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Energy FILMGOER: Don’t “Bag It” and get yourself to the DC Environmental Film Festival

March 9th, 2011 · No Comments

Today, the DC Environmental Film Festival had a “pre-screening” of BAG IT at the Warner Theatre.

A great film fest …

Before turning to a discussion of this (great) film, a short note on the festival. This is the “19th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the nation’s capital” and it will bring to the screen some 150 documentaries, animated, archival, children’s, etc films between 15 and 27 March. From astoundingly beautiful vistas (how about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (America’s Wildest Refuge) to the devastatingly destressing (such as a 40-square mile Superfund site in Oklahoma (Tar Creek)), the DC Environmental Filmfest provides a rich montage across the beauty and pain of 21st century environmentalism.

There are a myriad of rich themes within the Festival. The Energy Film Series, for example, has over 20 events — in other words, it is impossible to make it to every film worth seeing.  On the other hand, to transition to the film, don’t “bag it” (”to quit, forgo, or give up on”) and — if you’re in the DC area — get yourself to at least some of these great films.  And, if you want to be part of the ‘in crowd’, there is the Festival Launch Party, tomorrow, 10 March, with the always amazing and inspiring Van Jones as speaker. 

A film worth seeing:  Bag It!

This morning, I joined a few hundred Washington, DC, school students to watch Bag It, a film that starts from a simple odyssey questioning plastic bags overwhelming our lives (and, yes, just carry a canvas bag) to a wider exploration of (disposable) plastic in modern life and its impact on us and the broader environment.  

This film is well constructed, flows, and delivers a strong message about the perverseness of using depletable resources (fossil fuels) to make things that will last esssentially forever (plastics) in extraordinary amounts (some 700 billion plastic bags per year) that we use for the briefest of moments (plastic wrapping, water bottles, …) that is ending up in the food stream (for both ourselves and throughout the ecosystem).    The message, however, is also a positive one: that each of us can take actions to reduce the larger impact (reduce, reuse … and then recycle; make smart choices about what plastics to accept into your life) and also to reduce plastic’s impact on our own lives.

The last is brought to prominence as the film follows Joe Berrier through an odyssey from unawareness of plastic’s issues into substantive knowledge and concern.  En route, Joe becomes an expectant father and thus has even greater concerns about impacts from plastics on health and infant development (BPA and Phalates focused on in the film).  One segment of the film has Joe getting a test of the chemicals within his system after having worked to reduce plastics in his home life (like no plastic water bottles, not putting plastic in microwave, reduced plastics in body products, etc …). He then takes two days (at a friend’s apartment, away from his pregnant wife) using plastics like a ‘typical’ American (putting his food into a plastic container in the microwave, body creams, etc …).  After two days, on average, counts of relevant substances in his body were up … by an average of 51 times.  In other words, Joe’s individual actions to reduce plastics in his (and his wife’s and his yet to be born child) life were have having a substantive (and positive) impact on his body composition.

One thematic in the film is how industry (primarily the American Chemical Council) is engaged in a systemic campaign to inhibit movement forward to address environmental, energy, and health risks related to plastics whether this is suing to stop plastic bag bans or baldly asserting that plastics don’t create health risks.  As to the first, think ‘paper or plastic’ question at the checkout line. For those who argue that they are essentially equivalent (or that plastic is better due to not cutting down trees), they conveniently leave ‘what happens next’ from the equation.  Paper will biodegrade if it makes it to the sea. Plastic could well end looking like a meal to a turtle or a bird.

Bag It is strengthened by the ’strong cast’ of interviewees, who include experts and heroes (and personal favorites) across numerous domains.  Michael Braungart, Cradle to Grave; Annie Leornard, Story of Stuff; Dan Imhoff, Paper or Plastic; Beth Terry, Fake Plastic Fish; Elizabeth Royte, Garbage Land; etc … knowledgeable people, who know how to communicate, and who are well integrated into a compelling ’story’ of serious risk and real potential to turn things around for the better.

Now, watching it with a horde of schoolchildren added value to the event.  From their cheers when DC’s highly successful five-cent per bag program was mentioned (reducing plastic bags by over 70 percent) to groans at descriptions of how infant exposure to plastics can lead to smaller penises, they were an attentive (and engaged) audience who likely came to the Warner Theatre knowing little and now having an awareness of a real issue — with an idea that they, themselves, can have a role in solving it. Let’s hope more like these students see this film and take action based on that experience.

Tags: Energy · environmental · plastic · pollution

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