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Davis Guggenheim, who took home an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth,” has a fiction film hitting theaters this Friday. “Gracie,” which stars Carly Schroeder as a 14-year-old girl who goes from underdog to soccer champ in the aftermath of her brother’s death, seems about as akin to endangered polar bears as, I don’t know, “Adventures in Babysitting,” the ’80s hit starring Guggenheim’s wife Elisabeth Shue. Shue, who played soccer as a child and who was later devastated by her brother’s death, is the real-life inspiration for “Gracie.”

“I have a secret,” Guggenheim said in a recent interview with me. “Everyone says these movies are so completely different, but I think they’re very similar.”

As Guggenheim points out, both movies share the classic heroic arc perpetuated by Joseph Campbell: a protagonist who confronts major obstacles to achieve great things. So Al Gore, who promoted his then-unpopular belief via a book (“Earth in the Balance”) after his son’s nearly fatal car crash, later decided to hit the road with an environmentally cautionary slide show, and Guggenheim was there with a video camera.

Likewise, Schroeder’s Gracie, in a fine evocation of Shue’s gutsy teenage doppelganger–Guggenheim describes his wife as a teenaged “hellion” who stole her priest stepfather’s church convertible and drove around town wearing a bonnet–commits what a friend calls ‘social suicide’ by trading cheerleading pompoms for soccer cleats. Though her father (Dermot Mulroney) initially discourages her, and her mother (Shue) initially doesn’t think her soccer dreams are possible, Gracie strenuously trains and wins over even the pit-bullish head coach who bans girls from the weight room and discourages her from taking her brother’s place on the Varsity soccer team.

Gracie’s opponents may bring to mind global warming detractors, from students protesting showings of the film to right-wing critics who made a fuss when both the book and documentary were released. According to Guggenheim, the Academy Award didn’t give “Inconvenient Truth” more credibility–it had credibility from the get-go. The Academy Award got people to see it. And science or sports not-withstanding, the filmmaker credits his latest projects with teaching him about the human spirit.

“This is gonna sound cliché. And I wouldn’t have said this a year ago. But the thing I’m focused on is people’s spirit; it’s that thing you can’t describe that Elisabeth has, and that sometimes does not represent itself until you hit bottom, until life knocks you on your ass. And out of that comes your spirit,” Guggenheim said.

Spirit will be needed in the fight against global warming, which Guggenheim said has the potential of bridging the left and right, citing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses and Rupert Murdoch’s decision to make FOX carbon neutral as examples.

“The ice melts have only gotten worse, the polar bears have only gotten worse, the sea level rise has only gotten worse. Global warming is with us for a long time and to stop it it’s going to take immobilization of huge proportions. It’s like a war.”

Guggenheim’s next battle may be the making of a documentary focused on the rising oceans.

“The people who didn’t want to see real change thought if they ignored us we would go away,” he said. “And we didn’t.”

— Posted by Jenny Halper

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