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Rax Interview with Franny Armstrong

In July, New Internationalist will publish the Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.

The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.

Franny Armstrong is a well-known documentary maker and the founder of the 10:10 campaign. Her first documentary – McLibel - has been viewed by 25 million people worldwide and has recently been selected by the British Film Institute to be part of their series, ‘Ten Documentaries Which Changed the World’. Armstrong’s latest film – The Age Of Stupid – has won international praise and is still touring the UK and globally. The Rax team caught up with her in February 2010.

What issues do you think are of most concern for young people to address today?

If we fail to stabilize global carbon emissions by 2015, we'll trigger unstoppable runaway climate change, which will, by the time we hit about six degrees towards the end of this century, wipe out most of life on Earth including a good chunk of the human population. All other issues pale in comparison.

The generations before us didn't know about climate change and those which follow will be powerless to stop it. So it is down to us. Other generations managed to solve the big problems of their time - whether ending slavery or overturning apartheid or whathaveyou - and there is nothing intrinsically more stupid or useless about us. We have all the knowledge and technology we need to avert disaster - the only thing stopping us is ourselves. Our collective actions in the coming months and years will define our generation for all time. Are we going to be the Age of Stupid or shall we give saving ourselves a go? 

What is the campaign that you are part of now and what issues are you addressing?

10:10 aims to cut 10% of the UK's emissions in 2010 by asking individuals and businesses and schools and scout clubs and knitting circles to cut their own emissions and to then persuade everyone they know to do the same. And the good news is that cutting 10% is easy: driving a bit less, flying a bit less, sorting out your home insulation, changing your diet slightly, wasting less stuff, that kind of thing. Everyone who achieves it should be fitter, healthier, richer and have more friends at the end of the year. Plus they will have helped avert the greatest humanitarian disaster of all time. What's not to love? 

In the six months since 10:10 launched on September 1st 2009, more than 55,000 people, 2,000 businesses and 1,000 schools have signed up, including big names like Microsoft, Prêt A Manger, Royal Mail, Adidas, Sony, Edinburgh University, Colin Firth, Lord Stern, Lord Puttnam, the Science Museum, all the cabinet, all the shadow cabinet and the Prime Minister.  Also, a third of all Britain's local councils have so far agreed to provide their services to 22 million people with 10% less energy this year. 

How have you used the medium of film to represent your campaign for change and what advice would you give young people wanting to use film to help their campaigns for change?

"Didn't Al Gore already make the climate change documentary?" has been a common refrain over the last few years we've been making and distributing The Age of Stupid. Which never fails to raise a smile. Casablanca had already done love, so why bother with Brokeback Mountain? Apocalypse Now did war, what's the point of Three Kings?

Someone recently called independent cinema documentaries the new rock'n'roll. Forget writing books, singing songs, taking photographs, or even building websites. If you have a burning idea that you want to communicate – uncensored – with the biggest possible emotional punch - to tens of millions of people, you have to make a doc.

When I started my first documentary, McLibel, back in 1995, I never for a moment thought it would have any effect on the immovable mountain that was McDonald's.  But only ten years later – thanks also to Fast Food Nation, Jamie's School Dinners, Super Size Me and all the rest – there had been a sea-change in public awareness about healthy eating, McDonald's profits had collapsed and advertising junk food to kids had been banned.

We managed 25 million viewers for McLibel, with just two of us and no budget whatsoever. This time, with Age Of Stupid, we have 1000 times the resources, so surely we could manage ten times the viewers? And if we do reach 250 million people, and the majority of them do agree with the film's key thesis - that unless we move very, very fast we will make the planet uninhabitable – then so what? What influence could 250 million angry, inspired, motivated citizens possibly have?

What key advice would you give young people who want to set up their own campaigns and make a positive change to their world?

Listen to everyone's advice, but don't let anyone tell you what to think. Get started straight away, as there's not much time left. And always have an afternoon nap.

Learn more/get involved: www.mclibel.com www.1010uk.org www.ageofstupid.net www.spannerfilms.net  

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