Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Extinction is propaganda. Of course it is. A short film, intended as trailer and prequel to a longer film about the activities and demands of Extinction Rebellion, by climate change activists with, amongst others, Emma Thompson lending their support to make the case is always going to be such.

But don't let that fool you.

Because of course, propaganda film is film like any other, and, as such, can be watched, studied, evaluated in the same way. So down the years we have similarly short films, such as The Bond, starring Charlie Chaplin, intended to encourage the purchase of Liberty Bonds to fund US involvement in WWI, as well as the rather better received London Can Take It, from WWII. Not forgetting Der Fuehrer's Face, wherein Donald Duck takes up the anti-Nazi cause.

As for longer films, where to start? From Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin to the dubious pro-Nazi epics of Leni Riefenstal, there is little doubt that propaganda as category can and does regularly attract great directors, great participants. Widen it out: the British Government itself ensured that a great deal of British cinema during the Second World War was directed to inspiring the troops and re-assuring the folks back home. While on the radio, the regular avuncular broadcasts of JB Priestley led Graham Greene to argue that Priestley "became in the months after Dunkirk a leader second only in importance to Mr. Churchill. And he gave us what our other leaders have always failed to give us – an ideology."

The best propaganda, it seems, emerges from times of conflict.

Of course, if you widen the definition enough, to films with a social or political point of view, you could argue that the majority of films from the anti-cannabis Reefer Madness, to spaghetti westerns with their frontiersman code of honour, to Star Wars, are propaganda. If not for one side of a shooting war, most certainly putting the case for one side on a vexed and divisive social issue.

So do not be put off by the category. Or the fact that those who dislike the message of this film will inevitably brand it as propaganda – and then use the tag to dismiss it.

Plotwise it is nothing special. It is, as many shorts are, (almost) a one-location enterprise, intercut with footage from Extinction Rebellion protests. In a committee room somewhere, sits 'the Establishment', represented at its most paternalistic by an MP/Tory legislator (Nicholas Rowe) and a young civil servant (Charlotte Hamblin).

On the other side, a lone, nervous activist (Rakhee Thakrar). But she is not alone for long as, one by one, a ragtag crew of other activists, young, old, black, white (including Tom Glynn-Carney, Francis Magee, Gary Beadle and, yes, Emma Thompson) join her. With each new addition the meeting is pulled in a different direction: with each addition, the patriarchal calm of the establishment is shredded a little further until, by the end, he is reduced to a snarl that everything going on is a “complete waste of time.”

Heavy-handed? A touch. But its not as though we haven't seen, many times over, the trope of polite authority descending to savagery the moment it feels like it is losing control.

To be honest, that is about it. A neat, end to end message and justification of Extinction Rebellion. Though that is to overlook the rather larger pluses to it. The script, by Jack Haygarth and Emma Thompson, is witty, measured and more than believable. And with such a stellar cast on board, the performance is a joy to watch.

It is funny, sharp, and like the best of the short film genre – all creds to director Jack Cooper Stimpson - pretty much every second works towards sketching a neat, clear picture of the issues with minimal lines. In every sense.

I liked it. Though perhaps more as film than as message. As the former, it is well done and if there are awards going for this category of work, it certainly deserves several.

As summation of where we are now, I am not so sure. The news now reports that the UK Police are cracking down on Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in some cases. We will have to wait for the courts' verdict to see where this goes – it is claimed they are now acting unlawfully.

It seems likely that the fun phase of the protest is over, and, looking back, historians will pinpoint late 2019 as the moment when that change occurred. Not the end, as one gifted propagandist once put it, nor even the beginning of the end: but the end of the beginning.

It would surprise me if this film does not have an exceedingly short shelf life, before being consigned to history as ultimately as naïve and out of touch with reality, as wistfully nostalgic as Mrs Miniver or Colonel Blimp.

Though since this is described elsewhere as a trailer, the full version may yet prove me wrong.

And I did enjoy this film!

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2019
Share this with others on...
A political satire about climate change. Focused on the protest group Extinction Rebellion.

Director: Jack Cooper Stimpson

Writer: Sam Haygarth, Jack Cooper Stimpson

Starring: Emma Thompson, Nicholas Rowe, Francis Magee

Year: 2019

Runtime: 12 minutes

Country: UK


Search database: