No Impact Man
Directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein
In November of 2006, author Colin Beavan, fed up with having to carry around his upper-middle-class liberal guilt all the time, decided to embark on a project to help the environment. Titled "No Impact Man," the project stipulated that Beavan, his wife Michelle and their two-year-old daughter attempt to live for one year without impacting the environment. A series of progressive steps, the undertaking evolved from buying locally to eventually shutting off the electricity in the family's New York City apartment. In the now-established tradition of non-experts writing about topics best handled by experts, Beavan blogged about his amateur forays into extreme eco-practices and wrote a book that was published at the project's end. The new documentary No Impact Man is the film leg of this media coverage trifecta, and despite the obvious indications of a homegrown publicity stunt, the film, at its core, shows an earnest attempt by Beavan to simply do something good.
That's not to say that the project doesn't cause problems for Beaven and his wife, both professionally and at home. Beavan's wife Michelle, a writer for BusinessWeek, is a caffeine-addicted, reality TV-obsessed shopaholic, but she agrees to give up her most sacred comforts, less for their negative impact on the environment than for the equally kind-hearted goal of supporting her husband's life choices. Beavan, for his part, receives the brunt of a heavy, abrasive round of criticism delivered by way of an unexpected deluge of media interest in his work. While never on the brink of ill-health or starvation, living without electricity in the heat of summer and the cold of winter is really not fun for anyone in the family, especially when their compost box explodes with flies and “The Pot in the Pot”, a natural refrigeration method, fails miserably.
In the end, the project's message — that you too can make changes to help save the environment — takes a back seat to the trials of the family itself. Beavan's constantly furrowed brow and lighthearted messianic complex, mixed with his wife's exquisite sarcasm and punctuated by their daughter's excited toddler outbursts, is actually extremely entertaining — like a cerebral sort of reality TV for the upper-middle-class. But, you don't have to feel guilty about watching it. Just remember to bring your canvas bag to the grocery store and hopefully everything will be okay.
Opens September 11