Tag Archives: interview

In memoriam Polly Higgins, lawyer who inspired Extinction Rebellion: never before published interview on Ecocide

22 Apr
Ecocide campaigner Polly Higgins, back in 2011

Ecocide campaigner Polly Higgins, back in 2011

Shockingly, the lawyer Polly Higgins has died at just 50. She devoted the last decade of her life to trying to pass a game-changing, planet-saving law on Ecocide. This law is one of the key demands of the current Extinction Rebellion movement — as well as paralysing central London, Extinction Rebellion protestors occupied the International Criminal Court in the Hague a week ago to demand the adoption of Ecocide as the fifth international crime. Below is an interview feature I did with her in 2011, when her Eradicating Ecocide movement was in its infancy, for an eco-magazine which, sadly, folded before publication.

“Of course the slave trade is justified. It’s only subjugating blacks and heathens; and besides, it’s vital to the economy.” It’s hard to believe that, just two centuries ago, this was the prevailing view. Who now could look back on it with anything but abhorrence?

Yet, according to the lawyer and campaigner Polly Higgins, our children and grandchildren will regard our own era with similar disbelief. Multinational corporations have been allowed to strip the Earth of natural resources that have taken millions of years to build up, while climate change threatens a global disaster of unguessable proportions. And these companies haven’t merely a licence to do so, but practically an obligation: a CEO will be voted out if he fails to make the most profit he legally can for his shareholders.

“In essence,” Higging sums up wryly, “the law says ‘go ye and destroy the planet if you can make a profit out of it’.”

The slave trade was abolished in large part due to the efforts of William Wilberforce, who saw that economic arguments would always favour slavery, and that businesses were incapable of self-regulation despite their promises. Instead, he argued the legal case for abolition on moral grounds. Put simply, the slave trade was just plain wrong.

Higgins has come to a similar realisation. The quantifying of environmental damage, and the international trade in carbon credits, leads only to a mindset in which anything is permitted to those with a big enough cheque-book. Fines are simply built into a company’s balance sheets. A recent UN-sponsored survey placed the global cost of environmental damage by business at $6.6 trillion in 2008, predicting that this figure would rise to $28.6 trillion by 2050. Yet the majority of this is down to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, an argument susceptible to endless counter-argument and speculation. Governments have been debating the point for decades, and show no signs of action.

Instead, like Wilberforce, Higgins proposes simply that environmental damage be termed a crime. Because it’s just plain wrong.  She is calling this crime “Ecocide”, and wants it enshrined in international law alongside Genocide – which, lest we forget, has itself been a crime only for the last half a century. And just as army generals and heads of state are accountable for crimes of Genocide, Higgins proposes that company directors be prosecuted directly for crimes of Ecocide. Only then, she argues, will they be forced to clean up their act.

Higgins has written a powerful manifesto, “Eradicating Ecocide”, which in July won the 2011 People’s Book Prize. Reader comments start at 10 on the dial — “inspiring… best book of the decade” — and go way past 11 to “probably the most important book in all history”.

Ecocide mock trial

She makes an unlikely eco-campaigner. There’s not a whiff of patchouli in her des res in Islington. Even the graffiti in this area is posh: a Banksy-style stencil of Wills and Kate adorns a nearby wall. Her mother was an artist, her father a scientist. It’s a winning genetic combination. There is a lot of woolly thinking around environmental issues, but she’s done her research.

Higgins has already pitched Ecocide as an international crime before the United Nations. And on September 30 the case will be debated in a mock trial in the UK’s Supreme Court. The trial has no legal standing, and the CEO in the dock will be fictional, but everything else about it will be real: some of Britain’s foremost lawyers and expert witnesses will present a real-world case – the Deepwater oil drilling disaster, perhaps, or the Alberta tar sands – before an impartial jury.

According to Simon Hamilton of the non-profit Hamilton Group, who is staging the trial, “This is very much not an event which is openly in favour of making Ecocide a crime. It’s to raise awareness of the issues, to have a debate.”

The event will be streamed live on the internet (including the deliberations of the jury), and Hamilton hopes also to make it the centrepiece of a bigger documentary. The event will cost £20,000 to stage, with half coming from corporate sponsors and half from individuals. A week before we spoke, he entered a plea for donations on the Crowdfunder website. With 44 days left to go to reach his target of £10,000, he had already raised £3,440.

It’s clear that the issue has captured the public imagination. And this, says Higgins, is vital. “Governments will not move unless public pressure gives them permission to move.”

She desperately wants this issue to build up a head of steam. Next June is the Rio Earth Summit: 194 delegates from around the world, most of them heads of state, will be debating issues such as Ecocide. It will be the 20th anniversary of the gathering in Rio where a whole raft of environmental legislation was on the agenda, but taken off again thanks to corporate lobbying.

“The businesses said that they would self-regulate,” says Higgins, “that there was no need for laws. Well, that gave birth to climate negotiations, and the concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), and 20 years on we’re in an even worse position. Just like Wilberforce said, voluntary mechanisms do not work. So, they’ll be looking at all this again, and this is our chance.” Bolivia, she says, is very much on board, and swinging the rest of South America behind it.

All the same: she can’t really believe this could actually happen, can she? The Ecocide debate is a great way of raising public awareness, but the things she is calling for – jail terms for CEOs who flout the rules, potentially even for the bankers who fund them; an eventual end to the exploitation of non-renewable resources such as oil – are surely too radical ever to reach international agreement.

“Absolutely I believe it can happen,” she retorts. “But I can’t do it alone. It’s about finding the voice of the people, but I am also trying to find someone higher up who will take it to the next level.”

Again, she cites the slave trade. “Wilberforce had a friend, Charles Grant, the CEO of the East India Company – the Shell or Exxon Mobil of its day. It derived enormous profit from slavery. All the same, Wilberforce got Grant on board, and he eventually went public, saying: ‘This is adverse to my company’s interest but still we must stop it.’

‘Today, I’m looking for the Charles Grants of industry. Richard Branson perhaps – at the climate negotiations last year, Branson said, ‘give us the laws and we’ll work with them’. I’m like the Apache Indian, creating smoke signals. Others will get it, and pass it along. And then hopefully the cavalry will ride into town.”

Yes, and we all know what the cavalry would do to the Indians. It’s a rare slip in an otherwise impressive flow. In conversation, Higgins demonstrates a winning combination of passion and logic. Of the controversial surface mining of Alberta’s tar sands, she says: “Shell says that the tar sands deposits only affect 1.5% of Canada. They say that to minimise it, but that’s a huge territory. It’s kind of like saying, ‘We only killed 1.5% of humanity, and they’re Jews so it doesn’t matter.’ It does.”

When asked how we would replace fossil fuels, Higgins has an answer for that, too. Desertec is a non-profit foundation dedicated to harnessing solar power on a massive scale, using solar panels in the world’s deserts. “Within six hours,” points out research leader Gerhard Knies, “deserts receive more energy from the sun than humanity consumes within a year.” This means that concentrated solar plants covering just 0.5% of the world’s deserts could, theoretically, power the whole world’s energy needs.

As to the expense, Higgins points out that the fossil fuel industry currently receives $600 billion in subsidies. “It’s the last gasp of a dying dinosaur,” she says. Both literally and figuratively.

Climate change eureka moment

Higgins had her Eureka moment on stage during the climate change debates in Copenhagen in 2009, when someone in the audience commented that we need a whole new language to deal with environmental destruction. “The word ‘Ecocide’ came into my head,” she remembers. “I went home buzzing, immersed myself in the problem, and didn’t come up for air for three months. By then, I’d convinced myself the argument was water-tight.”

The ground covered by her resulting book is wide-ranging. Nuclear waste dumping is “one of the great unarticulated problems of the future”, and it’s estimated that the use of warheads tipped with depleted uranium during the first Gulf War will cause 500,000 additional cancers in Southern Iraq over the next ten years. Not for Higgins the argument that nuclear power can be green. Pesticides have helped deplete the mineral and vitamin content in fruit and vegetables by up to 75%, yet up to 31,000 tonnes of pesticides are used in the UK each year, filling food with poison which we then ingest.

How much of this would be covered by the crime of Ecocide would be open to legal argument, though her definition is simple enough: “Ecocide is the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” There are existing precedents for defining terms such as “extensive” and “severely diminished”.

The key to deterrence is, she maintains, to prosecute individuals, not companies: to make CEOs personally liable for environmental destruction. Ignorance would be no defence. Witness the worst oil spill of recent times, the Deepwater disaster. In 2009, BP’s Environmental Impact Analysis stated that it was virtually impossible for an accident to occur. Yet occur it did, with catastrophic consequences. If Ecocide were a crime, BP chairman Tony Hayward would be in jail right now.

