The Age of Stupid

Last night I went to a special screening of The Age of Stupid at the San Francisco Film Festival. I had read the UK reviews, and been impressed by the media coverage.

"Fantastic. Knocks spots off An Inconvenient Truth." The Ecologist magazine. "The first succesful dramatisation of climate change to hit the big screen." The Guardian. "Bold, supremely provocative, and hugely important". The Telegraph.

I was curious to see if this film was really as good as people said it was. I wondered whether it would be as big a hit here in the States, as it was in the UK. More than anything, I wanted to know if this was a film that would initiate transition, and empower people to take positive action for change, or whether it would push people into the pit of helplessness and despair.

I knew it wasn't going to be a feel-good film. I prepared myself for a mega-dose of doom and gloom, and settled into my seat ready to be deeply disturbed.
I was not disappointed.

This is a monumental film. Part documentary and part science fiction, it presents a brilliant portrayal of the madness inherent in our consumer culture. Weaving together six stories from across the world, and interspersing them with engaging newsclips and superb animation, the film paints a complex and foreboding picture of  the challenges we are facing. It forces the question: WHY? and offers no satisfying answers.
One minute I was moved to tears, at the families dying in Nigeria; the next minute laughing out loud at the NIMBY traditionalist who claims that wind turbines were so distracting they could cause you to swerve off the road.

At other times I felt hope. The hero from New Orleans who saves over a hundred people with his boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The old mountain guide from the French alps who becomes an activist to stop the growing number of trucks driving through his community.

It's been said that the Age of Stupid is more of a stick than a carrot film. The message hits you where it hurts. For some people the shock and horror will be an incentive to get up and do something. For others it will be too much, and paralyse them with fear, sinking them further into denial, powerlessness, apathy and indifference.

Luckily, I sit firmly in the first camp. I viewed this film as an invitation to take action. It was the same way I felt about the End of Suburbia when it first came out in 2004. Devastated, yet determined to do something about it. We might live in the Age of Foolishness, but that doesn't mean I have to play the fool.

My greatest disappointment in the film was that it made no mention of the Transition Movement. It featured two friends of mine, Piers and Lisa Guy, both of whom are active in Transition Penwith, the second Transition Town to be established after Totnes. Piers is the Energy Group Co-ordinator, and Lisa is a member of the Education Group. They are both fully committed to the Transition process in their community, and I would like to have seen this mentioned.

After the film ended, the Director, Franny Armstrong, participated in a Q & A, and it was clear that the audience wanted solutions. They wanted to know what they could do to make a difference. It was the perfect opportunity to tell people about the Transition Movement.

not stupid logoFranny invited people to sign up to their mailing list and join the Not Stupid campaign. She emphasized the importance of Copenhagen, the meeting of world leaders in December, and the need for them to sign a global agreement that will avert climate catastrophe. She also talked about their ambitious plans to roll out the film to 250 million people.
All of these things were well worth mentioning, and I am in full support of all of them.

And I would love to have heard mention of Transition as a grassroots, community-led solution that empowers people to envision and co-create a vibrant, abundant and resilient future.

I know that Franny and her team are avid supporters of Transition. It's listed as one of the things you can do to rethink society on the Age of Stupid website, with a link to the Transition Towns website in the UK at the bottom of every support page. In Franny's own words:

“Transition has emerged as perhaps the only real model we have for addressing our current crisis – a new, if vital, format for reconsidering our future. The Transition Timeline strengthens a fragile form, something that might, without a trace of irony, be called one of the last, best hopes for all of us.”

The support is there, even if no direct mention was made during the film.

My hope is that Transition communities across the States will screen The Age of Stupid as widely as possible, and frame it within a Transition context, in the same way that the End of Suburbia has been shown. That is, Transition Initiatives could build in processes for the audience to share their thoughts around what they have seen, whilst turning their passion and despair into action that builds local community, and combats climate change and peak oil.

To screen the film without this context would be dangerous. But to screen the film within the Transition context, will be a powerful incentive for collective change.

Filming photo

Photo: Director Franny Armstrong attracting lots of attention filming planes landing at the airport, from a vantage point inside Mumbai's biggest slum.

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