Piecing together a patchwork in which resourceful rustics and high-rise sophisticates alike take action to create clean energy, “Carbon Nation” might be the most upbeat documentary ever to navigate the generally bleak terrain of global warming.
But while this is a friendly little film that radiates worthy intentions and should prove useful to young folks, it isn’t enlightening or inspiring enough to turn skeptics into warriors. And it won’t captivate viewers who are versed in hot-times issues or familiar with previous documentaries about the subject.
Delivering information over artistry, and combining hurried digital-age pacing with Reddy Kilowatt-era design styles, director and co-writer Peter Byck (“Garbage”) covers some of the same subjects that were addressed in “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Cool It,” while limiting the gloom largely to the setup passage and focusing almost entirely on solutions.
Carbon emissions are his top target.
Around the country we go, meeting people who are doing cutting-edge, viable things to reduce emissions — some out of serious environmental concern and some for reasons of economics or national security.
Interviewees include Texas wind farmer Cliff Etheredge, Alaska geothermal pioneer Bernie Karl, green-jobs advocate Van Jones and, representing the Pentagon’s Green Hawks, Dan Nolan.
Byck covers lots of ground. Touching on global-warming direness, then exploring alternative-energy sources (wind, geothermal, algae), and finally offering greener-living tips for everyday schmoes (use environmentally conscious light bulbs, paint your roof white), the movie has merit as an educational film.
But it’s neither a knockout 101 course nor spellbinding cinema.
Less informative, affecting and fun than, collectively, “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Cool It,” “Crude” and “No Impact Man,” the film is dry beneath its bouncily narrated surfaces. Interviewees are presented so snappily that they can’t sink in.
Additionally, Byck achieves his aim of making a “big-tent film where folks of all political stripes” can “find common ground.” But his lumping together of environmental, military and corporate sorts — under the same green halo, without offering viewpoints that question whether all these people are truly a permanent part of the solution or simply along for the ride because clean energy suits their current needs — seems naive.
He makes a solid point when noting that until a financial penalty exists for generating carbon emissions, violators will keep destroying the environment. But he doesn’t address why the government hasn’t legislated such a fee.
Such softness makes the movie weaker, not friendlier. With the environment having replaced Iraq as the “it” topic of documentaries, this film warrants its spot in the growing catalog. But with often-impressive characters and a hope-filled premise, it deserves to be a standout, but it’s not.
With Cliff Etheredge, Van Jones, Bernie Karl, Dan Nolan
Written by Peter Byck, Eric Driscoll, Matt Weinhold, Karen Weigert
Directed by Peter Byck
Running time 1 hour 22 minutes
Note: Byck is scheduled to attend 7:20 p.m. screenings today and Sunday at Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco