Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Extinction

Director – Josh Appignanesi – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 80m


In which director Appignanesi chronicles both his unease at the climate crisis and what happens when he joins Extinction Rebellion to do something about it – world premiere on Thursday, June 29th at the Curzon Mayfair, out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 30th

As well as making small British narrative features (Female Human Animal, 2018; The Infidel, 2010), Aappignasi makes little diary films about his life. The previous two, in which his wife, the author and academic Devorah Baum, is credited as co-director, chart impending parenthood (The New Man, 2016) and their relationship (Husband, 2022). This third entry sees Josh hit a professional lull after a planned feature film falls apart and he wonders if his career as a film maker is over. Actually, he reiterates variants of this question at various points throughout the film.

At the same time, environmental activists Extinction Rebellion (XR) are on the TV news for bringing parts of London to a standstill. Cue a title sequence montage of collapsing ice shelf, burning tar sands, gridlocked London traffic, industrial pollution, a bewildered kangaroo with outback ablaze behind it, a flooded street with parked cars, a polar bear stranded on an ice floe, the UK government declaring a climate emergency in response to XR and Greta Thunberg’s “I want you to… act as if your house was on fire” speech.

All of which suggests that what follows will be on an epic scale. It isn’t, really. It’s more that Appignanesi films himself, conversations lounging around his sitting room with his wife and time with his kids in the hope that something interesting may happen on camera. There’s a disarmingly honest quality about his (and to a lesser extent the couple’s) transparency, even given that the film has been subject to an editing process in which choices will have been made, certain shots cut for brevity or thrown out altogether. And yet, this edited, redacted version of the truth doesn’t feel like he’s hiding anything significant from us: it feels deeply, sometimes uncomfortably honest in its unflinching, warts and all portrayal. Which counts for a lot.

Curious about climate activism, he attends an XR camp and a later meeting hearing such messages as, “times require a paradigm shift” and “most of society is in collective denial.” He asks a fellow protestor on a climate march whether it’s supposed to be this much fun. He takes part in role plays to learn what to do and not to do if challenged by the police on a protest. At home, he watches his son sleeping bares his soul to his partner, voicing his loner’s doubts that he’s not a group-joining guy. Yet, he gets more and more involved.

Although the couple are Jewish, one gets the impression that they don’t subscribe to any particular religion or philosophy, neither Judaism nor anything else. They are middle class (as, indeed, are most of the XR types shown) and judging by their very nice house appear to be well off. As his wife says to him three quarters of the way through, he represents himself as someone with no values. That’s at once true and untrue, in that in his making of the film, he seems determined to get at truth in the representation and recording of himself, which, while it may lean towards a materialist view of cameras and observation, suggests a basic honesty and integrity in his documentary filming process.

Appignanesi, like many of us, is a walking mass of contradictions. He’s aware that our present situation has gone to far on the climate, that enough is enough, and he hesitantly starts to protest (but only so far: he’s not prepared to take action that will get him arrested, claiming, as many of us might, that he really can’t afford it). He wants to be open for that job that might come though at any time, and ultimately wants to be able to go to Hollywood to make films.

He doesn’t have a problem with using a car or shooting a commercial for one (he is editing a car commercial at the start of the film) and would happily take agency money as a film director. When the big advertising job comes though, with a budget of 120K, he undergoes a crisis of capitalist faith, because the client is Esso and the job is essentially greenwashing a fossil fuel company (even though, as he says, he fills up his car with Esso all the time). After much discussion with his wife and considerable soul-searching, he turns the job down and then finds that his agent, Charlie (who we only ever meet as a voice on the phone) stops calling. Once again, he wonders if his filmmaking career is over.

Should he wish for a further directorial strand to his work alongside narrative features and diary films, Appignanesi could do worse than many cheap quasi-animated shorts. A little sequence entitled Once Upon A Time In London draws not upon the similarly titled epic movies of Sergio Leone, Tsui Hark and others, but rather on the tackiest of pixelation techniques and little models moved through rudimentary sets by visible hands. Nevertheless, his two-minute introduction to Covid-19 invading and shutting down London more effectively than XR has thus far done may be cheap and cheerfully, but provides a thoroughly compelling if brief interlude.

While Appignanesi is to be commended for not pushing an agenda and making his footage fit it, regardless of truth, his freewheeling approach doesn’t quite work towards the end where he can’t find a satisfactory final reel as he chronicles post-pandemic-lockdown XR protests with its Writers Rebel subgroup on Westminster Bridge and outside 55 Tufton Street (later the spawning ground of Liz Truss’ economy-crashing mini-budget, a fact that passes curiously unmentioned here).

Both protests, as represented, turn into sequences of celeb writers and others on stage making climate speeches, and while the list of those contributing is impressive (among them Simon McBurney, A.L. Kennedy, Susie Orbach, the late David Graeber, Mark Rylance, George Monbiot, MP Caroline Lucas, Zadie Smith and Juliet Stevenson), the serial celeb element detracts from the main cause. The final two speeches are by Devorah Baum and Appignanesi themselves.

More impressive, almost an afterthought just before the credits roll, is a conversation at an XR protest with a lady named Alfie who succinctly expresses her view that the movement needs to get working class people involved not because of what is coming climate-wise, but because of what is already happening with it right now. Should you feel so minded, here’s the link. Tell them this website’s review sent you.

My Extinction is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, June 30th.

World premiere + Q&A,

Thursday, June 29th at Curzon Mayfair – book here.

Screening + Q&A,

Friday, June 30th at Curzon Oxford – book here.


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