Earlier this week the everydaytrash.com team was invited to a screening of “No Impact Man,” a documentary about journalist Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man, his spouse Michelle Conlin, their cute-overload daughter Isabella and the family dog Frankie. Behind the documentary are directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, and producer Eden Wurmfeld.
For several years now, Beavan has been updating the world on his No Impact Project—his endeavor to spend one year wasting as little energy and as few resources as possible—via his blog, No Impact Man. The documentary follows Beavan, Conlin, daughter and dog over the course of the project, from November 2006 to November 2007. Throughout four phrases, the family gives up more and more, starting with taking non man-powered transport of any kind, buying anything new (including toilet paper), eating meat, using the elevator. Finally, they shut off the power in their apartment and attempt to live without electricity.
The No Impact Project is framed as a family project, but as the movie reveals, there’s no doubt that its really all about Beavan. As Conlin puts it “It’s called No Impact Man,it’s his project, it’s his book and he’s No impact man, but…the project is our family is doing this.”
Without going too much into detail to spoil the movie for those who plan to see it, we can tell you that the documentary is not so much about how to live without causing further damage to the planet (if you already have a flat in a posh condo and have bought all the laptops and bikes you need that is), but about a marriage in which one partner is very driven to embark on something that affects everyone in the family. Here’s the trailer:
And, as there are two of us, please find below two reviews:
Why make a documentary about how a family tries to live emissions-free for a year, but not give you the results on screen? The concpiracy theory would be that the team didn’t want to give out spoilers from the coming book. I don’t think so, I rather believe that Gabbert/Schein/Wurmfeld realised that watching people live eco friendly isn’t terribly exciting on screen (the most action-ridden moment being when the family tries and fails to build an Nigerian pot fridge). What is exciting is the struggle with the contemporary context they’ve locked themselves into. In the end, it boils down to how much of a crazy person you are ready to be percieved as. Easier as freelance writer (Beavan) compared to Business Week writer (Conlin). The message we are left with from No Impact Man is that you probably need very supportive friends.
As a documentary about a marriage, “No Impact Man” is pretty entertaining. As a lead-by-example environmental statement, it’s a bit muddy. The film skips along, touching lightly on some of the quotidian debates of the green movement: are cloth diapers really better for the environment than disposable? What are the outer limits of eco-chic (yes to reusable shopping bags, no to no toilet paper), without really saying much. If anything, it’s a nice ad for biking and eating locally. The Union Square green market features heavily and the family spends enviable amounts of quality time scooting and biking around town. Conlin’s transformation from a Starbucks-addicted shopaholic to sustainable supermom is the real story. As she whines then copes and decides what she can and can’t live without, we make the same assessments about our own lives. How embarrassing would it be to mooch ice from the neighbor because you are consciously living without a fridge; or if the whole office knew your husband air dried his bottom as an attempt to save the trees?
Remarkably, there is very little trash in “No Impact Man.” Right away, the family stops creating waste, so little time is spent tracking where waste goes when it leaves the 5th Ave co-op and what impact the family is averting. Aside from some arty close-ups of trash bags and a brief cameo by Sustainable South Bronx founder Majora Carter, trash plays a small role in the film.
Anyway, as someone constantly asked “but what should I do about it” I admire the notion of living out one’s own ideals and the attempt to make personal the huge and often eye-glazing topic of lessening our impact on the environment. But there is a difference between personal and personality-driven and I found Beaven’s project off-putting in its self-absorption. Kudos to this family for eating locally, biking everywhere and spending lots of quality time together not watching TV. At one point Beaven says that when people ask what one thing they can do to make a difference, he says volunteer at an environmental organization because the erosion of community is what is killing us all. THAT point should be better underscored on his blog and in the film. A first step might have been calling the film “No Impact Family”.
(Paired with the documentary is Beavans book No Impact Man – The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. The book and film are to be released September 1st and 1st respectivley.)