Living in the 'Age of Stupid'

Issue 

The Age of Stupid
Directed by Franny Armstrong
With Pete Postlethwaite
In cinemas

The science of the climate change crisis has been well documented, not least through Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Now Franny Armstrong, famous for McLibel, has interwoven fiction and documentary to take the argument another step forward in The Age of Stupid.

Armstrong's important contribution is to show that climate change is really a social justice issue.

Among the social issues exposed are Third Word poverty created by rapacious multinationals, the lingering effects of colonialism and wasteful, apathetic consumerism in imperialist countries.

The film was funded through donations and Armstrong gathered stories from across the globe about the current effects of climate change. However, a showing of the rough cut to the donors left them underwhelmed.

So, well known British actor Pete Postlethwaite was brought in to form a cleverly simple framing narrative set in 2055. He plays the custodian of a vast repository, built to withstand climate change, in which all the Earth's cultural artifacts are deposited.

He surveys a trove of films to look at when humans confronted, but failed to act upon, the crisis of climate change. That's where the contemporary documentary film comes in, telling six different tales.

The individuals on different continents are dealing with the environmental and social forces that confront us all. It is these realities that save the film from being preachy or heavy-handed; but some of the realities in this world — based on serving the profit gouging of oil companies — are just awful.

We see child Iraqi war refugees eking out a pitiful existence in Jordan due to the connection between oil and war. The simple words that they speak are heart-rending.

We meet Alvin DuVernay, a cool New Orleans dude who survived Hurricane Katrina and still believes in the virtues of oil, but who, nonetheless, coins the phrase "the age of stupid" from which the film's title comes.

The life of young Nigerian woman Layefa Malemi is confronting. Her heroic struggle to achieve an education in the country that has been ravaged by Shell brings into sharp relief all of the multinationals' social responsibility statements.

Malemi raises money by fishing in waters polluted by Shell. She literally washes the fish in detergent to get the oil slick off them.

Even more distasteful are the attitudes of rich British landowners filmed campaigning to stop the construction of a wind turbine farm near their estates because it would disturb their views.

In India, Jeh Wadia, scion of a rich family, is filmed as he establishes a low-price airline, using all the high-handed arrogance inherited from the British Raj. He says he is actually helping India's poor to improve their lot.

Such realities are exactly what the climate change movement must grapple with; exactly how can a socially just transition be achieved?

Armstrong includes a cartoon sequence that explains how capitalist consumerism has wasted the world's resources. But the film ultimately leaves the question hanging as to how to deal with it.

In the end, it is up to us to build the social counter-movement to stop the crisis; organising community showings of The Age of Stupid when it becomes available for grassroots campaigners will be an invaluable part of it.