Director and Author: Franny Armstrong
Scroll down to read: Franny's Comments, including her "A warming world will make love and war minor concerns", and glowing reviews
Plot: A future archivist looks at old footage from the year 2008 to understand why humankind failed to address climate change.
The Age Of Stupid is the documentary-drama-animation hybrid from Director Franny Armstrong (McLibel, Drowned Out) and Oscar-winning Producer John Battsek (One Day In September, Live Forever, In the Shadow of the Moon).
Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off, The Usual Suspects) stars as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055. He watches 'archive' footage from 2008 and asks: Why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance?
Runaway climate change has ravaged the planet by 2055. Pete plays the founder of The Global Archive, a storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic, preserving all of humanity's achievements in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again. Or that intelligent life may arrive and make use of all that weve achieved. He pulls together clips of archive news and documentary from 1950-2008 to build a message showing what went wrong and why. He focuses on six human stories:
- Alvin DuVernay, is a paleontogolist helping Shell find more oil off the coast of New Orleans. He also rescued more than 100 people after Hurricane Katrina, which, by 2055, is well known as one of the first major climate change events.
- Jeh Wadia in Mumbai aims to start-up a new low-cost airline and gets a million Indians flying.
- Layefa Malemi lives in absolute poverty in a small village in Nigeria from which Shell extracts tens of millions of dollars worth of oil every week. She dreams of becoming a doctor, but must fish in the oil-infested waters for four years to raise the funds.
- Jamila Bayyoud, aged 8, is an Iraqi refugee living on the streets of Jordan after her home was destroyed - and father killed - during the US-led invasion of 2003. Shes trying to help her elder brother make it across the border to safety.
- Piers Guy is a windfarm developer from Cornwall fighting the NIMBYs of Middle England.
- 82-year-old French mountain guide Fernand Pareau has witnessed his beloved Alpine glaciers melt by 150 metres.
92 min | Germany:89 min (European Film Market)
Color:Certification: UK:12A | France:U
Cornwall, England, UK
French Alps, France
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
London ~~ Saturday 28 February 2009, page 28
The people's premiere
Made by 'amateurs' with cash from 'crowd-funding', the new film by Franny Armstrong aims to create 250 million climate change activists
By John Vidal
Franny Armstrong, documentary film-maker, at home in Camden, London. (Eamonn McCabe)
Six years ago a young woman with no film training and just one full-length documentary to her name dropped in to the Guardian to ask for some advice. Long before anyone had heard of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, she planned to make a low-budget documentary about oil and climate change. Where should she go? Try Iraq and the Niger delta, two of the most volatile, oil-rich places on earth, the grizzled environmental correspondents advised her - hoping that she would come to no harm.
The Age of Stupid
Production year: 2008
Cert (UK): 12A
Runtime: 90 mins
Directors: Franny Armstrong
Cast: Pete Postlethwaite
Blow me, but in 15 days' time, a bright green carpet will be unrolled in Leicester Square and Franny Armstrong, now 35, better travelled but just as singleminded, will trip down it in the company of A-list celebs, to a specially constructed solar-powered cinema. There they will see a docu-drama set in Nigeria, Iraq and elsewhere starring Pete Postlethwaite - the man Stephen Spielberg called the best actor in the world - playing an old man looking back from a climate-changed future world to documentary footage shot in 2008.
But this will be no ordinary film premiere. Armstrong's film, called The Age of Stupid, is getting the world's largest ever official premiere, with the whole evening being beamed by satellite direct to 65 cinemas. And because climate change affects everyone, too, it is being billed as "the people's premiere".
"Not bad for a bunch of amateurs making it up as they go!" says Armstrong.
But Team Armstrong are no amateurs. For most of her 20s, she worked on McLibel - an epic, low-budget documentary about McDonald's hamfisted attempt to sue two penniless activists who defended themselves in the high court in the longest civil case in English history. The film has now been seen in 15 countries by 53 million people.
There have been two other documentaries since but Stupid is very different - a mix of fact and fiction, using music and animation. It takes six real people in six countries and weaves together their personal experiences of oil. "We went to India, Nigeria twice, Jordan, Tuvalu, the Alps seven times, Cornwall, Iraq," she says. "We spent hours on boats right in the middle of the kidnap areas of the Niger delta. Just producer Lizzie Gillett on the sound and me on the camera. We shot 300 hours of film.
"We had a pretty much finished the film about a year ago, but when I watched it, I wasn't happy. I'd taken all these people's money and it wasn't good enough. So we brainstormed and decided to introduce a fictional element.
"At first I thought we could take the six characters and transpose them to a time in the future after an imaginary climate apocalypse. But our lawyer said they might sue. So we went for kids in the future. But no one wants to be berated by kids. So we ended up wanting someone older and we knew there was only one actor possible - Pete Postlethwaite."
They thought the Oscar-nominated Postlethwaite was way out of their league, but when they Googled him they found he was trying to get permission to put a wind turbine on his roof. It gave them the confidence to approach him. "I ended up directing Postlethwaite myself. He just rocked up and was awesome. I had my favourite actor speaking directly to me with a script that I had written."
In the film, each of the six characters's real stories interlock and overlap with the others. Postlethwaite plays an old man looking back on all their lives and wondering why no one did anything about climate change when they had the chance.
Postlethwaite describes working with Armstrong as "thrilling". "She was one of those people you trust. It started with a misunderstanding. I turned up thinking I was just doing a voiceover, then she said 'We've not got much money but we've got a small caravan.' I thought 'Why do I need to make-up for a voice over?' Her tenacity and integrity went together ... she was clearly not someone looking for the glitzy main chance. She has a real desire to get her message across.
"We have no option but to be sympathetic to the film," he says. "It's sympathy or die. We really can do something about climate change. We don't need government to tell us what to do. Individuals can do things too."
Armstrong, the daughter of BBC human rights documentary producer Peter, comes from the first environmentally aware generation. Her film does not seek, like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, to prove climate change is happening. Narrative, not just facts, she believes, is needed to make people understand what is at stake.
"At school I was awful. I named and shamed teachers who did not have a catalytic converter on their car," says Armstrong, who has never owned a car herself. "I terrorised my parents with greenery. I went veggie at 11, worked on a farm and understood then that animals were commodities. My favourite cow was called Piggie. She cut her udder but was sent to slaughter to save the vet's fees. I have not eaten meat since.
"I first heard about climate change in the 80s. We called it global warming then and I remember thinking 'that sounds dangerous'. But I never had a eureka awareness moment. It was a gradual build-up. Then I read zoology at University College London and my thesis was 'Is the human species suicidal?' I read it again recently. It was the blueprint for this film."
Let's be clear: Franny Armstrong and the team who have made Stupid for next to the minimum wage are on full-time planetary duty. She envisages people seeing Stupid and not just lobbying their MPs, pestering their bosses or lagging their lofts, but going to Copenhagen in December and locking world leaders into their hall at the vast UN climate change talks and not letting them out until they have all agreed to reduce global climate emissions fast.
It's improbable, but then so is the film. Not only have they made what is being called the first credible film dramatisation of climate change, they have invented a new way to raise money and may even have revolutionised the arcane film distribution system.
They bypassed the banks and went straight to ordinary people for cash, developing the idea of "crowd-funding". The first £50,000 was raised in a London bar on a single night in December 2004, and the £530,000 raised so far has come from 228 people who have invested between £500 and £35,000 each. There are still seven £10,000 shares available.
Aside from a few relatively wealthy people, many investors are made up of groups. There's a mothers' group, a hockey team and a women's health centre. The investors will get their money back if the film takes £1m. "Our lawyer said it was the most original film-funding scheme he'd seen," says Armstrong.
In addition to the innovative funding model, Stupid has broken new ground by relying on volunteers to translate the film into more than 30 languages.
But she and executive producer John Battsek, who made the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September, also know that the key to getting a small, independent film into more than a handful of cinemas is the first few days of its opening. If the distributors see good attendance figures they will pick it up. If not, it will sink without trace. Enter the network of people who have helped make the film. "There are 228 investors and 108 crew: if each of us buys 10 tickets we will almost definitely have sold enough seats to expand into week two," Armstrong muses.