Not everyone’s heart will bleed for the fat cat on over £2 million a year who grumbled after the spill, “I want my life back” — but is it really fair to hold him personally accountable? Can you prosecute crime without intent? ”It’s completely fair,” Higgins shoots back. “Think of it as the difference between death by dangerous driving, and murder. If you’re driving too fast, you’ve still caused death. The sentence will be less, but you’re still going to jail.

“That said, I have no appetite for locking up CEOs; I have an appetite for changing what they are doing. These multinational companies have a colossal infrastructure, some great brains working for them. We need those leaders in the field. I want to turn the causes of the problem into the solution. BP at one time were genuinely going to go Beyond Petroleum, but they didn’t have the legislative framework to encourage them to do so.”

Her second book, which she has blocked out the whole of August to write, will deal with the practicalities of getting businesses onside, properly motivated and compensated. Like Wilberforce, Higgins is prepared to devote her life to this cause, though she is hoping that the internet age, with its ability to mobilise pressure groups, will speed things up. Just look at how quickly a simple Twitter campaign to pressurise the News of the World’s advertisers resulted in the closure of the paper and Rupert Murdoch being hauled up before the House of Commons.

Of next year’s Rio summit, she says: “Of course, all the campaigners can turn up and speak, and nothing happens. Everyone has a jolly good conference, everyone claps, and everyone goes home. Or we can give our leaders a mandate to act, by bringing pressure to bear, by the public, by the youth, by children having a voice and saying we want this.

“People can go on my site, sign on to the newsletter. We will have a tool kit up there soon to help pester politicians and heads of state, which can be very powerful. It’s about getting more and more people to use the language of Ecocide, about changing the emphasis to ‘I owe a duty of care’, not ‘I own’. Remember that children and wives used to be covered by Property Law. But now children are about trusteeship. Your child is not your property. If you abuse your child you can go to prison. It should be the same for the Earth.

“It all comes down to building a campaign. I have a year.”

She’ll need all the help she can get. The Slave Trade Act of 1807 imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found on board a ship. As a result, some captains simply threw their slaves overboard to escape prosecution. No matter what the law says, big business will be slow to change its ways.

Further information about “Eradicating Ecocide” can be found at https://eradicatingecocide.com/

 

Disney and diversity: Thandie Newton on the BFI trainees with Solo: A Star Wars Story

24 May
Thandie Newton as Val in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Thandie Newton as Val in Solo: A Star Wars Story

With diversity the current buzzword in Hollywood, there is one major studio that is actually walking the walk. Disney, previously pilloried on social media for churning out pretty princesses who need saving and villains whose inner ugliness is telegraphed through physical deformity, has undergone a radical change of philosophy: making inclusive animations such as Moana, and even feature films with black leads such as Queen of Katwe and, having acquired Marvel Studios, Black Panther. These are the films which, watched by children now, will shape the global citizens of tomorrow. The importance of Disney using its enormous influence for social good can hardly be overstated.

The Star Wars franchise was desperately in need of such a makeover from its new parent company to banish the shuddering memory of Jar Jar Binks. The latest, Solo: A Star Wars Story, always had to feature Lando Calrissian (played by the multi-talented Donald Glover), since one of the few canonical pieces of Han Solo’s back story is that he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a card game. It also throws in the magnificent Thandie Newton as partner in crime to Woody Harrelson’s cynical, “trust no one” adventurer.

Even more impressively, Disney is also seeking to effect change behind the camera. At a special preview at BFI Southbank last night, Disney fielded an impressive panel composed of Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Fleabag fame, playing an independently minded robot) and producer Simon Emmanuel, together with the BFI’s Ben Roberts and Gaylene Gould. They were there to talk about the BFI Film Academy Future Skills programme, which aims to counteract decades of under-representation by attracting trainees who might otherwise never have considered a career in film: 75% of their intake last year were women, 45% BAME, 68% from outside Greater London, and 36% from poor households that received free school meals.

“If you live in the North of England,” said BFI CEO Amanda Nevill in her opening speech, “the notion of working in the film industry is quite fantastical: in fact it’s far more than a galaxy far, far away.”

“Diversity always has a huge impact,” said Waller-Bridge. “We instantly grow from a diversity of voices. It results in less stereotyping, better characters, and the truth can sing.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Thandie Newton with BFI trainees Nathan Lloyd and Maria Moss at the preview screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Thandie Newton with BFI trainees Nathan Lloyd and Maria Moss at the preview screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story

Thandie Newton brought her own personal experience to bear on the subject: “Growing up in Cornwall, I didn’t see other people like me anywhere. I grew up deeply insecure as a result. My sense of self-worth was crippled by not seeing other people like me, because the characters of films and television are our heroes, they are a way of feeling less alone.

