” and disturbing dot-commer Josh Harris of “We Live in Public” — had been more skeptical of her self-described “skeptical environmentalist.” In a film full of inevitable ambiguities, there’s no question that the stylistically hyperbolic filmmaker has cooled her jets for this relatively straightforward presentation of Lomborg’s levelheadedly contrarian views.

A blond-haired and young-looking fortysomething, healthily enamored of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mom, Lomborg is introduced as the founder and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and as “one of the world’s most influential people.” (Mindful of Timoner’s past work, one might also consider him the alt-rocker of green activists.)

Derided by one of the film’s many talking heads as a “massive negative force” and by another as an “environmental heretic,” Lomborg does not in fact deny the existence of global climate change, but argues that other problems — among them poverty, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS treatment in the developing world — are in more urgent need of attention.

In a Yale U. lecture that resembles a lower-key version of Gore’s PowerPoint presentation in “An Inconvenient Truth,” Lomborg summarizes his solution-seeking approach to climate change: “It’s not a discussion of whether it’s true,” he says. “It’s a matter of how to handle it.” Regarding the seemingly all-important cutting of carbon emissions as a kind of “planetary methodone,” Lomborg strongly favors government spending on geo-engineering research, and is seen in the film visiting scientists whose work with the harnessing of solar and wave energies appears accessible and persuasive to the layperson.

As Timoner’s film progresses, Lomborg turns gradually from subject to interviewer, questioning scientific and economics luminaries as well as schoolchildren whose apocalyptic crayon drawings seem to reflect the fear-mongering of which he accuses Gore. Lomborg repeatedly argues that scare tactics inspire not progressive action on the part of the public, but inactivity. (Would that he were willing and able to offer some hard data on this point.)

Curiously, Lomborg does admit that “sometimes it takes a disaster to force people to change” — a fascinating statement that the film could have explored further in order to tease out some apparent contradictions in the researcher’s philosophy.

Declining to sketch Lomborg’s personality beyond his ideas, “Cool It” feels long at a relatively brief 89 minutes, although Timoner’s talent for the dynamic cut remains intact, if more sporadically evident than before. Tech-wise, the film’s computer-animated representations are topnotch, as is its sound design — the latter achievement not surprising given Timoner’s mastery of the rock-docu form in “DIG!”

Cool It

  • Production: A Roadside Attractions release of a 1019 Entertainment production, in association with Interloper Films. Produced by Terry Botwick, Sarah Gibson, Ondi Timoner. Executive producers, Botwick, Ralph Winter. Directed by Ondi Timoner. Written by Terry Botwick, Sarah Gibson, Bjorn Lomborg, Timoner, from the book "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" by Lomborg.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV), Nasar Abich; editors, Debra Light, Brian Singbiel, David Timoner; music, N'oa Winter Lazerus, Sarah Schachner; music supervisors, Audiosocket, Cary Logrande, Michael Turner; sound, Chris Haire, Chris Elam; animation, Four Eyed Films; animation director, Gary Adler; associate producers, Shannon Costello, Michelle Sullivan. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 11, 2010. Running time: 89 MIN.
  • With: With: Bjorn Lomborg, Freeman Dyson, Nancy Stokey, James Hansen, Daniel Kammen, Steven Schneider, Lee Lane, David Vaughn, Tsegereda Embaye, Stephen Salter, Ivor van Heerden, Gwyn Prins, Nathan Myhrvold, Marcel Stive, Mtangulizi Sanyika, Richard Tol, Vernon Smith, Jon Sader.
  • Music By: