As part of the “Reel Pieces” movie series at the 92Y in New York City, Annette Insdorf hosted Jeremy Irons in a screening of Trashed. Irons, the executive producer of the film, also takes on the role of citizen-journalist narrator. Along with director Candida Brady, they explore the issue of global waste—and how each individual can impact the problem through examining their footprint of consumption and disposal.
Irons and Brady shot the film over a period of four months, with the subject trajectory of “land, air, water, and solution.” Irons said, “This is where movies can play such an important role, [by] educating society and bringing difficult subjects to the broadest possible audience.”
Insdorf commented on the “images of paradoxical beauty,” especially intense as a “cinematic experience” on the big screen. She noted that the film had changed her life and started her thinking about her part in the equation.
To get additional back story on the genesis of the film, I reached out to Brady with questions about the documentary:
What prompted you to engage this story as a documentary filmmaker, rather than as a journalist, which is your background?
“I don’t think I would have been able to make a documentary film of this nature without having the grounding I had in journalism. I love telling stories. But the story of waste has become so chronic it needed to be told on a grand scale, and that is what prompted me to make it as a documentary feature film. Waste is a huge universal problem, affecting us all and needing all of our attention—now.”
You used the medium of film to create a visceral impact about trash, through specific visuals. This took you to eleven countries for the imagery you wanted to create. Can you comment on that?
“Sadly, we found the same stories repeated in communities all over the world. So I chose the places which I felt would have the most impact on us, naturally beautiful places ruined by the waste we all create. We found a famous English toy store bag in the landfill in Lebanon.”
To show the effects of dioxins on the human system, you presented scenes from an orphanage in Vietnam, where the children have physical problems because the toxins stay in the system for four generations. These interactions were particularly powerful. Can you address your decision to show the lab that had jars of preserved samples of fetuses and infants with extreme deformities?
“We interviewed Dr. Phuong, who was one of the first people to link the dioxin in Agent Orange to the birth defects in the hospital we visited in Vietnam. And yes, I thought long and hard about whether to show the babies born with extreme deformities. They are very shocking, but sadly, I felt we needed to see them because until you really understand what these compounds can do to life, toxics like dioxins, furans, PCBs, etc. are all just words. Science has known about their effects for years and years, but the awareness in most people is zero. Yet chances are there’s no one left on the planet who doesn’t have them in their body. Dr. Gavin ten Tusscher, a leading pediatrician, told us he sees the effects of these chemicals in children in his clinic all the time.
A 2009 study of umbilical cord blood found up to 232 man-made industrial compounds like flame-retardants and pollutants present in a child before it is even born. Ten out of ten babies were shown to have chlorinated dioxins in their blood. Nature doesn’t make these things– we do.”
What are the plans for the movie in terms of interacting with on the ground activists to mobilize on the issue of trash?
“We have had amazing support already with all sorts of activists around the world who have been in touch for local screenings. We are working with GAIA to organize screenings in 130 different cities around the world at the moment. We’ve organized screenings with Charles Moore’s ALGALITA, and been invited to many more wonderful film festivals in 2013.”