2012: The year from hell 6/12/2012

Hello Stupid and Spanner friends,

It's been almost a year since my last message on January 3rd, sharing out the previous year's profits from Age of Stupid. And what a tumultuous and terrible year it has been.

In March, I very sadly resigned from 10:10, after losing the vote on where to go next. Everyone else involved felt we should diverge into running various climate-themed projects like putting solar panels up on schools, supporting the release of climate-related films and helping crowd-fund renewable projects. I felt we should stick to our original - and original - idea of inspiring everyone from Spurs and the Government to London Zoo and L'Oreal to cut their emissions by 10%. I think it's always better to focus limited resources on doing one thing very well (like, for example, Fairtrade have done), plus our 10% idea had taken off so dramatically and proved itself to be a winner... Anyway, I lost, and I have to say it is pretty devastating for a director/dictator like yours truly to be unable to see my own idea through the way I envision it... But here's hoping they were right and I was wrong and that 10:10 will now go from strength to strength and help stop catastrophic climate change. If you'd like to sponsor their Solar Schools project, which is of course a very good thing in itself, you can do so here.

In April, my adorable daughter Eva, named after her paternal grandmother, was born and all was well for seven weeks... see June...

In May, Lizzie moved to New York to work for WITNESS, an organisation which uses video to defend human rights. Despite having scary flashbacks to organising the Stupid Global Premiere in New York in 2009 - and having to dodge the impacts of the probably climate change-enhanced Hurricane Sandy - she has just helped raise nearly a million dollars via a big gala fundraising thingy with Alan Cumming and Peter Gabriel, so she's pretty chuffed. Meanwhile, her partner Brendan and two-year-old daughter Leila are getting into the swing of New York life, volunteering at the Brooklyn Food Coop and playing chess in Central Park.



In June, we took Eva for what we thought was a routine check-up, were admitted to hospital that afternoon and didn't go home for 11 weeks. It turned out that she had a very rare, very serious, lung condition. Ten operations later, having completely missed the summer (what Olympics?) we were discharged in early September with a healthy baby and a boundless love of the NHS. (Strangely, Eva's dad makes documentaries about the NHS, so he felt he'd stepped inside one of his own films). Eva is fully recovered now, thanks to the incredibly clever, kind, dedicated, compassionate, funny, tenacious, adaptable, knowledgeable and courageous doctors, nurses and technicians. Did I mention we love the NHS?


As we escaped one tragedy by the skin of our teeth, another struck. In October, after a three year illness, my younger sister, Boo, died of cancer. If you've been on this list for a while, you know that she and I were completely entwined in each other's lives - we shared five flats of varying degrees of scuzziness over the years, ran a singing bar in Soho, played in Camden Women's Football Team together (there was a classic moment when we both literally hopped, giggling our heads off - through pouring rain, natch - into our local A&E after I had twisted my knee and she had broken a toe in an ill-fated match) and went snowboarding whenever we could coordinate a few days off. The first three videos I ever worked on - two jokey ones with friends and then this one for the Vegan Society - were "Armstrong Sisters" productions. She was the camera woman in India for the first Drowned Out shoot, I built the original website for Women & Health; she filmed interviews for McLibel, I made videos for Get Well UK. Even the offices from which we ran our blue-sky projects tell the story: we started sitting at adjacent desks in my flat as Lizzie and I were in the early days of Spanner Films and Boo was just starting Get Well UK; when she outgrew her little spot between the piano and the washing machine, Boo and I - together with my handy builder boyfriend - spent a Christmas building her an office in a disused garage. Once she'd secured funding, about ten months later, she was able to move on to a fantastic place in Delancey Street, from which she ran Get Well UK for three years. By 2008, Lizzie and I had finished making Age of Stupid and needed a bigger space to house our 12-strong distribution team (remember Team Stupid?), so the whole lot of us moved in with Boo, with a tiny corridor between the kitchen and toilet being re-fashioned into an edit suite. As Stupid spawned 10:10 and attracted more and more staff and volunteers, we rented the office above Boo's as well, but soon outgrew that too, and so moved into the much bigger space next door, from where 10:10 still operates today.

