Franny Armstrong: Filmmaker with a cause
Documentarian and environmentalist takes a DIY approach to fighting global warming.
Tue, Apr 17 2012 at 1:00 AM
ACTIVIST FILMMAKER: Franny Armstrong outside of a McDonald's for her film 'McLibel.' Her documentaries focus on enviornmental concerns. (Photo: spannerfilm/Flickr)
When it comes to fighting for the environment, few people can claim to walk the talk as much as Franny Armstrong.
The documentary filmmaker, who is best known for her films “The Age of Stupid,” “McLibel” and “Drowned Out,” spent the better part of the last dozen or so years living in a small “over-insulated and under-heated” London flat where she worked from home, didn’t fly or own a car, used solar-heated water, used reclaimed materials rather than buying new, recycled, composted and biked or walked most places.
Last November, she moved with her partner to a house in the countryside. They’ve installed renewable energy and they have three acres on which they plan to grow a good portion of their own food. But, she tells MNN, “the heating is currently oil-based and we had to admit defeat and buy a car as we're in the middle of nowhere. It's going to be interesting seeing how far we can get our carbon footprint down in the new circumstances.”
That last statement may sound a tad apologetic but, honestly, who would feel fit to judge Armstrong? At this point, her environmental street cred is hard to match.
It began back in the late 1980s when Armstrong started working on a film that would take her 10 years to complete. The result, “McLibel,” chronicles the lawsuit and subsequent trial brought by McDonald's against two London Greenpeace pamphleteers. When it was finally broadcast on BBC2, more than 1 million people tuned in to watch.
Her next film, “Drowned Out,” followed the plight of an Indian family who chose to fight against a government dam project that threatened to destroy their home and their village. The documentary won several awards for its moving portrayal of the villagers’ plight.
For her next project, Armstrong used her company, Spanner Films, to draw donations (or crowdsource) the funding of her next film. She raised £900,000 (about $1.4 million) from more than 600 investors to finance “The Age of Stupid,” a cautionary tale that mixes factual, documentary-style filmmaking with fictionalized accounts of what life might be like in the future if global warming continues unabated. Keeping with the street cred theme, Armstrong had a solar-powered premiere for the film in London’s Leicester Square.
“The Age of Stupid” left audiences wondering what they could do to help. In response, Armstrong began the 10:10 campaign. The program encourages people to cut their carbon emissions by 10 percent in a year. Since its launch in September 2009, the program has expanded to 41 countries with participants including corporations like Adidas and Microsoft, the U.K. government, cities like Paris, Oslo and Mexico City, and numerous organizations and individuals. Armstrong tells MNN that program has helped cut 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
“This [response to 10:10] is way outside the boundaries of what we'd expected, but I think that's the point: if you throw yourselves wholeheartedly into fighting an injustice or solving a major problem, all sorts of unpredicted good things can happen,” Armstrong says.
Looking ahead, Armstrong said she’s hoping to do a dramatic feature, but not right away. (As of this writing, she’s pregnant and the baby will likely arrive in the next few weeks. Hence the break in big projects.)
“Right now I'm in the very nice zone of having a little time to think and to concentrate on giving my baby the best possible start in life,” she says. “Then I can throw myself into the next big idea.”
Get inspired: Learn about others who are making a difference with MNN's Innovation Generation project.