Franny Armstrong, Director of The Age Of Stupid

Ξ September 10th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine News |

Skyping with Franny Armstrong
At long last, after years of hard work, delirious, sleepless nights, 100s of miles of pavement walked, a 1000 doors knocked upon, half a million phone calls made, keyboards worn to dust, finally, all of this work done by director Franny Armstrong and producer Lizzie Gillett is going to reach its brilliant summation September 21st with the Global Premiere of The Age of Stupid in New York City, and throughout the United States. On September 22nd it is the rest of the world’s turn.
As you may read from an early March, 2009 post I wrote promoting the world premiere in London on March 15th of this year, I have never lost sight of the fortunes of the film. Little did I think I would, 6 months later, be speaking with both Franny and Lizzie! And what a pleasure was their ‘virtual’ company. Franny is rather like a combination of a downed power line crackling with dangerous energy and an old-school boxer entering the ring for the 15th round. But to see her on the street she could be easily mistaken for a conscientious school librarian, a very funny librarian. She both rages against the machine and is driven by a great love for this world. Lizzie, less publicly known, seems to me the emotional center, the velvet glove over the iron fist.
Speculation on their personalities aside, the two of them have persevered to bring to America and an international audience, what I think will prove to be the most important film yet made on the social and environmental consequences, if we do nothing, of climate change. But will we act? Ours is called The Age of Stupid for a reason.
Though I’ve yet to see it, no wonder there, I shall be sharing the collective experience at a local theater, one of 440 around America alone, on Monday the 21st. And I strongly encourage readers of this post to do the same. For a complete listing of theaters please see this. And for critical reviews, please read.
Please watch this Guardian documentary on the making of The Age of Stupid.
Admin It’s an extraordinary pleasure to meet you.
Franny Armstrong Have you got video?
Yes. I can see you. Can you see me? Let me turn on the video.
FA No. Turn on the video, yes.
How’s that?
FA You’ve got your back to the window. You look like a scary silhouette. You look like an axe murderer! (laughs)
Terribly sorry! (laughs) [I pull the drapes closed.] How’s this?
FA No. Still axe murderer.
Let me shift. Funny thing is I thought about this for the longest time, how best to set up the background. I’ve never Skyped before.
FA It’s great once you get into it. It’s free. You can waste a lot of time on here, I can tell you! (laughs)
Good morning from California. At least we’ve established that the world is round. Though there are still some ‘flat earthers’ out there. Just as there are those who deny climate change.
FA It’s best to ignore them at this point.
Yeah, definitely. So how are the New York preparations coming along?
FA You saw the email that went out yesterday. [Searching for my copy.] You’re on the mailing list?
Yes, I am.
FA It’s unbelievable! It’s totally ridiculous! The more crazy it gets, the more people get involved.
It’s very viral he way it spreads.
FA Yes. And we’re in the center of the storm here.
How did all the arrangements with California theaters come about? There are dozens of them.
FA There are dozens. It’s all through this one company, Fathom who do these one night only events. We had to petition them to take the film. They eventually took it after a lot of persuading. It’s 440 cinemas across America. All through their own team. One of the good things about it is that it’s not the ‘independents’; it’s the mainstream cinemas. So we’re really getting out to the mainstream.
Have you gotten a little taste of the toxic political environment here in America?
FA Well, I’ve just come from Australia, and I have to say that was even worse.
It’s not at all clear that out president can even tie his shoes without there being some right wing blowback.
FA The health thing is a bit upsetting. isn’t it?
Isn’t it astonishing?
FA Yeah, it’s really bad.
And the talking heads on television only represent 20% of the electorate.
FB If that. Less than 20% I would have thought. But what the hell is the argument against good health care for everybody? What’s the gist of it? ‘We want the money?’ ‘We would rather be rich than you lot have health care.’ Is that the basic argument?
I haven’t a clue. I just know it has something to do with ‘death panels’, I think. (laughs) How do you think our new president is doing with respect to the environment?
FA Well, this time last year we had a climate change denier in the White House; an oil industry man in the White House. So in terms of that we’ve progressed so, so far. Obama has achieved more in the last six months than America did in the twenty years beforehand, the twenty years we’ve known about the climate change problem. So, in one sense he’s doing fantastically well. But in another sense he’s not doing well enough because it’s slightly a win or lose game, this. Either we keep the planet habitable or we don’t.