One of Boo's greatest skills was spotting lateral links between people and projects. When I was making McLibel in the mid 90s, she was studying nutrition at college. In the pub after lectures one evening, a fellow student had one too many and decided to tell Boo something she'd never told anyone before (a common occurrence - people often came over all confessional with her): "I used to work as a spy for McDonald's". "Surely not McLibel?" replied Boo. A few weeks later Fran Tiller was giving damning evidence against McDonald's in court, as well as appearing in my documentary. And I still can't quite believe how, never having stepped foot in India previously and without a word of Hindi, Boo was able to escape capture from police, get herself to Delhi via log boat, motorcycle, bus and train and then persuade the international news to broadcast our Drowned Out footage in 53 countries. Nobody but Boo could have managed that, and with such aplomb.

Our friend described her as "unstoppable and immovable", which is bang on.

But now she has stopped.

Losing my lifelong closest person makes me think both "What is the point of doing anything at all?" and "There is so little time, I must do everything I possibly can". I have no idea which will win out in the years to come.

Boo being my personal assistant ("I'll do it for one day only, don't get any funny ideas") at the Age of Stupid premiere in Leicester Square in March 2009.

Boo setting up Get Well UK in the office we made in a disused garage - with sofa at the front donated by Granny

Her canal boat Moonshine, on which she lived for ten years - we used to be able to canoe from her home to mine in about 20 mins - before moving to Berkhamsted with her partner, Trish, in 2009

There is a tribute to Boo in the Camden local paper here, a book with a chapter about her work here and a video of her getting a standing ovation after making a speech to a conference here.

- - -

Now it's December, Boo has been gone for two months, and let's not even mention the climate talks in Doha (though our grief-stricken Dad is out there producing live blog reports and video coverage with his team from oneclimate).

Here's something good happening today: remember Stupid's Exec Producer Bruce Goodison, who trained 60 asylum-seeking children through his Film Academy, one graduate of which said "This has made my life worth living"? After a three year struggle with the script and the funding, during which even his biggest fans (Lizzie and me) wondered whether it would ever see the light of day, he is right now shooting his movie, Leave To Remain, up a mountain in Wales. It is a brilliant story following young asylum-seekers trying to make lives for themselves in the UK, and the plan is to launch an action campaign alongside the release of the film, in a similar vein to Age of Stupid and Not Stupid / 10:10. They were in the news this week as Hollywood star Toby Jones was on set to shoot his scenes. Bruce has so far raised £324,000, but needs another £16,000 in the next two days if he's going to be able to film all the scenes in the script. Please please bung in some cash via his crowd-funding campaign if you possibly can - last week, a generous person put in £5,000, which was enough to let the crew shoot for another three days and not have to drop a key scene in a night club. Is there anyone out there who can follow suit and put in another £5,000?

Toby Jones stars alongside a mix of professional child actors and real asylum-seeking children, who Bruce found through an exhaustive casting process working with asylum charities and support groups

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Bruce and Toby on their set which doubles as a court room, when the camera looks one way, and a night club when it looks the other

Lizzie is busy counting up 2012's profit share-out from Age of Stupid. We'll let all our crew and funders know their slice of the pie before Xmas and then make the payments in January. Sales of the film are much slower now, of course, but are still continuing - for example, yesterday there were four downloads and one DVD purchased from our online shop, which doesn't seem too bad, three years after release (I don't know how many more from Amazon (boo hiss), itunes etc). Meanwhile, Stupid's gorgeous distributors, Dogwoof are going from strength to strength: they are celebrating this week as two of their documentaries, one of which is about climate change, have made it onto the Oscar shortlist.

If you're thinking Christmas presents, you might like "Small World, Big Ideas", which I wrote a chapter for: "This book highlights the personal stories of green activists – Franny Armstrong, Bob Brown, Deepak Chopra, Tim Flannery, Jane Goodall, Polly Higgins, Caroline Lucas, Bill McKibben, Carlo Petrini and Vandana Shiva - and encourages all of us to be the change we want to see in the world. This book will convince readers old and young, to stand up and speak out for the causes they believe in." And on Boxing Day, I'm presenting a Radio 4 documentary about Rachel Carson and Silent Spring at 9pm.

Goodbye to 2012. May no year ever be as bad again.

I hope life is going dramatically better for you and yours.

Best wishes,
Heartbroken Franny

Twitter: @frannyarmstrong



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