Some days Judge William Lee feels reduced and reused.
Is your life too plastic?
The information contained in the documentary Bag It—about the effects of plastic in our environment—isn't new. However, the way it's told in the film makes these facts feel more immediate than ever before. Our personal responsibility for the mess resulting from our plastic dependency is made plain and the call to action is realizable.
Jeb Berrier is Bag It's everyman host, investigating the omnipresence of plastic in his life. His newly pregnant wife is the impetus for Jeb to learn how their baby can live on a healthy planet. With a handful of credits in low-budget movies like Satan Hates You and Azira: Blood From the Sand, Jeb is entirely comfortable in front of the camera. Sometimes he'll ham it up, giving an ironic wink or shrug of the shoulders to the camera to keep things from getting too serious. Jeb's "crazy science teacher" persona would be a good fit for hosting a television science show for younger audiences or one of those highly sugared Food Network programs.
Jeb's investigation of plastics starts with the role of plastic bags in our daily lives. He asks why fossil fuels are used to make a product that is considered "single-use disposable" and, not surprisingly, the answer lies with those who profits from this. When Seattle holds a vote on putting a tax on plastic bags, the lobbyists for plastic bag makers spend millions of dollars to fight and defeat the bill. Cities in Asia and Europe have already imposed taxes or bans on plastic bags, but North America can't shake its plastic dependency because we've been conditioned to think of it as an endlessly disposable resource. Bag It even questions whether recycling programs are truly helping the problem, or if it's just a concept we've bought into so we can feel less guilty about throwing away plastic.
Another stop on Jeb's journey is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge suspended accumulation of trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here, plastic particles outnumber plankton 40 to 1. In the final section of the film, Jeb looks at the toxins in his environment and their effects on the human body. After two days of living like any average North American—using aerosols in the home, cooking food on plastic trays in the microwave, showering with brand name shampoos—he has his blood tested for toxins and the results are shocking. Other scientists weigh in on research that links plastics and toxins to increased male infertility and other health problems.
First-time feature documentary director Suzan Beraza lets Jeb make it his show, but she and writer Michelle Curry Wright present the nitty-gritty of Bag It in well-structured segments that communicate the facts in easy to understand terms. When a scientist fills a water bottle one-third full with oil to illustrate the amount of material expended to produce and transport the finished product to retail counters, a complex accumulation of factors are distilled into a striking and direct visual representation. Now, take the amount of oil used to bring one bottle of water to market, multiply it by a supermarket aisle full of water bottles, and you can't help but be aghast at the amount of energy wasted to deliver something that comes from your tap. Some people might consider this sort of simplification of information to be heavy-handed, but it makes what could be dry facts and figures into something concise and clear. The documentary is ultimately one-sided, though, as Jeb's repeated attempts to interview a spokesperson from the plastics industry are turned down.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is bright and sharp with satisfying color saturation. The cinematography is very good, from the talking head interviews to location footage shot all over the world. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix presents the dialogue clearly. The bonus features are a series of extended interviews with the scientists and researchers, plus some bonus footage not used in the film. The makers and distributors of the movie have also set an example by packaging Bag It in the environmentally-friendly PaperFoam DVD tray, sourced from the Netherlands. This plastic-free case is sturdier and easier to handle than the cardboard-only boxes.
Bag It is the kind of documentary that could change the way you live. You may have heard some of this information before, but it's made so much more personal by Jeb's investigation and by framing the problem at an individual level. While the scope of this environmental problem may be chilling, the film proves we can all do something about it.
Not guilty. Recommended viewing for everyone.
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