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The Review - FEATURE
Published: 12 March 2009
Actor Pete Postlethwaite stars in The Age of Stupid
Actor Pete Postlethwaite stars in The Age of Stupid
Age concern of film-maker Armstrong

Camden Town-based Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid aims to inspire audiences to fight for the environment and push our politicians into leading the way later this year, writes Dan Carrier

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: December, 2009. Heads of state from around the world will sit down to sign a new agreement to combat climate change.
The successor to the Kyoto treaty, it will define a global response to a global problem.
And as the finer details of the plan of action to tackle the environmental crisis are hammered out, Camden Town film-maker Franny Armstrong wants us to push our politicians towards the table to scribble their signatures on a document that could just save the world.
This call to arms is the premise of her new film, The Age of Stupid.
Starring Pete Postlethwaite, it lays bare the scale of the environmental crisis we face. Using the stories of six different people whose lives have been in some way affected by global warming, it outlines what we have to do now to ensure that in 50 years’ time we have a planet able to support life.
It is a Doomsday scenario and makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing.
As The Age of Stupid team gear up this week for Sunday’s premiere, the excitement is palatable in their Camden Town office. But there is also an air of seriousness.
“I felt using six different stories would be a good way to get into a complex issue,” says Franny.
“I first started working on the film in 2002. I had been impressed with the structure of Stephen Soderbergh’s drugs trade film Traffic, which brought together six different stories on the issue, so I set out to find the stories which would encapsulate the threat from global warming.”
Her subjects come from across the world: from an oil worker who lost everything when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, to a family of Iraqi refugees, cowering in Jordan, their father dead and brother injured and missing. Franny has crafted individual tales to show the threat facing us as a race. Another is the hugely likeable Layefa Malemi, who lives in Nigeria and wants to be a doctor. But the fish she needs to catch to raise funds to pay for her training are covered in oil, thanks to a nearby Shell refinery.
Some of the subjects are more likeable than others. One segment tells the story of Indian airline magnate Jeh Wadia, who Franny and her producer Lizze Gillett met at an air show. The entrepreneur was setting up a low-cost airline, hoping to cut journey times across the state which relies heavily on a creaking railway system. With airlines the major villains of the piece, his appearance is that of a pantomime baddie.
Yet Jeh’s appearance illustrates a dilemma. While the idea of a new, low-cost air service in India clearly will contribute to global warming, why should we tell such a vast country that it can’t embrace the time-saving technologies the West has had in place for years?
But Jeh’s inherited wealth and behaviour towards his employees paints him as a bad guy.
“We had an agreement and showed him the scenes for his approval,” admits Franny.
“He liked them. He asked us to only make a few changes, one where we filmed him sack someone and elsewhere simply for accuracy.”
Other leads include Piers Guy, a wind turbine entrepreneur who is battling to get permission to build them in a disused airfield in Bedfordshire. Locals say it will ruin their views and cause noise – yet say they too are worried about global warming. It shows the smaller issues we face on a daily basis in the search for clean alternatives to fossil fuel. And although Piers is a “good guy”, there are moments when he does not seem to have quite the grasp you would like from a hero.
He and his wife discuss the fact they cannot morally fly from their home in the South-west to go ski-ing in France. “It is very tempting, as we could be there by lunchtime,” he says.
Oh, the sacrifice.
Franny has not shied away from banging a political drum to explain why the future of the world is under threat.
The culprit, in her eyes, is simple: capitalism.
“It is hard to sell it, but we needed to consider the entire picture if we were to do this properly,” she says.
She links the concept of mass consumerism and the triumph of capitalism to global warming. Making an animated section last year about the problems of perpetual growth seemed out of synch in a pre-credit crunch world.
“Now its easier to see this is a fact,” says Franny. “It goes to show how fast things can change.”
For this reason she has left in references to George W Bush.
“We didn’t want it to be forgotten that the world’s most powerful country was essentially run by oil men,” she says.
For all the gloom, for all the Alpine glaciers that have virtually disappeared, Franny says the scientists insist it’s not too late – yet.
“We are not powerless to stop this, we just need to act now,” she says.
At the end of the film, Postlethwaite asks if the world around him is actually worth saving. He does not seem so sure.
“Yes, it is,” says Franny. “All the people I met during this film have been so inspiring in their own ways. People can now look to Barack Obama, but we need to look at what we do ourselves.”
And this does not mean simply watching what you recycle and using the car less – it means every one of us making a conscious decision to use the force of public opinion to make sure the signatories for the new agreement in December beef it up so it actually does what needs to be done.

• The Age of Stupid is premiered from a solar-powered tent in Leicester Square on Sunday, with simultaneous launch at various cinemas:

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