"The Age of Stupid" Cometh

This framegrab from the film "The Age of Stupid" shows actor Pete Postlethwaite with the futuristic interface designed specifically for the film.
Spanner Films
This story was written by CBS News' Eleanor Tuohy in London.
It's not unusual to hear voices from the future during a night at the movies. Sigourney Weaver famously talked us through her battle with aliens, and Will Smith told robots who was boss.

But how arresting might it be if that voice from the future asked you a question, directly, about humanity's very existence...

"What frame of mind were we in to face extinction and simply shrug it off?"

That powerful question is central to "The Age of Stupid," a pioneering climate change documentary that aims to hit every viewer (and they're hoping for 250 million of them) where it hurts, and turn them into climate change activists.

The film premieres in London on March 15, then in the U.S. in May, by which time its makers hope to have started a global movement.

The filmmakers have their sights set squarely on the upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen, and they've joined the umbrella campaign group "Not Stupid".

The European Parliament, the Dutch Parliament, the British Parliament have already seen the film, and the United Nations has requested a screening. Director Franny Armstrong isn't shy about her determination to influence the U.S.

"In terms of climate change, the U.S. is the most important, both politically and in terms of emissions," she told CBS News. "(President) Obama can radically change the U.S. approach to climate change in Copenhagen, so our focus is definitely on him."

But can a film really rally public opinion enough to compel politicians into taking significant environmental action?

Armstrong, who also directed the award winning "McLibel" documentary, certainly thinks so.

After a grueling two-year shoot for "The Age of Stupid" in New Orleans, Jordan, India, Nigeria, France and the U.K., she had always assumed the final cut of the film would also be the end of the project for her. "I thought the film was my contribution to climate change. I thought it was the end, but I've realized it's the start."

The film follows the lives of six people, including Alvin DuVernay a paleontologist who works with Shell.

He was drilling for oil off the Louisiana coast when he found himself in a boat rescuing people from their houses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was deeply affected by what he saw, dubbing "this geological period the Stupid Age."

All the characters in the film where chosen for a documentary-style feature, which was to echo Steven Soderburgh's "Traffic" - a group of lives affected by a common thread. In "The Age of Stupid," the common thread is global warming and man's pursuit of oil.

Armstrong, shooting with her producer Lizzie Gilbert, took some serious risks in bringing one particular individual's life to film. Layefa Malemi lives in Nigeria's crime-ridden, oil-rich Niger Delta, which is being exploited by big oil and torn apart by a potent rebel movement that says it's seeking to claim some of the benefits of the country's natural reserves for its citizens - rather than the corrupt government.

(Spanner Films)
The area is rife with kidnapping and therefore rarely covered by Western media. Saving money earned by fishing the delta's polluted waters, Malemi (at left) wants to escape her surroundings and become a doctor.

Other real-life characters in the film include Fernand Pareau, an 82-year-old French mountain guide who has watched global warming wreak havoc on his beloved Alps; Jamila Bayyoud, an 8-year-old Iraqi refugee living in Jordan whose father was killed by an American bomb; and Jeh Wadia who has started a low-cost airline to get India's vast population on the move.

Getting the film from the planning stage to this week's premier has not been easy.

The first editor's cut proved disastrous - even the project's executive producer talked about how they might sell some of the scenic shots to educational TV programs. Armstrong initially scripted a fictional teenage duo from the future berating the audience for the legacy left behind to link the different documentary stories.

That concept was scrapped. Instead, Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite was brought in to play a member of our generation - but older and wiser, living in the year 2055. He becomes a member of the audience, showing them their own future. That change in mechanism made the potential power of the documentary hit home.

"We wouldn't be the first life-form to wipe itself out, but, what would be unique about us is that we did it knowingly," Postlethwaite's character warns in the film.

Critical to the film's editorial independence was the revolutionary way it was financed; by "crowd funding." The money was put in by 223 small investors and groups. At first, the funding came mostly from friends and family - and then their friends and family. The filmmakers retained the rights to everything, including distribution. Cinemas have to submit a request to them to screen the movie and there is no commissioning editor to worry about offending advertisers.

"Independent documentary is the new rock and roll," declares Armstrong. "We've got complete freedom to reach people directly."

Guinness World Records has confirmed that the film's March 15 introduction to the U.K. will be the, "largest simultaneous film premiere in history," as it is shown across the country in 65 theaters.

The whole premiere is set to be as carbon neutral as possible, with biodiesel fueling the VIPs' cars, a solar-powered projector at the London screening, and a green - used and reusable - "red" carpet.

Armstrong believes it will ultimately be worth it. "I have confidence in the human race - as a species we will come together and step up to the mark. We are the most intelligent species ever known... There's nothing stopping us except ourselves."
By Eleanor Tuohy