No Impact Man (2009)

Posted by Jessica Finch March 13, 2013 0 Comment 3853 views

I’ll admit that after watching No Impact Man I did start to wonder about my own, perhaps, non-environmentally friendly habits; running water too long, throwing away plastic bags etc. But the whole point of No Impact Man, a film that sprang from the No Impact blog, is not just to promote thought, but to insight action. Even though I thought about saving plastic bags from the landfill, could I really live without them (and a myriad of other things that increase C02 emissions and may destroy rainforests)? Activist writer, and ‘No Impact Man’ Colin Beavan asked himself these questions and more when he began his ‘No Impact’ experiment in 2006. The project started as research for his book, also titled No Impact Man (he’s a creative guy, but not big on creative titles), and his experiment was this: spend a year impact free, or at least as close as one can get in Manhattan (yeah, good luck!).  Colin, his wife Michelle, and their two year old would live 12 months gradually reducing their impact by avoiding carbon emitting forms of transportation, eating locally, going without toilet paper (eww), and having no electricity in their Fifth Avenue co-op.

The Beavans reduce, reuse and recycle over the year, and it’s interesting to observe the changes they go through. While Colin is the titular hero of the project, he’s already so invested in it that there’s very little evolution for him. He’s spearheading the project, and he knows it will be a challenge going in, whereas his wife Michelle is just dragged along for the ride. Michelle’s life is turned upside down by the project, and her journey from fast food and espressos to eco-living is the most compelling aspect of the film. She represents the average Joe (Jane?) who would, very reasonably, have a hard time giving up life’s comforts for a year without toilet paper – I get stuck on the toilet paper thing because it’s so far out of my comfort zone. Initially, Michelle calls her husband out on his project, even referring to him as a “fringe wacko,” but after visiting a local farm in upstate New York she begins to embrace that fringe, and her transformation is subtly inspiring. One thing that really turned me off though, was the use of media clips in the film. I realize media interest was part of the Beavans year long journey, and I admittedly did enjoy the clips of Colin on Stephen Colbert Report, but it was too much self promotion for my liking.

After watching No Impact Man, I was curious about the impact of the filmmaking itself, since it would be fairly hypocritical to make an eco film via non eco means. Cinematographer Justin Schein writes on the No Impact documentary blog that he and the crew were encouraged by Colin (who else?) to live No Impact while filming. I’m skeptical that the experience changed Justin’s life as much as he contends in his post, but maybe that’s just the cynic in me. On the other hand, the director, Laura Gabbert, writes a somewhat more realistic entry about how difficult parts of this project would be in her neck of the woods, LA (public transit in LA? Forget it). The blog is a helpful add-on to the film (or the other way around) and makes for some good reading. I would recommend No Impact Man, in both film and blog formats, for anyone looking to debate the ‘impact’ of individual action on the environment.

Gallery of Images from No Impact Man

Watch the Trailer for No Impact Man


About Jessica Finch

Jessica Finch is an avid writer and film enthusiast who has been contributing documentary reviews for Pretty Clever Films since March 2013. She is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts program and has worked as a freelance producer and production designer on short films and music videos. Jessica currently works as a sales coordinator at Achilles Media, an events management company in Toronto.

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