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No Wasted Opportunities in 'No Impact Man'

September 24, 2009 By:
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To market: Colin Beavan and daughter Isabella

He's a real no-impact man, livin' in a landfill land ...

Indeed, the reel "No Impact Man" is no-prints charming, leaving behind little proof of his consuming existence.

For author Colin Beavan, writer/wife Michelle and their 2-year-old daughter Isabella, 2006 was a year of living dangerously -- or at least ergonomically -- as the three Timothy Learys as naturalists tuned out -- abandoning electricity with alacrity -- and dropped out -- and what they did drop in their garbage can was compost for the worms to gorge on.

Opening Sept. 25, "No Impact Man" is no carbon copy of any other film out there, asking if men and women can live green and wean themselves from the daily comforts of everyday life without killing each other.

It's not easy.

As much about what man has made of man -- and styrofoam landfills -- as it is about a marriage tested by tantrums and trust, "No Impact Man" may have its impact way beyond the screen fading to black (in a noncarbon-dating manner, of course).

The inconvenient truth is that the producers and their stars posit proof-positive that people are selfish, solipsistic pigs with little regard for anyone but themselves.

Mere trash talk? Not for co-director and cinematographer Justin Schein, who shines his camera on the aesthetics of these aesthete Beavans who give up a lot, including daily lattes.

No wasted opportunities here: In a way, "NIM" is the anti-"Graduate"; Benjamin Braddock would be ill-advised to pursue a career in plastics these days.

Coo-coo-ca-choo, Colin Beavan, our nation turns its lonely eyes to ... biodegradables?

"Well," reasons filmmaker Schein, "there are careers to be had these days in biodegradable plastics."

Even poor Benjamin's pool probably would be afloat in them now: "The shift has happened."

Happens that Schein was affected himself by the shoot. The lessons of the film "helped us to shoot in more sustainable ways; we had to think about using rechargeable rather than regular batteries," he explains.

But the streets of old New York can batter anyone's dreams. Hybrid hi-jinks: "We were shooting from a rickshaw as transportation, but there were too many potholes in New York" for that to be feasible, he recalls.

Re: cycling: "We used our bikes a lot."

Cast and crew as spokes-people for the film?

"It's great to be forced to think about the whole process" of saving energy, saving time, he says.

Indeed, it's not such a lonely planet when everyone's chugging along in a rechargeable way.

"I'm not an environmentalist," states Schein, "but I am concerned about my place in the world. I hope this film starts a conversation of how we are living."

But it can't be the end-all of conversations.

To that end, the Beavans have started a foundation for people to find alternate answers to help brown-bag rather than body-bag the planet. Colin has also made book on the topic: No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. (Gee, could have saved on the engraving for that one.)

The film itself is no mere tutorial in tuning oneself into the environment's rhythms; it's also about the combustible couple at its epicenter, and the way their own organic relationship recycles through each reel.

"It's like a Woody Allen environmental film," says Schein with a chuckle.

And it may be the sleeper of the season, although some of the media have awakened to its release as if from a bad dream.

"We have been a little surprised at the rancor," says Schein. "It seems we touched a nerve."

The nerve to call this a no-impact project, one critic railed: Isn't the physical evidence of a film an impact itself?

"We got that criticism from a first-grader. That was a brilliant moment," he says of the first-class complaint.

But the kid was right. "It's inherent in life after all," says Schein. "Existing, we make waste."

But not haste: The yearlong filming -- "We're distributing it digitally" -- will have an after-life as an educational tool -- and on his own life, too.

"I was a cameraman on both," says Schein of "Imagine Peace," a documentary on Israeli and Palestinian teen girls, and "The Four Seasons," in which Holocaust survivors celebrate their final season at a Catskills resort. The impact of "No Impact Man" on these films? It made Schein appreciate "how we can all connect as a community and think outside of our little bubble."

Burst of pride aside, fast-forward to now: What better time to open a movie than before Yom Kippur, in which each person's fate is inscribed in the book (recycled one would think) of life after reflection of the past year's deeds/misdeeds?

After all, muses the man making an impact himself, these are far from disposable times.

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