Following the screening of No Impact Man, author Colin Beavan, his wife Michelle Conlin, director Laura Gabbert and lead cameraman Justin Schein answered questions about the experience of trying to live for one year with no impact on the environment. Here are some highlights:
How did the process of turning your book idea/passion project into a film occur?
Colin Beavan: This film started because Laura and Michelle are old childhood friends. Justin and [co-director] Eden [Wurmfeld] were also friends of ours. We were very lucky in that we had people we loved who were going to come into our lives for this project. We think they did such an amazing job. This is not just about us changing our minds but changing our actions and behaviors.
During the film, Michelle, took the transition the hardest. How did the experience affect you?
Michelle Conlin: I had a blood, pre-Diabetic thing that totally cleared up. We both lost a lot of weight. We both felt happier. And my favorite thing about it was I felt like our family had more intimacy. We didn't have any screens or anything to distract us. We felt more in the moment all the time. And considering the current economic crisis, it was pretty great to realize how little you really need. There was this great feeling that came not only from living better but giving it our love. We had to face ourselves, and I actually kind of miss it believe it or not.
What was the response and how were people willing to help the project?
CB: I'm an author and had written two other books, and what had happened with those was people would ask about what I was doing it on, then they'd ask me 'Well, did you see the weather report this morning?' Whereas with this project, everyone wanted to talk about it. People can identify that we are in trouble, and even with this economic climate, people are working two jobs and never seeing their kids, and it just doesn't work. So among the people that came forward, somebody, an architect came and asked 'How can I help?' I needed to know how to get power to my laptop, and she put me in contact with this company called Solar One, which makes portable solar panels.
Why is the title No Impact Man when clearly it's a family project?
CB: You can't expect everyone to be like you with your attitudes. If this project, this movie, the blog and all of it does anything, my hope is that it makes you all like Michelle. The reason is Michelle went into this with so much skepticism, but she did it with heart. She knew we had problems. Our society has problems, but we did it with the spirit of adventure. And the reason it was called No Impact Man was because No Impact Family didn't seem to have any punch.
Did the film crew change their habits as well?
Justin Schein: When the film began, Colin asked us to try to minimize our own impact. So we didn't use any cars or anything. I got really good at shooting from my bicycle.
What is the biggest change in your marriage?
CB: I think the biggest change is that Michelle would say we're involved in lifestyle redesign. We've all learned our lifestyle from our culture, or at least, we have. We were just doing what everyone like us did, living the kind of lives everyone like us did. So when the project began, we looked at we're not going to produce garbage, we're not going to take taxis. There were so many choices along the way as to how to live, and that caused us to decide how we wanted to live together. It caused us to make a life that we wanted for ourselves. What it means, it means we continue to choose how we want to live.
One thing that wasn't in the film, so that at the time where the press was really coming in, people said to me 'I've really got to talk to your publicist.' I didn't have a publicist. What happened is that I had this blog I was writing, that I had no idea would catch on, and the New York Times reporter visited the site and things exploded. Things were so stressful, and Michelle said 'I want to start writing on the walls of the apartment.' So to satisfy her I let her write in just the bathroom. She would just write on the bathroom walls.
Any advice for those trying to minimize their own impact?
CB: When people ask me about what is the first thing we should do, I say get rid of the things that don't make you happy.
What did you learn from this experience?
I found out that a lot of the problem is that community has fallen apart for us. I think that things that we buy, this consumption, is a consolation prize. Historically, this is not just a turn of speech, this is true. When our ability as a culture to produce and our production increases, we have to decide do we send the workers home at noon because we can now do in four hours what we used to eight hours or we just pay more money? And traditionally, we've just paid more money. The idea was you're working hard, but you get more stuff. So there money and stuff is a consolation prize for lack of time and lack of community. I only have just finished my book, so figuring out where we're going in terms of activism is in the nebulous stages. The idea of getting people involved and having community is a big part (of what we hope to do).
Now that the project has concluded, what is the treat you enjoy the most?
CB: What we discovered was that we all think we need things. Like we think we all need TVs, but we don't. People say I'm anti-progress, but the real question is what good is progress if we can't have charades once a week? But the thing I wanted back, Michelle wanted the caffeine, I wanted the laundry thing back.
How did you feed your dog?
CB: He ate nothing but melon rinds for a whole year. No, not really. But a year is a short time to completely change your life, so I was constantly trying to figure out what to do. The dog just kept eating organic food as she always does.
Visit noimpactcommunity.org for more information.
(Photo courtesy noimpactcommunity.org)
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