“I have three children,” she continued, “and they’ve always played with dolls, and when they do it’s important they are exposed to diversity. I will go in with felt-tip pens and change the colour of characters’ skins in story books!”

There was an emotional moment when Newton mentioned Oola, “one of the few people of colour” in the original Star Wars trilogy: Oola was a Twi’lek slave who was killed by Jabba the Hutt when she resisted his advances. “She’s here in the audience!” someone shouted out. “I know,” Newton shot back. “I invited her!”

It transpired the actress, Femi Taylor, had also played Newton’s mother in her debut movie, Flirting. (Newton was so good in that 1991 Australian drama, incidentally, aged 16, that I insisted on running an interview feature with her in Time Out at the time).

But starry as the panel was, the greatest applause was reserved for two young trainees in the BFI Film Academy Future Skills programme. Neither had known during their interviews, indeed not until they walked on to the set, that the film they would be working on was not some indie drama but the latest behemoth in the Star Wars franchise.

Nathan Lloyd, a black youth from Birmingham, was inspired at being put to work as a camera trainee for Bradley Young, only the second black cinematographer ever to win an Oscar, and has since worked on Sky One’s Bullet Proof and Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light. Maria Moss, a half-Filipino girl from Manchester who said how surreal it was to take tea to “Chewbacca” and have him respond in a Liverpudlian accent, will be working as assistant director on the Wonder Woman sequel over the summer.

It was an inspiring evening. And following the success of the pilot scheme, in which 28 trainees were put to work on Solo, 30 more youths are to be given a new hope (see what I did there?) by working on the next main Star Wars film, Episode IX, from July.

Change won’t come about through talk and good intentions. It will come about through training a new generation with the necessary skills. Big up the BFI, and Disney, for starting the ball rolling.

RIP Adam “Batman” West: my 1988 interview in full

11 Jun
Batman image

RIP Adam “Batman” West: do not go gentle into that Dark Knight. Art by Frank Miller, DC Comics.

Pressure of work means I have put this blog on the back burner, but I had to mark the death of Adam West. Batman was my first obsession, at the age of 4. It was surreal to meet the man himself for one of the first features I ever wrote for Time Out.

He was affable, courteous, funny, self-aware, but also with a strong hint of steel and a particularly nice take on how he would do a Dark Knight movie. I’d forgotten, till I re-read this, that I’d also taken him proofs of the forthcoming Alan Moore/Brian Bolland Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke to comment on. This was the feature as printed in 1988:

HAVING DEVOTED half his life to walking up horizontal walls in leathers and skin-tight nylon and foiling fiendish death traps, Adam West is feeling the pressure. He speaks slowly and softly, his voice just occasionally tinged with that famous steel, lying flat out on his bed in the Mayfair Hilton. Even now the phone never stops ringing. In the few days he has spent in London, his first visit in seven years, he has been besieged with requests for exclusive interviews and had to turn them all down, save television appearances and this one. He is tickled when I describe to him the contents of Time Out. ‘You mean you’re elevating me to the status of The Arts?’

At 58, he now tries to roll with the punches, but there was a time when he tried hard to shake off the role which keeps coming back to haunt him. ‘I made the mistake of allowing myself to be rushed into several movies very quickly when “Batman” folded (after three seasons), because I knew I’d have the typecasting problem, with Batman like an albatross round my neck. There was “The Girl Who Knew Too Much”, which was really awful, then another one, and I said “That’s it, fuck it, I’ve had it.”

‘So I just sat on the beach and licked my wounds for a year; carousing, boozing, anything just to get away. And then I began to realise I’ve given a lot of my life to this, this is what I want to do, I love the process of performing and acting. So I started doing anything I could. I did circuses, dinner theatre, avant-garde theatre … My God, I did “The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood”!’

MODEST THOUGH he is, he can’t feign surprise at the virulent outbreak of Batmania when the series was revived, first on ‘Night Network’ and then TV-am — causing ratings to leap by 25 per cent. He knows better than anyone the secret of its success: playing the straight-man with deadly seriousness week after week to anchor a sit-com whose wacky guest stars ranged from Eartha Kitt and Joan Collins to Vincent Price and Liberace. When the first series was broadcast in 1966, he was mobbed by admirers even in small mountain towns; and fame came with a high price-tag. “People would get a little ugly and say “Hey, you’re not so tough, I can take Batman.” I usually try to be reasonable, then turn round and run.’

