DVD Review: No Impact Man

While this blog is in the public sphere and we've been writing a movie blog for 5 years and 7 months (5 years alone, 7 months together), it's pretty rare that my movie blogging world and my biology professor world coincide.  So at the beginning of the semester, my co-teacher and I decided to do a Friday night film series showing environmentally themed documentaries.  It's open to the community as well as extra credit for our students if they attend.  For the first half of the semester it was all films I'd seen before, but now we've gotten into several I haven't seen before.  The first one is the 2009 documentary, No Impact Man.  All I knew about this, and the reason I chose to show it, was that this family in New York City gave up toilet paper.  Thankfully, it's about a lot more than that.

Colin Beavan was (and I believe still is) an environmentally conscious writer who had an idea.  He wanted to see what it would take to live a life in New York City of no net impact - and decided to write about it.  So there first was a blog, which continued in real time, and the movie was filmed during the entire year, but it was released afterward.  So a large part of the appeal of the film for me, was seeing him see the reactions people had to the blog and his ideas.  There were a series of roll-outs of the various levels of impact.  First, they chose to buy nothing non-essential, and anything new must be used.  They also set a limit to food - anything they purchase must be from within 250 miles of NYC (which means no coffee, no bananas, no tropical fruit, etc.).  They didn't throw out what they already owned - it was just moving forward.  It meant learning to cook seasonally too (and his wife Michelle didn't know how to cook).  They also give up almost all non-manual transportation (i.e. it must take sweat, so walking or biking).  Eventually they even attempted to use only natural cleaning supplies, wash their laundry by hand, get rid of make-up, use cloth diapers on their 2 year old daughter, give up electricity and ultimately toilet paper (you'll have to watch it to find out how they get by).

Colin annoys the crap out of his wife, but they're really into trying this as an experiment.  Going without electricity in the Northern Hemisphere in winter isn't all that feasible in a NYC apartment, nor is keeping anything cold in the summer without some sort of refrigeration.  The part of this documentary that doesn't immediately make you dismiss them as cuckoos is the fact that you see them respond to everything you're thinking - because they're being evaluated during the year because of television appearances, the blog, etc. they talk to each other and the camera about how they feel and you see them actually explain why they're trying to do this, and what the benefits and drawbacks are.  A lot of the things they try don't work and they acknowledge really don't make much sense anymore.  However, being more aware of your choices and trying not to take ice or toilet paper for granted is a good goal.  There are definitely a lot of moments where you cringe and KNOW you'd never do those things, but at the same time I can't stop thinking about this movie and about the various choices I make without thinking.  Since I think that's a quality of a successful documentary, this movie succeeds, even if you hate Colin at the end.

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