So opens Lizzie Gillett & Franny Armstrong’s 5 year opus. A Climate Change Blockbuster and true Box Office number 1 – made on a shoestring budget and shunned by mainstream cinema outlets (a majority of the general public have never even heard it). Yet for only £450,000 (mainly contributed by members of the public) this film is still magnificent. As a follow up to McLibel, Franny started work on The Age of Stupid as far back as 2002. Pete Postlethwaite was recruited as he sole fictional character – an archivist working in 2055 pulling together old documentary footage from a time prior to the planet’s devastation by runaway Climate Change. He is preparing mankind’s last message to the universe in the hope that someone else won’t repeat our mistake. In addition to Pete there is a cast (if you can call them that) of seven real-life characters from India, Nigeria, New Orleans, Jordan, France and England. If that wasn’t enough they threw in some original animations and a few interviews with the likes of Mark Lynas and George Monbiot. Shake it up with a great soundtrack and you get a movie that can make you laugh out loud at one moment only to sob with tears at the next. It is thoughtful, brooding, angry.
During 2008/2009 this film was shown in the British Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the European Parliament, Dutch Parliament, the United Nations, the Swedish Parliament, the US President’s think-tank The Center for American Progress and Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum. We first saw it back on the 15th March 2009 when it premiered across Britain breaking a record for the largest simultaneous premiere. The event was lead by a solar-powered cinema tent in Leicester Square. This was followed by a global launch on the 21st/22nd September 2009 when more than a million viewers watched the film across 63 countries leading with the launch in New York.
There should seem to be no good reason why this movie should not have won a string of awards. However it was not quite to be. Despite some good write-ups from The Guardian, New Statesman, News of the World, The Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times and more, the film got turned down by Sundance. Critical acclaim from the Indie-crowd seemed somehow lacking. Despite an early Grierson Award (their judges said “On every level, THE AGE OF STUPID is a powerful and unforgettable film ….[that]… the judges recommend everybody must see.”) there were slim pickings for AOS. Only the Birds Eye and Sunny Side awards followed – and who has heard of them? So, why the lack of enthusiasm? Despite occasional glimpses of utter brilliance the movie is overly long and Franny obviously struggled to edit it all down into a workable piece. The middle section is a little hum-drum whilst the end peaks too early. When you actually think about the major documentary sections they are all charming and insightful but strangely unrelated to each other. This is because the movie didn’t quite start as a film about Climate Change… It started as a film about the Oil Industry called “Crude”.
This explains the Jordanian and Nigerian sections. Other sections look at Indian economic development, UK Wind Farms and a French Mountain Guide witnessing glacier melt. Probably 10 minutes of footage should have been cut. It all ended up a bit confusing. The right dots are all there but they didn’t quite join up successfully. There are disjointed sections of animation that, whilst clever, fail to add coherency. Pete Postlethwaite is a trooper and his central guide character simply isn’t used enough. Like a horse designed by committee you have bundle of good ideas here but all have been thrown in such that they drown out the original central theme. In the end, these are small points. The biggest flaw remains the dumb title which made it very difficult to market the movie. This is a great movie. Everyone should see it. It is better than “An Inconvenient Truth” but only because it is different. It is a call-to-arms brimming over with polemic – not science. An emotional kick-in-the-pants. Recommended. If you can get hold of the two-disk DVD then you should. On the second disk you get extended interviews with Richard Heinberg and George Monbiot. Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over” was cited as an influence for the movie but not one word of his interview made it into the movie. Also check out the short film “Wake Up- Freak Out” which, despite the dumb title represents another good call-to-arms in response to the avoidance of climate tipping points.