Dean Puckett's social activist doc offers a glimmer of hope to the overwhelmed.
"If you look at what is going on in the world today, it can be very confusing trying to get your head around what’s going on". So opens The Crisis of Civilization, a film which offers a glimmer of hope to the overwhelmed.
Crisis is a collaboration between filmmaker Dean Puckett, and Security Analyst Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, whose book, 'The User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization', it is based on. The two met – suitably enough – on a demonstration in St James' Park, with Puckett then recording their five-hour discussion, an edited version of which provides the basis of the film.
Many of the films used are gleaned from the collection of Rick Prelinger, an archivist who for 20 years has raided flea markets, garage clear-outs and car-boot sales for 'found footage'. The 60,000 works Prelinger has safeguarded – many of them corporate promotion movies or public information films – capture the growth of corporate America, and small-town American consumerism.
Many of the clips are inadvertently hilarious, or eerie, keeping the film conversational and humorous in tone, even as the critique builds its hypothesis that we are, essentially, on the highway to hell.
The approach is similar in tone to that of Adam Curtis whose films, such as The Power of Nightmares, have successfully slipped the idea that individuals are the unwitting puppets of fear and propaganda into the evening schedules of BBC4.
"I am a fan of Curtis' work for sure", says Puckett, "especially Century of the Self which I think is wonderful. But I am not a massive fan of his thesis. I do like the way that he constructs his work and yes, it has been an influence on me. But there have been a lot of people doing these kind of crazy mash-up films for a long time."
While Ahmed's book has been condensed for the purpose of the film, his thesis remains detailed and compelling. Essentially, he argues, the series of crises the world is currently facing, are all inter-linked. "We look at the crises which we think are the most causally important," Ahmed says: "climate change; energy depletion; the food crisis; economic crisis; international terrorism; state-militarisation, how they exacerbate conflict and violence, and how violence and conflict – in an ideology which is also based on violence – is exacerbating these crises."
Crisis defines five core issues where a change in course is necessary. The key message is hence one of empowerment, says Ahmed. "The reception that we have had so far is that people are like 'Shit, this is worse than we thought'. But at the end, we see alternatives are actually possible on a whole range of things. The emphasis of the film is 'Don’t wait for other people to make the change, don’t wait for politics to change, don’t wait for economics to change, we can actually do that stuff now'.
"Part of the ethos of the film derives from the diagnosis of the problem – there are too many prescriptions which are wrong-headed and based on an incorrect analysis of what is going on. One of the key arguments of the book and the film is that the systemic cause of the problem is that the people driving policy and making decisions are a tiny minority and happen to be the ones who dominate ownership of resources. We can't replace that with another top-down mode of operating, the answer has to be grounded in communities and be participatory"
This message taps into a rich vein of popular frustration at the moment. At the Q&A following a recent public screening, there was a palpable sense of frustration, with different audience members bringing different agendas to the film's central crux – that new ways of thinking are necessary. But isn't there something vague and simplistic about the idea that mere discussion and collective wisdom will provide the answer?
One of the five pillars of the film's thesis for change is climate change and yet it is clear that the key crux of criticism is the nature of 'neo-liberal capitalism. Isn't the environmental argument, then, merely a Trojan horse for anti-capitalism?
The openness of the film in its message, is matched in its funding (including crowd-sourcing), its distribution (free-screenings), promotion (festivals) and material (open-source). While this has kept the costs of the film low (Puckett estimates £3,000), it gives the film an authenticity in form as well as content. But is there a danger that this also makes it of less interest to the big boys of film distribution?
"We are a very small team with absolutely no money working from our hearts", says Puckett. "I have been to see documentary screenings at the Curzon and the Picturehouse and there have been three people sitting in the cinema. If you think about the actual outcome – is it to say that I’ve had my film in a cinema or is it how many watch it? But, we are open to all opportunities"
The Crisis of Civilization is available on DVD on March 14.