And if America’s proposals get accepted at Copenhagen, then we’re pretty much committed to run-away climate change and huge catastrophe. So from that point of view he’s doing disastrously! But in terms of where we started from, he’s doing well. In other words, we’ve still got the three months left until Copenhagen. He could go to Copenhagen and say we’re going to go for a deal as strong as the science demands. And if he did that could change everything. Having said that, if Obama goes to Copenhagen and makes a very, very strong deal, as strong as we need, then he still has to come back and get it through the Senate, doesn’t he?
So there is a lot of work for the American people to do, really. Meaning: public opinion has got to shift far enough and fast enough so that Obama’s team in Copenhagen can make the right deal knowing that with the public support it will get through the Senate. Because at the moment that doesn’t exist.
So, definitely, Obama’s brilliant, but it’s not all down to him. There is a huge and very important role for the American public as well.
No doubt. Just out of curiosity, how have the lives of the principles in your film changed since its debut?
FA Dunno. They’re all going to be there at their local screenings. So the Iraqi kids are going to Amman [Jordan], Layefa is going to Lagos… and we’re going to try and get photos of them all emailed to us so that we can put it out on the satellite links so everybody can see. It will be so good!
Piers, the windfarm guy, has got one more big windfarm accepted in the UK. The one that’s in the film got turned down again. The appeal got turned down. But he’s not giving up. Now the proposal is only for two turbines for that one, even though it started with 16, then 9, and now it’s 2. (laughs) That’s pretty hopeless!
And Layefa?
FA Actually, Lizzie spoke to her. Lizzie’s right here. Lizzie, this is a blogger in California.
Lizzie Gillett How’s Layefa? Well, she wants to be a film star now! Which is very sweet. She’s still studying medicine, but she wants to be a film star. She’s written a romantic comedy script which she wants Franny and I to produce and direct, funnily enough. She is going to the Lagos premier. It’s a huge cinema, it’s like 250 seats. That will be the first time she’s seen the film, actually. [phone rings] I gotta’ go. Sorry, another call. Bye.
Franny Armstrong Did you hear that?
Yes, loud and clear. And Alvin?
FA Yup. Well, he’s coming to New York next week. I’m so excited to see him. We’ve not seen him since 2006 or something, whenever it was. He’s turned into pretty much a full time New York reconstructor as afar as I could tell. Like doing community projects, rebuilding. He’s rebuilt his whole house very ‘eco’, not the old house that got squashed but his new house. During the film he retired from Shell. We’re expecting him to get quite a lot of press.
And Mr. Wadia?
FA Actually, I haven’t heard from him for a while. He and I used to be in quite close contact. But I haven’t actually heard from him. I’m hoping he’s going the the Mumbai screening, but I haven’t actually heard. Although I’ve heard that his airline is having a take over. Either that or he’s taken somebody else over. Presumably that’s why I haven’t heard from him because he’s busy with that.
So when do you manage to sleep. And do you have a social life?
FA I don’t have a social life at the moment. When do we sleep? Badly, because of all the time zones and because I’m always waken up. I’m always dreaming that the next thing we’re doing is happening today and I haven’t finished doing what it is. Sometimes I wake up in the night and I actually call Lizzie in my sleep! (laughs) She gets very annoyed. Because I’m panicking that we’ve forgotten we’re in Australia but the tape is not here and the premiere’s starting and blah, blah, blah! And then I call Lizzie and she’s like “Stop Calling Me When You’re Asleep!”
To be serious though, there are not that many times in your life that you have the opportunity to do something really good. And to do something really effective. And I can see that this is going to be the best opportunity of my whole life to do something, you know? We have so much influence right now that we’ve put all the rest of life on hold. Next year we’re going to have a whole year off. Not this year!
We want to make the most of this opportunity.
It must astonish you all the doors that have opened, the kinds of people you can call and get through to!
FA At the moment I seem to able to get through to anybody! (laughs) Although we are dreaming of getting Obama to speak at our premiere, on the phone or on a video link. I have to admit, I can’t get through to him! (laughs)
You’ve attempted to call the White House?