But they have devised another way to get the film seen. "The usual film model is that the distributor pays the producer a pittance called an advance - and for that takes all rights to the film. Which means it belongs to them. If the filmmaker wants to have a screening of the film, they have to get permission from the distributor. So we came up with a new model whereby we employ the distributor, we keep all the rights, the money goes through us and we pay them a cut. This means we will be able to allow all sorts of small-scale school/church/campaign screenings which are not usually possible," she says.
You get the idea. Anyone at all will be able to stage their own Age of Stupid screening just by getting on the internet and paying for a licence to show the film. The rates will vary depending who you are and how many people you plan to show it to, but the licensee can charge viewers whatever they like.
So far they have had approaches from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Barack Obama's thinktank the Centre for American Progress, senior UN diplomats and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Diplomats who saw it at the UN's climate change meeting in Poland before Christmas reportedly came out crying.
If Armstrong gets her way, which she usually does, The Age of Stupid will be seen by 250 million or more people in the run up to the crucial UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December and will inspire an army of people to force world governments to take action. In which case, Armstrong says, she will stop making films. "They take me a very long time and make no money at all. If we succeed at Copenhagen then I will go and grow leeks in Wales or Cornwall.
"You make a film, you present everyone with an extraordinary story, then it's over to them," says Armstrong.
London ~~ Friday 18 September 2009
A warming world will make love and war minor concerns
If documentaries are the new rock and roll, then it's time for the world to face the music about climate change
By Franny Armstrong
Franny Armstrong filming The Age of Stupid in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina
"But didn't Al Gore already make the climate change documentary?" has been a common question over the five years we've been making The Age of Stupid. It never fails to raise a weary smile. Casablanca had already done love, so why bother with Brokeback Mountain? Apocalypse Now did war. What's the point of Three Kings?
Love and war will soon become minor concerns, as the full horrors of climate change begin to unfold.
When I started my first documentary, McLibel, I never for a moment thought it would have any effect on that immovable corporate mountain called McDonald's. I just found the story of two people daring to stand up to the Big Mac enormously inspiring - and felt that others would too. But only 10 years later - thanks also to Fast Food Nation, Jamie's School Dinners and Super Size Me - has there been a sea-change in public awareness about healthy eating. McDonald's UK profits have since collapsed and advertising junk food to children is now banned.
Someone recently called independent cinema documentaries: "the new rock'n'roll". Forget writing books, singing songs, taking photographs, or even building websites. If you have a burning idea you need to communicate, uncensored, with maximum possible emotional punch and a potential audience of tens of millions, a doc's the way to go.
So in my not very humble opinion we need more, not fewer, films about every aspect of the climate crisis and how we might yet solve it. Inconvenient Truth did the science. Fantastic. 11th Hour investigated climate change alongside its non-identical twin, peak oil. No Impact Man gets on to practical solutions from an individual's perspective and The Power of Community does the same at the community level. Our film, The Age of Stupid, focuses on the big moral human stuff.
Which is all good. But even the most powerful film in the history of cinema is never going to change anything if nobody sees it. McLibel eventually managed to amass 25m viewers, with no distribution budget whatsoever and just me on the team. For The Age of Stupid we now have more than 1,000 volunteers working from every corner of the planet and a small (but dwindling) pot of cash. So together we're aiming for ten times McLibel's viewers: 250m.
It kicks off next Monday, September 21 at the Global Premiere in New York. Movie stars, politicians and climate thinkers will arrive at our solar-powered cinema tent by sailing boat, bike, rickshaw, skateboard or low-carbon transport of their choice, before braving the photographers on the green carpet. Following the screening of The Age of Stupid, we will be joined live by scientists on a melting glacier in the Himalayas and in a rainforest in Indonesia. Radiohead's Thom Yorke will wrap the evening with a little live music. All of which will be broadcast live by satellite to 440 theatres across America and then to 52 countries, from Argentina and Austria to Papua New Guinea and Peru.
