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Colin Beavan & daughter Isabella (Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories)

NO IMPACT MAN
Directed by Laura Gabbert & Justin Schein

Produced by Gabbert & Eden Wurmfeld

Released by Oscilloscope Laboratories
USA. 90 min. Not Rated  
 

Minimizing oneís environmental impact can be frustrating, and writer Colin Beavan takes us through the process in all its nitpicking detail. Home composting begets fruit flies, and a Starbuckís venti lattť to go is an unnecessarily wasteful luxury. Reusable diapers and, um, toilet paper, seem like crude anachronisms in todayís culture of offhand disposability. What about a solar powered Manhattan apartment? Compromising, to say the least.

Mr. Beavanís crusade, documented here by seasoned veterans Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, is less a horror story than a small inspiration. Beavan is as close as it comes to a Manhattan Joe Plummer. Not exactly an Everyman, Beavan is more of an Everyenlightedmiddleclassurbanite, an educated, New York Times-reading, conscientious adult, just like so many of us. But, as Beavan clearly believes, with this title comes great responsibility. We are the keepers of the earth, and itís time to start acting like it.

His one-year experiment involves eliminating all motorized transportation, public or otherwise, avoiding all take-out food and drink, and, in fact, limiting food consumption to only what can be farmed and produced within a small radius of the Manhattan home of Colin, his wife, Michelle, and their infant daughter (much to Michelleís chagrin, a self-proclaimed Starbucks junkie). Union Square Farmerís Market becomes Colinís greatest ally, and a later phase of the process sees the family pulling the plug on the electricity to their home. Coal-powered electrical plants wonít be pumping any of the Beavanís parts per million of carbon into the atmosphere this year.

Criticisms, though, abound. Beavanís blog (noimpactman.typepad.com) is soon hit with numerous complaints that a self-involved, isolationist effort such as this can hardly accomplish the amount of work required in this time of environmental crisis. True, for every gram of carbon avoided by not powering the television, another gram of natural gas burns away to heat the building. And time-based efforts such as these have a finite ending, and afterward everything often tends to return to business as usual. One year of penance equals a lifetime of redemption.

Beavan takes the criticisms to heart, however. He and his family are in a learning process, and the audience is along for the lesson, witnessing a small transformation. By the end of the film, the now tiny stunt is secondary to a greater message. Environmental awareness isnít just about bringing canvas shopping bags to the market and shutting off the lights. Itís a more holistic approach.

The family visits a local upstate farm to actually see where food comes from. Colin becomes involved in several environmental activist groups, volunteering whatever time he can afford. Turning off the television was one of the most effective things the family could have done for their home life, and avoiding the remote and mechanized urban economy has put them in touch with each other more than ever before. Itís a stunt, and itís self-involved, true. But thereís a real message to this film. In responding to the criticisms, Colin and his family are quick to act. Perhaps living a responsible existence isnít about having no impact, but rather having an even greater one. Michael Lee
September 11, 2009

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