In our busy and stressful lives it is often a challenge to find the time and energy to recycle paper, metal, glass, and plastic, and to seek out sources of locally grown food. But we try to do both as our small contribution to saving the planet. Author Colin Beavan, who lives in New York City with his wife Michele, their two-year-old daughter, and dog, took his environmental idealism much further than most of us would be willing to do. As part of his research on a book, he begins in November of 2006 the No Impact Project in which he and his family vow to "live deliberately" for a year by reducing their carbon footprint and having as little environmental impact as possible. That means going off the grid with no car, no elevators, no subway, no television, no air-conditioner, no toilet paper, and more sacrifices.
Taking a vow to live more simply and frugally is an adventure for Colin who blogs about the No Impact Project and uses his meditation practice to keep centered. His wife Michele, a senior writer at Business Week, wants to support him in this endeavor but freely admits her addiction to Starbucks coffee, designer fashions, taxi cabs, and eating out.
Part of the pleasure in watching this documentary comes from trying to discern how we would handle the challenges and frustrations of such a daunting lifestyle change. It is far easier to side with Michele who is willing to bend the rules rather than follow her husband's strict regimen. The filmmakers enable us to see and appreciate the compromise and dialogue which must take place in a marriage when one person is ten miles down the road and the other is trying desperately to keep up. Husband and wife are rarely in the same place at the same time. This comes across beautifully in the documentary which reveals the vulnerability of both Colin and Michele.
The environmental idealist keeps upping the ante in his No Impact Project as his family reduces and then eliminates garbage output with composting (in special worm boxes) and eventually turns off the electricity in their apartment and uses candles for light at night and a cooler for a refrigerator. They eat only food produced within 250 miles of New York City. We watch as Colin takes his daughter to the farmer's market and helps out in a local urban garden. In the process, the Beavans move beyond their old consumerist mentality and find a new community among environmentalists who share their values.
Filmmakers Gabbert and Schein have fashioned a bold and astonishing documentary about a radical idealist willing to put his ecological commitments to a test. He starts out with serious intentions, goes through some very funny unintended developments, and ends up with some surprising results for his whole family of their year-long project. This movie will change the way you look at the comforts and conveniences of everyday life. And it may even inspire you to take similar steps to help mend the Earth.
Special features on the DVD include No Impact Dating: Colin and Michelle on no impact nights on the town; Urban Cycling: bike activism in NYC; Freeganism: the virtues of gleaning from the trash; an audience Q&A: Colin, Michelle, and the filmmakers discuss the film at the Sundance Film Festival; Fruit Vinegar: Colin unveils an easy to follow recipe; and an optional clean audio track for educational use.