“NO IMPACT MAN” producer, Eden H. Wurmfeld
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 11:30 am — Library Center Theatre, Park City]
As filmmakers interested in creating character-driven films about social issues, we saw the story of No Impact Man as a great opportunity. An intimate, cinema vérité look at a family trying to find their place in our culture of consumption and the affect that has on the environment.
The idea of No Impact Man was that Colin Beavan, his wife and their daughter would remove themselves to the greatest extent possible from the various aspects of life that cause negative environmental impact while also increasing their positive impact in the community. Their self-imposed environmental asceticism would unfold in stages: creating no trash, conserving water, eating sustainably,\ and volunteering with local organizations. They were also to give away their TV, turn off their electricity and cancel their newspaper and magazine subscriptions, creating a Walden-like oasis of low impact in the middle of the bustling city.
A year without media you say? Not exactly. Colin and his wife Michelle are no strangers to media. He is an author and she a journalist and the No Impact experiment itself was conceived of as a book. Soon after the year began Colin started a daily blog. As he chronicled his trials and tribulations an online community grew. With thousands of hits a day to his Web site he was quickly noticed by the more mainstream media. The New York Times heard about the project and wrote a major story, “A Year Without Toilet Paper.” With that came what we now call the media explosion and their virtual media-free zone was history. The intrusion of the media in our lives not only became a theme of the film as we were shooting it, but also a theme we consciously underscored in the editing of the material. The irony of Beavan’s Waldenesque year being interrupted by the media explosion cannot be denied.
In an era where media attention is not just the major networks and newspapers, the chatter in cyberspace took on a life of its own. While much of it was positive and supportive, there was also some very biting criticism. From Gawker to countless environmental Web sites, from right-wing global warming deniers to radical environmentalists, the No Impact experiment was the focus of much discussion.
Colin and Michelle could not help but react to the attention and criticism and likewise, the media also became a focus of the documentary. In the film we see Colin reading criticism on the Web as his self-doubt emerges.
Michelle fears her job at BusinessWeek might be in jeopardy from the publicity and eventually confronts a blogger about her criticism of the project. In the end Colin realizes that it is only through the harnessing of this publicity to educate and inspire will people start treating the climate crisis as the emergency it is.
Through the story of No Impact Man we see how the media can be both part of the problem and part of the solution. Our over-consumptive disposable culture is often fueled by a saturation of advertising that is piped to us through the media. On the other hand, the media and new media in particular, provides a unique potential to confront modern-day challenges by creating a new form of community.