FA We’re contacting his press people, to participate in some way. Yeah, it’s a stunning thing, really. It’s surprising to me that you can just make a film and then suddenly you become somebody that’s involved in the debate. I’m speaking to all the people who are making the policy! And I’m throwing ideas in and they’re like ‘Oh! That’s interesting. I think I’m going to look at that.’
I mean the people who are in power are just ordinary people like us. They just happen to be in power.
Another thing that’s scary is that they swap departments, you know? So one minute they’re doing Education and then suddenly they’re on Climate Change. And they don’t know anything about climate change; they get briefings and stuff, but they don’t actually know that much. (laughs)
Who has been a most unusual contact you’ve met through this process, somebody out of left field you never anticipated speaking with?
FA Well, I guess Gillian Anderson. We’ve worked with her a lot now. She’s coming to the New York premiere, and she’s doing us a little promo video. I speak to her quite a lot. I don’t actually watch telly. But I know lots of people who are very excited about the X-Files. (laughs) People like that, it’s quite strange. And Colin Firth. I mean, lots of these celeb types who want to help climate change. They get in touch.
Could you say something of developing economies? I’m thinking of China, for example. Have you made inroads with the Chinese authorities? Will the film be shown there at some point?
FA We haven’t made inroads with the Chinese authorities although we’re trying to get the Chinese Environment minister to speak at the premiere. We hear a rumor that he’s going to be in New York. It would be brilliant, obviously, if he could. We’re working on that one.
And we were approached by a big Chinese T.V. broadcaster the other week. This is a big aim to try and get on T.V. in China. There is some progress there. Hopefully. But we don’t want to make the mistake, as some people do, of saying that it’s all China’s fault. In terms of who caused this problem it is not China; it is America, it’s Britain, the Western countries. We caused the problem. Yes, China is soon going to be contributing to the problem; but in terms of who caused it, it’s us.
Their position is completely understandable, which is that those who caused the problem need to act first. And then if you lot do (that’s us) then we will too. It’s a completely rational position.
Have you heard about our 10:10 campaign?
That’s what I was going to ask you about next. Indeed, I signed up for it the other day.
FA Oh, did you? That’s our response to the developing country…, to that argument. The people who caused the problem have to act first. That’s why, at the global premier, 10:10 is going to go global, meaning anybody who’s consuming more than they should be, they can then sign-up to cut their emissions by 10% in the year 2010. At the moment it’s only the U.K. even though you’ve already done it! You’re not supposed to be able to!
Is that right? Well, I did.
FA Oh, well. No, it’s great that you have. So hopefully, before Copenhagen, the developing countries can see that the people in the rich countries are ready to cut their emissions, meaning, then, that hopefully that can help the right deal get made. That’s the theory.
That’s the theory. Well, we’ve gone over our ten minutes. May I continue?
FA Sure.
What are you doing today?
FA What are we doing today? Today I’m writing my Huffington Post blog, which is quite a laugh. And then we’re going down to the site. I haven’t seen it yet, where the premiere’s going to be. We’re meeting up with all the technical guys, and we’re going to go through the whole event and see all the problems. I’m then meeting up with some NGOs who are helping us market the whole event.
We’re going to meet with these guys who want to arrive at the event by swimming (laughs) in the Hudson! We’re gonna go talk to them and see whether it’s actually physically possible. We think it would be quite good fun if they arrived swimming. So we’re going to do a swimming test.
[We were suddenly cut off. Then reconnected.]
I have no idea what happened!
FA Yeah. Well, that’s Skype for you. So what can you do to help spread the word? We’ve got 115,000 tickets to sell in America. That’s quite scary.
I’ll do all that I can to get the word out. Are you getting real time updates on ticket sales?
FA I think we get weekly, although I haven’t seen them.
Weekly, well… between now and the premiere is a week.
FA Don’t say it’s a week. It’s a week and a half! (laughs) Alright, great. Nice talking to you. See you.
It was an absolute delight. Thank you.


One Response to ' Franny Armstrong, Director of The Age Of Stupid '

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  1. Betty said,

    on September 11th, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Brilliant interview we will be at the Premiere Good Luck everyone… Betty x

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