Putting humanity in its place

This post is about one of the ten short films in the Open University/BBC Creative Climate short film competition, made by students from UK film schools. You can see them all here on the OU’s Youtube channel.

The End of an Era by Yousif Al-Khalifa, National Film and Television School

Human extinction is almost impossible to imagine, but the notion is never far away in environmental debates. This animation takes an insect-eye view to explore these deeply troubling themes with wit and generosity. Yousif Al-Khalifa describes his film thus:

Colin the cockroach and his grandfather seek a way to stave off the boredom of life beyond the apocalypse. For Colin, a trip to the cinema is the answer. But will ‘Cenozoic Park’ – a tale of homo-sapiens brought back from extinction – prove too much for him to face?

Our ambition was to create a film that asks its audience to reconsider the situation we find ourselves in today in an engaging and innovative way. To deliver the weighty message of the vulnerability of our species but in a light hearted manner.

When given the brief, one of the themes proposed by the BBC and Open University was ‘do we need ecology more than it needs us?’  I felt it was natural to explore a post-apocalyptic world where the near invincible cockroach has survived man’s extinction. Working with an amazing team of fellow students from the National Film and Television School and talented actors including Sir Tom Courtenay, we’ve captured a glimpse into a world where life goes on without us.

The use of a light touch comic device makes plenty of space for the viewer to pause and revise their thinking about the proper place of humanity on the planet. The storyline references the movie blockbuster Jurassic Park, but this time it is humans that have been brought back from extinction. Highly skilful animation, music, script and acting transport the viewer to a cockroach civilisation not many years from now. The cockroach Richard Attenborough character in the movie-within-a-movie reminds his tourists that humans weren’t entirely beastly – their culture had its sophisticated and sensitive side. Leaving the movie theatre, grandpa can reassure his grandson that ‘they’ll never be back’.

Yousif and team were responding to the ‘ecology’ brief, which invited ways of communicating the insight that ‘humans need trees and bees – but they don’t need us’. Environmental sciences show the many and varied ways in which all human activity is dependent on the non-human natural world. Food, water, resources – all the essentials of life – rely on the functioning of ecological systems.

Yet over the 250 years since the Enlightenment the dominant ways of framing the world have set humans apart from nature. Modern culture has placed people centre-stage and many theorists argue for a ‘de-centering of the human’. These philosophical concerns are about much more than playing with words. If we fail to place humans within their wider networks it is inevitable that our politics, economics and culture will continue to behave as if divorced from the environmental systems on which they depend. ‘End of an Era’ communicates this vital insight with a deft hand. Viewers are rewarded with an entertaining micro-movie, but take away nagging thoughts about the need for humans to accept a much more modest and considerate role in the world.

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