The current passion for all things ’60s is no hindrance to the new burst of popularity — ‘An Italian paper said, “in the ’60s, it’s the three Bs: Batman, Bond and the Beatles”.’ But the groundwork had already been laid by a peculiarly ’80s phenomenon: the huge sales and hype surrounding Frank Miller’s audacious adult comic book, ‘Return of the Dark Knight’. In it, Batman emerges from retirement grey-haired, embittered, determined to wage war against the increasingly mindless violence on the streets with equal brutality, his youthful sidekick no longer Robin the Boy Wonder, but a feisty feminist.

‘Isn’t that something,’ says Adam West of the book. And indeed he bears some similarity to the Dark Knight: still in good shape, his famous paunch if anything less noticeable, but the years showing in his greying locks, thick glasses, and the trenches in his cheeks. ‘I enjoyed it, its inventiveness, its artistry, a bit nihilistic and violent. If I were to do a Batman movie, I would like to have aspects of that.’

AH, THE Batman movie. Ever since ‘Dark Knight’ appeared in 1986, rumours have been rife of a hard-hitting film that would forever banish the memory of the Camp Crusader. Last spring Dick Giordano, Vice-President of comics publishing giant DC which owns the rights to ‘Batman’, confided it had been scripted, would shortly enter production, and that — snigger — Adam West had applied for the part: anathema to the new, more serious breed of comics fan, particularly when rivals for the role include Mel Gibson.

But, after talking with him, the idea of West updating his role is by no means absurd. It would be entirely in keeping with the idea of ‘Return of the Dark Knight’, and he displays an intelligent, even poetic approach to film-making. When I show him a proof copy of ‘The Killing Joke’, Batman’s latest foray into the ’80s, he is enrapt by the brooding artwork, evidently visualising it as a storyboard. But when his eye alights on a page featuring a graphic shooting, he is suddenly angered.

‘On film this would be Peckinpah, slo-mo “Wild Bunch”. You don’t need to do this — blow people away with huge holes, blood splattering all over the place. But you can (and here his tone becomes conspiratorial) lop off a villain’s head with thin Batwire (chuckles) that snakes out of your utility belt — wssst! — and the head lops off and rolls across a full moon, bloodless.

‘I think in the final scenes of something, if it’s bizarre and mysterious, you can still have Alfred the butler driving the old Batmobile to the rescue. In the picture we’d have been using all hi-tech, wonderful slick new stuff, so you haven’t seen it before, and at the critical moment, there’s Alfred, driving the old Batmobile. People would stand up and cheer, it’s like the cavalry.’

But unlike the Dark Knight, Adam West is powerless to effect his own return, and frustrated at his new enemy: he can hardly sock the face of the corporate power which prevents him from using the character he has made his own. ‘Yes, I care about the character. It’s 20 years of my life, my career. I’ve seen so many people, signed autographs, shaken hands, done television — South America, the Amazon even; anything I can do to keep this thing fresh and alive. I don’t mean to sit here and weep about sacrifice in roles or other directions my career might have taken; I just put a hell of a lot of work into this thing and dammit, I know, better than anyone else, the best opportunities to do a smashing Batman movie. I hate to see the character denigrated, experimented with. Ruined.

‘Integrity,’ he continues, hammering out each syllable with very Batman-like force, ‘is vital, organic to the project! Sometimes I just don’t know. I mean we sit here and talk, and you’ve caught me at a moment when I’m very relaxed… Sometimes I think, I really don’t give a damn. Now, am I tired? Am I losing a little energy, am I getting older? No, I just think I really don’t give a damn because I already did it!

BUT WEST isn’t resting on his laurels. No less than three features are in the can, to be released, in America at least, sometime this year: ‘Doing Time On Planet Earth’, an off-the-wall comedy; ‘Mad About You’, a romantic comedy; and ‘Return Fire’, an action pic.

As for the spirit of ’66, that will be recreated in April in a two-week stage show for charity at the Bloomsbury Theatre, called ‘Batman and Robin: The Last Re-run’. West won’t be appearing, but preliminary glimpses of the script suggest it will be hysterically funny, with the shadow of ‘Dark Knight’ nowhere evident, and walk-on parts suggesting other TV shows of the era like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Man From UNCLE’. Huge, colourful cardboard cut-outs will supply the full array of Batgadgets, as well as the BIFFs, KA-POWs and ZZWAPs.

And what of Burt Ward, aka Robin? How has he weathered the ‘Dark Knight’ era? During the ’60s he had problems coping with his overnight success, going on about his ‘million-dollar face’. Now, says West, ‘Burt’s a kind of super-businessman. Robin the mogul!’

 

Disney’s Queen of Katwe: David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o interview

21 Oct
queen_of_katwe_official_trailer_1

David Oyelowo as chess coach Robert Katende, with young prodigy Phiona Mutesi, played by Madina Nalwanga, in Disney’s Queen of Katwe

It’s wonderful to see Disney taking a chance on an film set in Uganda, played by an all-black cast, centring on the world of competitive chess – not a pitch to get Hollywood accountants’ pulses racing. Queen of Katwe boasts fine performances from David Oyewolo, as the chess coach who inspires slum kids to dizzy heights, and from Lupita Nyong’o as the young prodigy’s mother. The kids are very watchable, if not always wholly intelligible, and Mira Nair has gone for a realistic style, working with “real” rather than stage-school kids, which suits the true story subject matter but must have taken Disney out of their comfort zone – especially once Lupita Nyong’o’s eldest daughter falls in love with a pimp.

“The line about ‘selling yourself’ was a bit strong for Disney,” Mira Nair confirmed at a recent Q&A, which the two stars also attended. “But after a preview got a 99% approval rating, they let me put the line back in.”

Apart from that episode, the portrayal of family life in the film is a strong and loving one – particularly between Oyelowo’s character and his wife. It’s a big contrast with the other Uganda-set movie Oyelowo was in: King of Scotland, about the crazed, murderous dictator Idi Amin.

“That was a great film,” says Oyelowo, “but gosh, I remember thinking, as a person of African descent myself, that I would love to show a different side. I cannot tell you the significance of seeing [in Queen of Katwe] a black man who loves his wife, and has kids and it’s fine. These are images we don’t get to see! The healing balm that the film is cannot be underestimated.”

He worried at first that the teacher he plays was too good. “When I read the script I was slightly terrified. We as actors tend to gravitate to someone who is flawed, edgy, who grapples with the light and dark. But when I met him, I discovered how much it was costing him – he was a bright man, not just intellectually, but also very good at playing football, and he put all these things to one side for the sake of the kids. He doesn’t think twice. See a need, meet a need. It’s seeing that that gave me the edge.”

Nyong’o says that she was less than ten pages into reading the script when she decided to commit to the film. She subsequently met the chess prodigy’s ballsy single mother, whom she plays in the film, and says that “What I find in her presence is that she’s very grounded, very practical, but there’s stuff going on behind her eyes that you’ll never know. The one thing she wanted to do is to keep her family together. She’s suspicious of dreams [she at first forbids her daughter to join in with the chess classes], and her journey is to discover that love is acting out of radical hope, not fear.”

The result is a feelgood movie full of lovely moments, many of which ring wonderfully true for the simple reason that they are true. David Oyelowo’s declaration of love to his screen wife was taken from his real-life marriage proposal. Or when the slum kids attend their first big chess tournament, held at a posh school, they leave the unfamiliar beds empty and curl up together at night on the floor. “That was all true,” says Mira Nair. “Even the chess games in the film were entirely accurate, and exactly as Phiona played them.”

Queen of Katwe is in UK cinemas from today

 

Jerusalem interview tapes, #11: discover the New Gospel according to Alan Moore

17 Oct
© 2012 John Angerson.Filming of Jimmy's End - Northampton

Alan Moore: “Don’t do anything you can’t live with forever.” Pic: © 2012 John Angerson, taken during filming of Jimmy’s End in Northampton

Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. In previous episodes, Alan Moore has joked about being God. In the last extract, he revealed how he came to the conclusion, like Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, that time is an unchanging constant where everything that will happen has already happened and goes on happening forever, and it is only our perception that makes time appear linear.

Here, he brings the two together: his view of time effectively creates a secular eternity, and in so doing, creates a world-view that is just as compelling as any religion. Step inside the anti-Church of Alan Moore…

Alan Moore: “If you think about it, that [the idea that we are living in a time-static block universe] has got to pretty much kill religion, because there aren’t any religions that aren’t based on some kind of moral imperative. They’ve all got sin, karma or something a bit like that. In a predetermined universe, how can you talk about sin? How can you talk about virtue?

“My chapter Cornered, with the guilty council man, that was put in largely to talk about that issue. The thing is, we don’t have free will, or at least that’s what I believe, and I think most physicists tend to think that as well, that this is a predetermined universe. They don’t like it, but it is looking like that’s probably what it is. However, as long as we’ve got the illusion of free will, we’re fine.

