CenSAMM Film Festival June 29th - 30th 2017, Panacea Museum, 9 Newnham Road, Bedford
Climate and Apocalypse Curated and presented by Earl Harper
Day 1 – The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004) and An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, 2006)
These two films excellently demonstrate a clear battle between two ideologically allied, but often opposing social institutions: science and politics. Emmerich’s highly celebrated and later often criticised ‘cli-fi’ thriller shows a world where science isn’t taken seriously, leading to a cataclysmic onset of rapid climate change (technically, a weather event as the storyline unfolds over a few days not 30 years). In Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, the story of Al Gore, introduced as the former “next President of the United States”, unfolds in relation to his growing concern and passion for informing the public about climate change science. In both films, the story of one man, fighting to be heard on environmental issues whilst dealing with family crises (for Al Gore, the hospitalisation of his son, for Dennis Quaid, his son becoming trapped in freezing New York City) is told with a backdrop of (what the scientific community now argue is) flawed science. Whilst both films were made ostensibly to promote a better understanding of possible climate change induced futures, their apocalyptic narratives based on an over-simplified version of the climate science of the time have, perhaps, done more to damage understanding than to further it.
Day 2 – After Earth (M. Night Shyamalan, 2013) and The Age of Stupid (Franny Armstrong, 2009)
The cli-fi genre has many problems, one of which being the characteristics of climate-fact. As Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, a cli-fi author, has noted, it is very difficult to get an audience excited by watching small changes in global average temperature unfold over a 30 year period. For this reason, most films which express collective anxieties around climate change focus instead on bio-technical apocalypse. After Earth is a brilliant example of this, as real-life father and son, Will and Jaden Smith, portray a father and son marooned on a hostile and long-abandoned Earth. The bio-technical apocalypse comes in the form of an alien creature which escapes their transport ship when they crash land on Earth. The Age of Stupid, an activist film by Director Franny Armstrong, utilises a mixture of fiction and documentary to promote the common humanity of people engaged in the solutions and causes of climate change as well as those affected by its processes. The film, whilst giving a message of hope, that humanity has it within themselves to change, also is quite deterministic, in depicting this message of hope being recorded by a lone Archivist working on a climate ravaged planet before transmitting the film into space as a warning to other species. Both films play heavily on the idea that to conquer a bio-technical apocalypse, we must first conquer our fears of becoming human once more.
CenSAMM Film Festival April 4-5th 2017
Violence and Millenarian Movements Curated and presented by David G. Robertson
This two-day event presented a series of popular films drawing from millennial movements and their apparent connection to violence. Highlighting both traditional and alternative religious movements, the selections highlighted a number of recurring themes: environmental concerns; familial and societal breakdown; prophecy; ancient “wisdom”; conspiracy theories.
The films were introduced by Dr David G. Robertson of the Open University and the Religious Studies Project, and the floor was open to comment and discussion following each film.
April 4th 5.00pm - Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014), Left Behind (Vic Armstrong, 2014)
The first pair of films are firmly rooted in the Judaeo-Christian heritage, from which much (though by no means all) of millenarian ideas have their roots. Noah develops an early apocalyptic narrative which has its origins in Mesopotamia 3000 or more years ago, was incorporated into the earliest sections of the Torah and remains known to every Western schoolchild even today. Aronofsky’s version draws heavily upon apocryphal and mystical literature, as well as emphasising the brutality and violence of the tale. Notably, an environmental subtext is also present. Left Behind on the other hand is a very modern Christian millennial tale, drawing primarily from United States’ dispensational Protestantism. Unusually, the violence is the inevitable result of an absence of Christians, and it also includes a conspiracist narrative about the emergence of the antichrist as leader of the post-Christian European Union, a common feature of contemporary Christian millenarianism - and increasingly, mainstream politics.
April 5th 5.00pm - The Last Wave (Peter Weir, 1977), 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009)
The second pairing look at millenarianism from indigenous and secular traditions. Peter Weir, who made a number of films drawing on alternative religion, directed The Last Wave in which a homicide, unusual weather (note the environmental subtext again) and aboriginal shamanism are interwoven into an unusual apocalyptic narrative. 2012, one of a number of apocalyptic films from Emmerich, draws ostensibly on Mayan mythology, but the then popular 2012 millennial narrative draws in fact more on New Age traditions. This is in fact supported by the films underlying theme of cooperation and forgiveness against rigid institutionalism, and the violence emerges both from the natural disaster and from the panicked response by those in charge. Interestingly, Woody Harrelson’s conspiracy theorist character is a cliché, yet interestingly turns out to be correct.