Green Family Values on Film

What do you get when you make a documentary about families exploring just how much they consume and trying to do something about it? Well, among other things, at least one enthusiastic conserver, an occasionally disgruntled spouse, and more than a few laughs. And laughter is certainly called for when the topic is over-consumption, the climate crisis, and learning to live sufficiently. Three movies that I’m aware of have hit on this theme recently.

First up is Garbage: The Revolution Starts at Home (2007), by Canadian filmmaker Andrew Nisker. Garbage tells the story of how Nisker convinced his friends the McDonalds to save their family’s garbage (in their garage) for three months. He then uses this gross stunt (who doesn’t like a good gross out?) as the basis for an exploration of both sides of the environmental equation: the resources needed to produce all that stuff, and the impact when it gets tossed. In the course of the film, we learn about mountaintop removal coal mining, cross-border garbage hauling, and the magnitude of the waste stream, among many other things.

The film offers some good laughs and some solid information. For $20 you can pick up the DVD for home use (for schools etc, it’s more) from the film’s web site. Here is the trailer:

Next is Finnish director John Webster’s engaging and moving Recipes for Disaster (2008). Beginning in 2006, the filmmaker put his family on an oil diet for a year. That meant doing everything they could to avoid using oil and buying products derived from oil, including plastics. Of course to do that in an absolute sense would be next to impossible because even riding public transit uses oil and plastic is ubiquitous in society. That said, the Webster family makes a brave run at it.

In the process, it strains the family, and because the filmmaker had unlimited access to his subjects, the film provides some poignant moments along with the inevitable humor. Webster is pretty clear about his view that people need to take responsibility for their own consumption, instead of waiting for corporations and governments to do something.

Unfortunately, getting to see this film is not easy. It’s distributed by Icarus films in the US, but it’s obviously aimed at institutional purchases, as the cost is close to $400. So, best bet is to get the library to buy it. I’m not sure about options in other parts of the world. It’s a shame because this excellent film is not being seen and it should be. Here is the trailer:

Last is a film I have not yet seen (since it hasn’t come out yet), No Impact Man. Of course, many readers will have heard of “No Impact Man” Colin Beavan thanks to his widely publicized blog.

Beavan and his family took on a greater task than the McDonald or Webster families by trying to produce no garbage, source all their food regionally, stop using paper, and cut out all use of fossil-fuel-based transportation for a year, all while living in New York City. The film is directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein and opens in theaters September 4, 2009. Here is the trailer:

Aside from their entertainment value, what I like about the first two films (and hopefully will find in the third) is not only the humor and sincerity they evoke, but also their approach to social change. Instead of lecturing about what needs to be done, the subjects of these films are engaged in personal experiments to see how they can change their consumption patterns. Of course most people would not attempt the kind of stunts/tasks that make these films possible. But many people can be inspired by the examples they offer. So the films thus give viewers the chance for social learning to take place in a format that is not just unthtreatening, but actually inviting.

If you have seen these films, what did you think? Do you know of any other films along these lines?

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About Mark S. Meisner

Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I also research, teach, write about, and speak on environmental and sustainability communication, media, culture, and policy. Facts are usually facts, but opinions and sense of humour are always my own.
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One Response to Green Family Values on Film

  1. davis says:

    Also good on this subject is the reality show featuring Ed Wynn and his wife

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