Monday, September 7, 2009

"The Age of Stupid" Set To Rival Michael Moore...

Today's Women My Friends Are Talking About is a little bit different than my usual formula. For one thing, two women are involved: independent film producer Lizzie Gillett and well known actress Gillian Anderson. For another, an interview is involved for once (but hopefully not for last!)-- the transcript below is of my conversation with Gillett.

On Friday, I posted a contest in which my readers could win tickets to a special screening of the new climate change film, The Age of Stupid. I understand that many of you probably never heard of the film prior to my article, and though there was a little blurb from its official press release in there, many emailed to ask for more information. What was the project: a documentary or a narrative? Who was involved: only scientists and talking heads or Hollywood actors, celebs, and other people we'd recognize? Well lucky for y'all I already had plans to post that. Patience is a virtue :)

Can you tell me a little bit about how you picked the topic of the film and how you decided this was a cause you wanted to get behind?
Well, I think it's pretty clear that climate change is a pretty important issue so it wasn't that difficult to know what to focus on. But really the genesis of the project was that Franny Armstrong, the director, had the idea in about 2002 to make the film about oil. And then from what she told me, she kind of put it off for a while because she kind of knew that oil would lead to climate change, and it would become this kind of all-consuming project that would really take over your life because it would be such a huge issue. And then I came along. I was working with her in 2002, and then in 2004 she asked me to produce the film...Of course as soon as we started down the oil track, it was pretty clear that climate change was the bigger issue really. So the film is about climate change and war and oil but it primarily focuses on climate change. And for me, you know, to be honest I didn't know anything about climate change when I started making it whatsoever. I had vaguely heard of it, but it's been quite sort of frightening and quite an enlightening experience. And it's certainly life changing because you can't look at all of this stuff and not be changed by it...It's pretty incredible to have an opportunity to work on the biggest issue at the moment. We all feel really lucky to be working on it.

I know you have some celebrity endorsements for the film-- Oscar winner Pete Postlethwaite, of course, is your star, but also other actors like Gillian Anderson have lent their voice and face to your cause. How did you go about getting them? Did you or your team reach out to people or did they come to you because of the issue?
Both in a mixture, I guess, because we always wanted-- as soon as we knew we were going to set it in the future, Pete was absolutely top of our list, but he's completely out of our league. He's like a complete A-Lister-- the best actor in the world-- but Franny Googled people who play in climate change, and it turned out he's a complete activist. He was in the local paper-- an article about putting up a turbine at his house (a wind turbine)-- and the last little bit said something like "I felt it was my responsibility to do everything I can to affect climate change," so we thought we had a good chance. And he said yes pretty quickly through his agent. As soon as he came on-board, everything got kind of easier, and the project took on a larger and larger scale. For the other people, they've basically come to screenings, and then they've given us the comments afterwards. We haven't particularly reached out to high profile people apart from now when we're in America, and it's so important to have that celebrity element at the premiere. You know, Gillian Anderson, she just came out to a screening, and she saw it, and she's been really supportive in a sense. If you look on our site, there's a whole list of famous people's quotes.

To be honest, that's kind of what piqued my interest because a lot of what I do is the more celebrity-oriented; I go to a lot of events, and I write a lot about fan culture because that is huge for certain people-- certain shows-- out here. And that was definitely something I found great for you guys because I also have a background in independent film, and I've noticed that a lot of times it's harder to get people to watch your film if they don't know a name or a face involved. But you guys seem to have that, which is huge because you have a great message with the film, but you also have people who are recognizable getting it out for you.
Yeah, exactly, and everyone who's come along have been so supportive in giving us quotes and doing interviews on camera, and that's the thing...just spreading the word. And that includes the high profile people that have come along so it's been an amazing experience throughout the whole process, really, that people have always gone above and beyond what we'd normally expect. I mean, we're having this big global premiere on September 21st; it's live from a solar theatre center in Manhattan to reach the world, and Gillian Anderson is going to be there and has been really supportive. Kofi Annan is speaking, and Tom York from Radiohead is going to perform live acoustically, which is absolutely brilliant. There's lots of other people coming, but we're just kind of waiting to confirm and then spreading the news.