“Also, I’m quite happy with my artistic decisions and career decisions, I’m pretty much guided by voices anyway, I couldn’t claim that I’ve got some sort of plan in all of this, I do what seems to be the next thing to do. That works just as well with free will as without it.

“It’s probably the most contentious point of the entire book, and also there’s the thing of when I first explained it to Leah, my daughter, she said, ‘yeah, I think I could live with that’. And so, sort of, when I explained it to Iain Banks [the late novelist], they were going through a painful divorce, and he said [Moore here does a passable Scottish accent], ‘Ah Jesus Christ, that’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard!’ He was really upset. And I can see that.

“We’re talking here about heaven and hell, we’re talking about them as being simultaneous and present, that all the worst moments of your life forever, that’s hell; all the best moments of your life forever, that’s paradise.

“So, this is where we are. We’re in hell, we’re in paradise, both together, forever.

“One of the dogma you can extract from this is, don’t do anything you can’t live with forever. Try to have a good life. Because you’re going to be having that life forever. Don’t be like my gran. She was a Christian, she had I think probably a very austere and miserable life because she was expecting that it would all be sorted out, and the first shall be last.

“Whereas if you know this is my only life, and it’s my only life forever, I’m not going to wait a moment longer before doing the things I should do to make it better. I’m not going to live my life in expectation of the very, very unlikely reward that awaits in heaven.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here.

The Alan Moore Jerusalem interview tapes, #10: ‘Doctor Manhattan was right on time’

16 Oct
watchmen-doctor-manhattan-page

Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, published by DC. Through the God-like superpowers given to him, Doctor Manhattan sees all time as simultaneous. It took Moore a while to catch on

Following my interview feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. The last excerpt was the weighty topic of what really happened on 9/11. Today, we get to a key part of the thinking behind Jerusalem: that we are living in an Einsteinean block universe where everything that will happen has already happened. Time is fixed, and it’s only our perception of it that makes it appear linear.

Though Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen experiences all time as simultaneous, it was only a decade later, Alan Moore says, that he realised his fiction was fact…

Alan Moore: “When I had my first what I believe to be magical experience with Steve Moore, in January 1994, I remember having this absolute crystalline understanding that time was a solid and that nobody was going anywhere. And then, almost as soon as I had thought that, I thought, ‘but you’ve been writing about this for years!’

“There’s William Gull in From Hell, there’s Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, there’s those early Time Twisters and Future Shocks in 2000AD, one of which has got some people exploring the remote edges of the universe looking for alien life, and all of a sudden one of them seems possessed by an idea, that he keeps trying to explain to other people, and they gradually kind of get a weird smile on their face, and this is all told from the POV of one of the crew who’s watching it happening, who finally realises, what if an idea could be an alien life form? And what if it could just propagate itself, and the only snatch of conversation you ever get to hear is one of the people talking to an initiated person, and he’s saying ‘So if all of time is simultaneous, then…’ You only hear the first few words?

“And at the end of the story, all the people have converged on the narrator, because he’s the last one, and at the end he’s saying, ‘Well of course I realise how silly I was being, and it really is very very simple: you see, if all of time is simultaneous, then…’ And at that point the editor comes in and says we’re going to stop this story here because we think it’s a bit dangerous.

“At that moment in 1994, I thought, well, actually, that is appropriate. I’m only just understanding the concept now. But if time really is as I think it is, there is no reason ripples shouldn’t go out both ways, that it’s like, I suspect some of those early references might have been pre-memories. I don’t know. But it was an idea that had clearly come to me at some point.

“What with the idea of time is a solid, what I was thinking is that if Einstein is saying this a four-dimensional universe, dimensions are measurements,  they’re not like – since Mr. Mxyzptlk, Superman’s foe, came from the fifth dimension, everyone thinks of dimensions as spooky places, like the Phantom Zone or the Twilight Zone, but no, dimensions are measurements, so the fourth dimension is a physical dimension like the other three. We know there has to be a fourth dimension because Einstein tells us space-time is curved. That is to say that the three regulars have another one that they are curved in.

“Now, as I understand it, the fourth dimension is not time. Rather, time is the way we perceive our passage through time. In reality, if this is a four-dimensional universe, or a universe of at least four dimensions, what we are talking about is a solid block in which everything is eternal and unchanging, in which there is no movement and no change except that which we perceive, as our consciousness travels along the filament that is how we are represented in space-time: a kind of filament I imagine a bit like a centipede, lots of arms and legs [vividly described in Jerusalem]; one end of it is in genetic slime, the other end in cremated dust, but those are just the extremities, like your feet or the top of your head. All the other bits, we are alive.

