Film Review: “The Age of Stupid” (2009)

The documentary/film, “The Age of Stupid,” is about the current non-response to Climate Change, and the impacts of that apathy. It can be watched for free via the you-tube link.

It was first screened in March 2009 in the U.K., to great acclaim, with the film simultaneously broadcast to 62 other cinemas in the U.K. The launch was so big that it broke a Guinness World Record. The film was also one of the first to use ‘crowd-funding’ to help fund its production with £450,000 raised by community groups. The film is now quietly circulating the globe. It is free to watch on you-tube and has been translated into most languages. There were several formal screenings in China last year.

Like ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ it depicts a ‘catastrophe’ narrative.  It is set in 2055,  in a world post-climatic collapse. The film uses ‘real-time’ footage and facts to discuss ‘why’ humanity didn’t act in the years 2000 – 2020. It is a historical analysis of ‘us’ – our current society.

There are some fascinating scenes: life in Nigeria without clean water and, despite Nigeria’s massive oil resources, the local people are shown having to live off a black market for diesel, as regular petrol outlets have collapsed. The footage of the post-Katrina hurricane damage is sobering. In the UK, there is a community dispute over the establishment of a wind-farm. At one stage a local villager, who is against the wind-farm, approaches the wind-farm developer –  (who is also a local and hence one of her neighbours). She hands him a picture of a man being shot.

Towards the end, the viewer is hit with some scary possible futures: New Zealand closing its borders on 25 million odd refugees from Australia. The suicide rate climbing by 800%. People, suffering food shortages, are distressed about whether to eat their pet dog or cat.

For a long time ‘climate communicators’ have been wary of presenting the ‘worst case scenario’ for fear of:  a) being labelled ‘alarmist’ and b) because of the risk that a ‘catastrophe narrative’ may overwhelm people – leaving them feeling hopeless and immobilised. However, an interesting take away point from this film was that the bulk of people initially responded enthusiastically – they were ‘energised’ and called for climate action.   The popularity of the film, on its initial release and in its continued translation and dissemination around the world attests to this.  The media coverage it gained, arguably, helped to raise the profile of ‘climate change’ as an important political issue.

Hence this response suggests that the public may be stronger than many think they are: that they might be able to cope with a ‘catastrophe narrative’ or presentation of the ‘worst case scenario’ –  in some circumstances. It is hard to generalise, however,as there are many nuances to the issue. For further reading, it is best to consult papers written by Rachel Howell who has researched this issue extensively.

In considering its impact, I think it also worth acknowledging the role films have in physically bringing disparate community members together, and the importance this may have in a modern society which is characterised by the cult of the individual. At a film première, especially of this scale and when followed with immediate media attention, individuals have the chance to realise that ‘they are not alone’. Other research has found that if people think they are acting in isolation, or that the ‘majority’ are not acting, that they tend towards feeling hopeless; they tend to feel that anything they might do would be ‘pointless.’ Hence the impact of being surrounded by others who share similar concerns may help strengthen people’s motivation and ‘courage’ to act.

My only criticism of the film is that it is possibly too long – 2 hours and 9 minutes.  It is a bit slow at times; it needed a good edit. But this would require a Hollywood blockbuster budget to achieve; what the producers have done with community funds is astounding. The messages and images have ‘stayed with me’ for a long time.

Although the film is 5 years old, if you can set aside the viewing time, it is still insightful and very watch-able.

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Film Review: “The Age of Stupid” (2009)

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