Countdown to Copenhagen


Pete Postlethwaite as the last man alive in The Age of Stupid

BEFORE THE economic levees burst, letting loose a wave of bank failures and bailouts, it seemed like the future of the planet was actually of vital importance to politicians. But, as the recent sidelining of climate change at the G20 meeting indicated, politicians are now bent on firming up the old world order, rather than having any real interest in laying the foundations for a low-carbon future.

It doesn’t bode well. The Guardian recently polled 250 leading climate scientists, of which only 18 thought governments were doing enough to prevent temperatures from rising higher than the target of 2C above pre-industrial levels and most thought temperatures would rise by 4C by the end of the century.

In December, we’ll get a better sense of what substance lies behind the green rhetoric when the nations of the world meet to broker a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Accord at the two-week Copenhagen Climate Conference.

UK filmmaker Franny Armstrong (McLibel and Drowned Out) believes Copenhagen may be our last chance. Her latest film, The Age of Stupid( offers a realistic vision of what the world will look like if action on climate change doesn’t happen soon.

Part documentary and part drama, the film stars Pete Postlethwaite (Brassed Off) as the last man alive in a devastated world in 2055. London is under water and Sydney has been destroyed by fire. As he reviews footage from 2008, he asks why we didn’t do more to halt climate change when we had the chance. Interwoven with this futuristic fiction are six individual documentary stories, including an Indian entrepreneur starting up a low-cost airline, an 82-year-old French mountain guide who has watched the rapid melting of local glaciers and a wind farm developer fighting local lobby groups in England.

The indefatigable Armstrong has assembled a team that has created as much a movement as a movie. From the start, the film had an unconventional path to production. It was “crowd-funded” by selling shares to disparate groups and individuals, and it has been released through both traditional and theatrical channels, as well as via a multitude of grass-roots vehicles in the UK. It had a solar-powered, low-carbon world premiere in London’s Leicester Square in March, with simultaneous screenings across the UK. Critics have praised its passionate tone, animations and handling of subject matter. We may have to wait until the fall before we get a chance to see the movie in Canada, but you’ll no doubt hear more about it before then. Watch this space.

In An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Al Gore suggested that we have “just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe.” That puts us in the timeframe of an earlier ecological disaster movie, Soylent Green (1973). Charlton Heston plays a cop solving a sinister conspiracy in an overpopulated world being baked by the greenhouse effect (the term “climate change” had yet to be coined). Gas-guzzlers clutter the streets of Manhattan in 2022 (no sea level rises in this dystopia) and people pedal bicycles to generate electricity. The seventies-style futurism is strangely reassuring (and entertaining). We’ve come far; even a Hollywood formula movie like The Day After Tomorrow is capable of providing potent images of how nature can turn on us. Hopefully, politicians will have the vision to act too.

Toronto’s Hot Docs, the biggest documentary film festival in North America, finished last month with a 42 percent increase in attendances over 2008. The opening film, Act of God, is about the metaphysical effects of being struck by lightning. Jennifer Baichwal, the Toronto filmmaker behind the visually eloquent Manufactured Landscapes, questions the randomness of such an event through seven lightning-strike stories. Intriguingly, Fred Frith, renowned guitar improviser, personally demonstrates the ubiquity of electricity in our bodies and the universe. (Opens June 5 in Vancouver.)

Robert Alstead writes at

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