And if we do reach 250m people, and the majority of them do agree with the film's key thesis - that unless we move very, very fast we will make the planet uninhabitable - then so what? What influence could 250m angry, inspired, motivated citizens possibly have in 2009, the year of the Copenhagen climate summit, when the governments of the world will come together in December to finalise the successor to the Kyoto treaty?
• Franny Armstrong is the director of The Age of Stupid and the founder of the 10:10 climate change campaign. You can buy tickets for The Age of Stupid Global Premiere on Sept 21 - one night only - at www.ageofstupid.net. And you can enter the Guardian's competition to win tickets here.
London ~~ Friday 18 September 2009
Smart premiere for The Age of Stupid
Thom Yorke and Kofi Annan join in eco-parties around the world to mark the 'global premiere' of Franny Armstrong's hit climate-change film
By Xan Brooks
Pedal power … Pete Postlethwaite at the London premiere of The Age of Stupid earlier this year. (Fergus McDonald/Getty Images)
The VIPs are arriving by bike, rickshaw and electric car. The cinema is powered by the sun, and the red carpet has been replaced by one that is green and fashioned from recycled bottles. Any way you slice it, the global unveiling of The Age of Stupid is not your average movie premiere. It may, however, turn out to be the biggest.
Directed by Franny Armstrong (a documentary film-maker and outrider for the Guardian's 10:10 campaign), The Age of Stupid cast Pete Postlethwaite as a mournful archivist in 2055, looking at footage from 2008 of flash floods and rampant air travel and wondering where it all went wrong. The film's future, by contrast, looks rosy. Five years after it was first ushered into production and six months after it opened in the UK, The Age of Stupid is merrily recycling its way towards world domination.
On Monday "The Age of Stupid Global Premiere" will be held at a solar-powered cinema tent in Manhattan, with the event simultaneously streamed to 400 screens across America. The event also makes room for live music from Radiohead's Thom Yorke and satellite linkups to melting glaciers and withering rainforests. Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion in which Armstrong and Postlethwaite are joined by the likes of Kofi Annan, actor Gillian Anderson and the former Irish president Mary Robinson.
Then, 24 hours later, the rest of the world is invited, as the film is rolled out to 200-odd venues in more than 50 countries, from cinemas in Lebanon and Tehran to a sports stadium on the Pacific island of Kiribati, where the coastline is being fast eroded by the rising tide. "The whole place is literally going under because of climate change," says Lizzie Gillett, the film's producer.
As Gillett sees it, an event on this scale is unprecedented. "Nobody has done anything like this, and God knows if it's going to work. We've been told that the Star Wars world premiere had 800 cinemas and we're trying to beat that." She adds that, in nations where the premiere is not booked at a bona-fide cinema, it will be available free on the internet. "So that gives us hope," she says. "I think we'll manage more screenings than Star Wars, even if it's less actual cinemas. And wouldn't that be amazing? If our little film ended up beating Star Wars?"
Yet so many aspects of The Age of Stupid are confounding. When making the film, Gillett hoped that it would serve as a rallying call, perhaps sparking a grassroots public uprising. In the event, she says, it has been the other way round, with politicians of every stripe keen to be associated with it. The makers have been asked to organise special screenings for representatives of organisations from the UN to the World Bank, the Environmental Protection Agency to Obama's thinktank.
Is there a danger here? One wonders if The Age of Stupid has become so successful that it risks becoming a gift-wrapped PR opportunity for politicians and business leaders – allowing them to bask in its reflected glory without doing anything substantive to head off the pending apocalypse. "Well, we have to be aware of that," says Gillett. "But I think it's a case of us hijacking them as opposed to them hijacking us. If these people think we are going to let them use this as some PR opportunity, they've got another think coming."
By rights, The Age of Stupid's unlikely success story should crest with next week's event. And yet, even now, mired in fraught, last-minute preparations, Gillett is predicting a further renaissance for the film on TV and DVD, where it will continue to sound its stern Cassandra cry until the world either wakes up or sicks beneath the waves. In the meantime, it has clearly taken its toll on those who made it. "It has its own life now," says Gillett, poised to dash from one meeting to the next. "That's just as well, because it's killing us."