Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Film review: The Story of Stuff

Note: Hey all, Jenn's SIL Melissa here. Went to a movie...Jenn asked for my two cents, so here it is. Enjoy!

For most of us, a trip to the nearest mall or mega-mart means picking up a quick handful of items at a nice, cheap price. A no-brainer. But after viewing the short film
The Story of Stuff, you just might find your brain piping up to remind you of all that goes into (and comes out of) all those things that find their way into your shopping cart and your home.

The film, a 20-minute Web documentary, was screened by Ayer Local, a new community organization in my hometown of Ayer, MA, with an ambitious slate: “to raise awareness of sustainability issues, reduce energy consumption, and promote local food & economy in order to build a resilient community that is sustainable for future generations.” (Thrilled to have them in town!)

eleased on the Web in late 2007 (http://www.storyofstuff.com/), The Story of Stuff is narrated by Annie Leonard, “ an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, with more than 20 years of experience investigating factories and dumps around the world,” according to her Web site bio. She is also coordinator of the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption, a funder collaborative working for a sustainable and just world.

The Story of Stuff
is the current centerpiece of Leonard's mission to spread the word about the impact of consumerism and materialism on global economies and international health.

Leonard spiels her spiel in front of an animated backdrop detailing the entire life cycle of, well, stuff, from extraction of resource materials through production, distribution, consumption and ultimately, you guessed it, disposal.

Along the way, she touches on the many problems inherent in this cycle, supporting her arguments with statistics that make viewers sit up and take notice. Among the more illuminating observations:

  • The U.S. has five percent of the world's population but consumes 30 percent of the world's resources and creates 30 percent of the world's waste.

  • Each person in the United States makes 4 ½ pounds of garbage a day, twice what we each made 30 years ago.

  • For every one garbage can of waste you put on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the junk in that one can.

The one I found maybe the most disturbing:

  • 99 percent of everything we purchase is disposed of within six months (!).

Cute, clever graphics aside, it's hard to miss the message: this is a recipe for destruction. But as the picture grows grimmer and grimmer throughout the narrative, Leonard ends on the ultimate positive note: “It's not like gravity that we just have to live with. People created this problem, and we are people, too.” Ergo, we can un-create it.

OK: The movie's eye-opening and it's entertaining. And it definitely makes you want to do something. But if you're looking for balance, you probably want to look somewhere else. This film is short, and the problems it details are, well, not.
The Story of Stuff is geared to provoke: discussion, action, you name it. It's opinionated, and it pulls no punches.

That said, the message is completely valid: When it comes to stuff, we all need to think beyond our desire for instant gratification and remember that a cheap price may be hiding a far steeper cost for the environment, for natural resources and for communities around the globe.

GLR rating: 4 out of 5 leaves

Note: In case any Ayer townies out there are reading this, The Story of Stuff was the first in Ayer Local's “2nd Friday at the Movies” series, aimed at introducing the new organization to a wider swath of the town and getting some meaningful dialogue underway about how to get some positive changes going in Ayer. Look for more thought- and discussion-provoking films in the coming months.


Karen said...

At first I was surprised about the 99% of stuff we buy is discarded within 6 months, but then I look around and it may be true. I would like to see less packaging of products we buy, which would cut way down on 'stuff'.

Bridgete said...

I have a book called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things. which is probably very similar. I had to get it for my Consumer Society class back in college. It details out the various processes that your average everyday "stuff" goes through before it gets to you - your cup of coffee, your shoes, your car, your computer.

If we ever manage to get together for coffee I'll bring it along and you can borrow it. It's pretty interesting. =)

MelissaBBGG said...

Hi Bridgete,

While I'd love to meet you sometime, I have the feeling you thought you were talking to Jenn...I should have made it more obvious that I wrote this one! Melissa

Bridgete said...

Oh, yep, thought I was talking to Jenn. Well, she can still borrow the book. lol.

Jenn said...

Thanks Bridgete, would love to. And maybe this will be our excuse to actually make plans lol!

The Scribbler said...

I had a book club meeting last night - we reviewed "Hot, Flat and Crowded" and "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming". I brought up the "stuff" video from this post - but you would not believe the backlash! They denied the stats (especially the 99% of everything is waste within 6 months). I cited the expertise of the individual making the claim but they scoffed at it. To my further surprise, several members of the group went on to say there was a "conspiracy" to shut down the "deniers" of global warming. Who these conspirators are, I have no idea although one person suggested it was the corporations since they stand to gain from environmentally conscious consumers. Arghh. Anyway, I enjoy your blog as do my kids. Thx for taking the time to publish it.