“And when we get to the end of our filament, I would say there is nowhere for that consciousness to go but back to the beginning, so that would be something we experience countless millions of times, but each time it also felt like the first time, because that was how it had felt the first time, and that will never change, except for those brief moments of déjà vu.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. Come back tomorrow to discover how Moore’s theory changes how we should think about life, the universe and everything

The Alan Moore Jerusalem interview tapes, #9: what REALLY happened on 9/11

9 Oct
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Shadowplay, by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, commissioned by the Christic Institute and published by Eclipse Comics in Brought To Light: Thirty Years of Drug Smuggling, Arms Deals and Covert Action (1988)

Following my feature on Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, I’ve been posting edited highlights from the 30,000-word interview transcript. Yesterday, Moore talked about his dealings with Anonymous and Occupy. This week, he addresses the conspiracy theories that the CIA or similar government-backed initiative were somehow involved in 9/11.

As Moore did a ton of research to write his half of Brought to Light: Thirty Years of Drug Smuggling, Arms Deals, and Covert Action in 1988, you might expect him to have a point of view, and he doesn’t disappoint: “If you know there’s a fox in the neighbourhood, you just leave the hen house door open…”

Alan Moore: “Do I think that actually planting explosives on every level of the World Trade Center, was it a controlled demolition? I know about the Bush administration, and they are nowhere near clever enough to do anything like that – they would have screwed it up. But they wouldn’t have to. All you have to do is, if you know there’s a fox in the neighbourhood, you just leave the hen house door open. It doesn’t really require a conspiracy, but just a ‘moment’s carelessness’.

“What had happened in the case of America, as far as I can see, is Bush got in in 2000; almost as soon as he was in office, Rumsfeld – who had been secretary of state under George H W Bush – I think as soon as Bush was in, Rumsfeld stood down the simulation, the training simulation of blocking terrorists from flying a passenger plane into the World Trade Center… that simulation was stood down.

“He also changed the rules of aerial engagement over America, this was in 2000. If what happened on 9/11 happened a year before, they would have been blown out of the sky before they got anywhere near the WTC – but Rumsfeld changed the rules of engagement.

“What I’m saying is, it was in the Project for the New American Century’s interests for that to happen [the PNAC was a neo-con think tank on foreign policy]. Rumsfeld had actually written a paper before for the Project for a New American Century where it said that in order for America to pursue its objectives freely in the new century, what they would need to get approval would be a massive, catastrophic, catalysing event – like Pearl Harbour. George Bush’s diary on 9/11 said, ‘today, a new Pearl Harbour happened’.

“A massive, catalysing catastrophic event that would get public opinion behind America so that America could kind of go on the rampage and sort out things that the Bush family really wanted sorting out… Saddam Hussein… it’s not that they wanted Iraq’s oil, they just wanted him to stop pissing about with the oil price lever. Because what he would do is say ‘in support of my Palestinian brothers, I’m not going to release any oil’. And then he would say, ‘in support of something else, I’m going to release the full extent of oil’, which was sending the oil prices completely nuts – nobody could predict what was going to happen next week, that’s why they had to get rid of him.

“I mean, America had originally put him in place. He was originally a hitman that America had employed to try and assassinate the head of Iraq back in the ‘50s. It failed, and Saddam Hussein was presumably employed in other means for a number of years until 1971, when we parachuted him in, mainly because of the Iranian revolution. We needed somebody to keep an eye on those Iranians, so we put Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq.

“I’m not arguing for brilliant supervillains, plotting all of our lives. I’m arguing almost the exact opposite – complete incompetence. They think they are supervillains, they are sitting there stroking their white cats in their swivel chairs, and they’re all cretins.

“Because of Dunning-Kruger syndrome, which is the fact that if you take a poll, and ask people to rate their own intelligence, average or above average. About 80 percent are above average. What this says is that we overestimate our own intelligence wildly. We can’t imagine anything much cleverer than we are. So we assume that we must be right at the top of the spectrum. We can imagine all the people who are more stupid than us, but we haven’t got enough imagination to imagine anything cleverer than us.

“I think that these are interesting times. They might be terminal times. I really hope not – I have grandchildren. We are at quite a delicate point here, though. The stakes have never been higher than this.”

Jerusalem is out now in hardback from Knockabout in the UK and Liveright in the US. For the full interview feature, click here. In interview extract #10, Alan Moore explains how he realised that time is not at all as we perceive it, and Doctor Manhattan was right.