Seven years after Al Gore won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, the former US presidential candidate is back on the media trail, this time with a book of doomsday environmental predictions called The Future. And, as sure as oceans rising follows glaciers melting, his foils – a redoubtable Irish husband-and-wife team called Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer – are hot on his heels.
"For a man who believes that fossil fuels will mean an end of all life on earth, it's odd that he chose to sell his Current TV (network) to oil funded Al Jazeera," Ann tells me. "It's odd too that he says that a large carbon-footprint, large homes and large cars will hasten that apocalypse, but he has all of them."
As producers of anti-environmentalism films such as Not Evil Just Wrong – made as a challenge to An Inconvenient Truth – and Mine Your Own Business, McAleer and McElhinney have long been sparring partners of Gore. In 2009, Phelim challenged the losing presidential candidate at a public meeting of environmental journalists and was shouted down and escorted out of the room by fellow hacks. Since then he and his Donegal-born wife Ann have continued to build their profile in the US, regularly appearing on networks such as CNN and Fox News. This year saw the release of Fracknation, a documentary about "the truth behind the search for natural gas", which has again raised the hackles of film critics and environmentalists stateside.
Following its release, The New York Post called McAleer "an expert practitioner of cinematic jujitsu." Others have been less charitable and the couple have been physically threatened by opponents of their work and have been called "Hitler's henchmen" by another irate viewer. "Although to be fair," Ann pipes up, "a comment we also hear a lot from Americans is 'aw, your accents are lovely'."
Those would be their lilting Ulster brogues, which have no audible concessions to their new homeland. While they currently bask in the year-round sunshine of LA, Ann grew up in Bundoran, Co Donegal, where her father ran an estate agent's office and Phelim hails from just outside Omagh, Co Tyrone. They met in 1994 at the Glenties summer school in Donegal, where Phelim had been working as a journalist – he had covered the Troubles for The Irish News in Belfast. At that point Ann was on a break from working as a schoolteacher. She was having a drink at the bar with her friend, Mary, when she noticed a man who looked "quite a lot like a terrorist, very unkempt. I knew then he needed taking care of and that I was the person for the job."
The hiring process took some time though. Phelim says that due to "geography and my stupidity the relationship did not take off until 1999 – sometimes men really don't know what is good for them". Ann moved to Dublin, where she and Phelim lived in little flats on opposite sides of the River Liffey. She quit her job as a teacher in 2000 and they soon began working together. "It was an adventure," Ann tells me. "I was new to journalism and in the absence of having attended journalism school, Phelim showed me the ropes. It was a great time."
The first story they worked on together concerned Mihaela Porumbaru – the Romanian child, paralysed from the waist down, who was handed back to her Romanian foster parents, despite every effort on the part of her Irish carers to keep her here.
They subsequently worked on a documentary about foreign adoptions for the BBC.
"It concerned two children who had been adopted by evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland," Ann tells me. Over the following years they would research a number of adoption stories, and the work would take them to Indonesia, Vietnam, Romania and Bulgaria.
How did they find working together as a husband and wife team?
"We've had our disagreements – which is to say we've talked," Ann laughs. "Working together when you're a couple as well can be quite intense," Phelim adds. "We don't really believe in the work-life balance. We work 10 hours a day together, it's pretty full on."
They would eventually move to America, where they would take an axe to the global warming hysteria, which had swept much of the country. Not Evil Just Wrong, their Michael Moore-esque riposte to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, caused a huge splash upon its release in 2009 and saw them become in-demand public speakers. Over the following years, they were featured on virtually every mainstream US television network and featured in publications like Variety and The New York Times.
The film broadly argues that the global warming measures that have been implemented by many governments are not justified by science and will in fact impoverish many Third World countries.
Because of the intensity of the work making the film and the demands of the publicity treadmill once it was released, they tended to stick to themselves, rarely seeking out other Irish people in America. From Americans they often encountered hostility. "One man told us 'How dare you come over here. I think you're overstretched the bounds of your visa, I'm going to report you now.' They prefer nice supplicant immigrants who will agree with them," Phelim tells me. "It's essential to have each other as a support when people are directing their anger at us."
Their latest film, Fracknation, has been just as controversial and Ann has some choice words on the natural gas-tapping situation back home: "It's astounding to me that Leitrim, one of the most economically depressed counties in Ireland, has this amazing opportunity and that is being squandered based on inaccurate information. It's a real shame in Ireland that the coverage of the fracking story, from what I've seen at least, is very anti-fracking."
Because of the long hours working together, they have tried to create a demarcation between home and office life. "I work from home and Phelim works in an office so that we're not in the same space during the day – deliberately so. That's for our own sanity."
They don't plan on having children, they tell me, but they are eager to give birth to a new film. They've come across a true story that they are eager to research (they're staying tight-lipped on the details) and they are both sure they will stay in America.
As for continuing to work together, they tell me they wouldn't want it any other way.
"It's really a dream equation for us," says Ann. "We're doing something we love with somebody we love. And how many people can say that?"
Learn more about Fracknation at www.fracknation.com
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