Seems like all the good films anymore are documentaries. “No impact man” is a writer who lives in a 9th floor apartment in Manhattan who had a good idea for a book(and a film). He and his family would significantly reduce their carbon footprint for a full year eschewing cars, planes, electricity and packaging. They would not eat out, not buy anything new, only eat local food (produced within 250 miles), use their own containers and bags to tote their groceries home and eliminate creation of garbage.
Great idea for a book project. Maybe not such a good idea to drag your wife and two year old daughter along. It’s a long climb to the 9th floor carrying grocery bags and a toddler but that was part of the deal. They even got rid of toilet paper. Of course, living in NYC the writer got lots of publicity and, obviously, their own camera crew and sound person followed them everywhere: to the farmer’s market, the Colbert Show, to radio appearances, to Good Morning America, to the farm where their milk came from and another farm where a lot of their produce was grown.
The author’s wife, a reporter for Business Week, was supportive but sometimes reluctant. If you’ve ever watched the Ed Begley show Living With Ed you realize that show works because his wife Rachelle is extremely skeptical of all of Ed’s hair brained environmental ideas—his solar panels, rain barrels, backyard garden, etc. There’s much rolling of the eyes as Ed introduces his latest scheme to save the environment and that tension, that skepticism, relieves the viewer of feeling it themselves and makes us more receptive to the idea.
The same tension is at work in No Impact Man as Mrs. No Impact Man works to accomodate herself to no TP, no TV, no frig, no lights, no AC, no Starbucks and, not related to the experiment, no second baby. She is really the focus of the film and her acceptance and the benefits she experiences makes the film work.
Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man, was roundly criticized even by environmentalists for contriving this idea. He readily admits he did it to get a book out of it but there’s not doubting his sincerity. The problem with giving stuff up is that no one really wants to hear about it. We want support for our bad habits, not someone to demonstrate that it’s possible to live without electricity, or designer coffee, or a car, or new clothes, or TV, or sugar, or meat, or travel, or whatever. So, when Mrs. No Impact Man rolls her eyes but adapts to the change and feels better for it, lighter, fitter, healthier, happier, more confident, it makes us more receptive to the experiment too.
An interview with Harry Smith gives you the flavor of the film.