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Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human face of something confronting, 1 Jun. 2010
This review is from: The Age of Stupid [DVD] (DVD)
The Age Of Stupid opened on 78 screens across the UK - a remarkable feat for a genre-defying independent feature made on a shoe string, funded by ordinary households and distributed with a launch budget of just £130,000. To put this in perspective, An Inconvenient Truth opened in 2006 on just 18 screens and a typical UK-wide release spends around £650,000 telling people to go and see their film.

So why all the fuss?

Four years ago McLibel director Fanny Amstrong and producer Lizzie Gillett set about making a documentary called (at the time) Crude, which charted the ugly side of the oil industry. Fast forward to 2009 and the project has finally emerged as a surprisingly human and touching call-to-arms about climate change called Age Of Stupid.

The film opens in 2055 with Pete Postlethwaite, archivist of a ruined earth, looking back at images of the present day, trying to answer the question of why humanity didn't save itself when it had the chance. Archival news material and animated sequences are used to provide background and context, but the focus is on documentary stories of real people facing the effects of our hunger for fossil fuels.

As a result, the film does not labour under the burden of attempting to sway the undecided through facts and figures - though it's possible that even Sarah Palin herself could not fail to be affected by the story of Fernand Pareau, an octogenarian French mountain guide, showing us the glacier he loves as it withers away before his eyes.

As we explore the ageing archivist's question, we encounter "not in my back yard" anti-wind farm protesters, committed climate change activists and an entrepreneur who dreams of ending poverty by starting India's third budget airline. Blame is ultimately laid at the feet of our culture of consumerism, and the implication is that profound social changes will be required to survive the present age - poignantly exemplified in a sequence involving Alvin DuVernay, a hurricane Katrina survivor who, having lost all of his possessions, philosophically reflects on what it took for him to realise what was actually important to him.

At the time of writing, around a quarter of the IMDb votes have given the film a rating of 10/10 and around 10% (it seems, a fair proportion of the US-based) have given it rating of 1. This polarisation is not about artistic merit, but between those for whom the film has deeply resonated and those who find it confronting and uncomfortable.

I've read some complaints about the film being preachy, and it is certainly true that there is forceful criticism of Shell's operations in the Niger delta and the Iraq war. There is recognition of the tremendous benefits oil has given us, but as the events in the Gulf Of Mexico will testify it is surely time to look the terrible cost of our thirst for oil.

In general the voices of dissent come from the mouths of those directly affected, and indeed it is the human face of these stories that is one of the film's engaging strengths. History's witness is not always the great orator we want it to be, but over 90 minutes the film manages to maintain a good pace and link the various threads together.

The Age Of Stupid has dispensed with convention in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is the way it has forced its way onto our screens, seemingly through sheer force of will alone. Ultimately the merit of the film is not about some aesthetic quality of how documentaries should or shouldn't be made, but its transformational potential. I genuinely think that many viewers will leave the cinema and, like Alvin DuVernay, start to question the world which surrounds them, and it is this quality which makes The Age Of Stupid a truly remarkable film.
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