I haven't had a chance to see the whole film yet; I've seen the trailer. But I'm going to be at the LA screening in two weeks that you're broadcasting to.
Oh great!

Yeah, we want to let everyone out here know all about it well in advance so that people can buy tickets. So what would you say is one of your favorite scenes, or one of the more pivotal scenes in the movie, in terms of really shocking us into seeing what our future could be?
Well weirdly there's this scene that's actually kind of low budget in the way that it looks; it was filmed in a shed, and it's a scientist explaining that if we don't peak global emissions by 2015, we'll hit runaway climate change. It's kind of the key point of the whole film. We tried doing it lots of different ways: we tried animation; we tried having the scientist do a big speech that we filmed. And in the end, we filmed it, and it's in the back of a shed-- I don't know if you'd call it a shed there, but you know, like a little outhouse. He draws the graphs himself and he just gets across the point very matter-of-factly, very directly, that if we don't peak global emissions, then we will hit runaway climate change, and the problem is, then it's completely out of our control. People are always really surprised by that scene, and it's strange because you wouldn't think of it as very powerful, but it is. I mean, the scene with the little Nigerian girl washing the fish, you know, they have to wash the fish with a kind of laundry detergent to clean it because there are so many oil spills in the water, that always shocks people a lot, too, and the fact that she lives there but she gets none of the money from the oil, though it's on her land...I think that people really find that surprising. And that there's been huge massacres of indigenous people. And there's two Iraqi refugee children whose father was killed by the Americans, so when the young boy, Adnan, who's about nine, speaks about his father being killed, and then he speaks about how angry he is, and he basically-- he really hates Americans as a result, it basically gives an insight into the problems we are creating with the war in Iraq. It's related. It's a different issue, but it's related.

What is your overall goal for the film?
The main goal is to get as many people as possible to see it because we feel like it's quite radical, actually. It does critique capitalism, and it does show off a lot of problems with the world. And the main goal is to get people to be able to see it and then to take the emotion that they're feeling-- which is generally shock, anger fear, guilt, which can be a huge emotion-- and to get them to actually do something. Campaigning. We're working with Greenpeace, Move On, and lots of big campaigns; we're actually enabling people straight afterwards to do something positive. We've got a thing-- I just saw [the other] night there's a whole Facebook group "What has the Age of Stupid inspired you to do?" And there's like a thread of thirty-six people, and one person ran for Parliament, and one cut back on their electricity, and one stopped eating meat, and there's a whole load of acts that get really serious. You know, there are so many different things that need to be done that everybody who sees the film can help in some way, so we want everybody to come to take action in their own lives but also to take political action. That's why we're so keen on this live event. It's not just a film; if it was just a film, it could be a little bit bleak because the truth about climate change is incredibly bleak if you just look at the science. But when you hear the live panel, it's inspiring; it's all coming together to face this problem. We can actually give people the tools and the knowledge to actually do something about it.

I don't know if you realize, but this event, it's not just America; it's across the whole world. It will also be screening in Tehran, which is absolutely insane. And New Guinea, and Thailand, and Mozambique, Tanzania, Australia, and of course all across Europe-- people in all of these countries. In one day-- well, in the course of twenty-four hours-- you know, they're all going to be watching the film and trying to figure out the solution. We absolutely love that; it truly is a global event.

Is there anything that you want to tell your audience before they see the film? Maybe to clear up a misconception or to get them more excited for the 21st?
Well, it's a full-fact film. Everything in it is either news or documentary footage. I mean, people can't see the future, so it can't be a documentary. Some people, because it's so unbelievable, what you're seeing, they think that it's acting or that it's fiction, but it's not. It's all real; it's all documentary. And you know, the other thing is just that we'd just love people to come and to see it and to get in touch with us afterwards to let us know what they think. And hopefully they'll be inspired afterwards. We've been working on it for a long time now, and it's very exciting for us to finally be getting people to see it and perhaps actually do something.

We'll be telling people in the panel what they can do, but they can definitely come to our site to get more information.

If anything Gillett said intrigued you enough to see The Age of Stupid, please track back to my original article to find out how to buy (or WIN!) tickets to the LA screening.

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