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A Movie Review – Tiny: A Story About Living Small

I’ve been to the cinema again, and this time I want to tell you about a movie that’s not about waste, but about simply living and small spaces. Tiny: A Story About Living Small follows the story of Christopher Smith, a 30 year-old American who has a dream to build a tiny house and live in the wilderness. With limited funds and absolutely no building experience, but overflowing with passion and enthusiasm for achieving his dream, Christopher attempts to build his own tiny house on a trailer.

You can watch the movie trailer here:

Here’s the official synopsis from the Tiny Movie website, which also gives a quick explanation of what the Tiny house movement is all about, if you don’t already know:

“After a decade of travel, Christopher Smith approaches his 30th birthday and decides it’s time to plant some roots. He impulsively buys a 5-acre plot of land in hopes of fulfilling a lifelong dream of building a home in the mountains of Colorado. With the support of his girlfriend, Merete, he sets out to build a Tiny House from scratch despite having no construction experience.

From 1970 to 2010, the average size of a new house in America has almost doubled. Yet in recent years, many are redefining their American Dream to focus on flexibility, financial freedom, and quality of life over quantity of space. These self-proclaimed “Tiny Housers” live in homes smaller than the average parking space, often built on wheels to bypass building codes and zoning laws. TINY takes us inside six of these homes stripped to their essentials, exploring the owners’ stories and the design innovations that make them work.

When Christopher decides to build his own Tiny House, he dives into the tension between settling down and staying adrift, between preserving a parcel of land that he loves and developing it. Merete begins to ask her own questions about settling down, and both walk away with unexpected lessons about the meaning of home, the importance of place, and the personal impact of sticking with a project that became bigger than they’d ever imagined.

TINY is a coming-of-age story for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied-down than ever, and for a society redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate. More than anything, TINY invites its viewers to dream big and imagine living small.”

I’ve read a bit about Tiny Houses, and I was keen to learn more. I found the movie, a mix of Christopher’s journey and interviews with other Tiny House dwellers, an interesting insight into the reasons people choose to live in such small spaces. I also found the movie quite motivational, and I left feeling quite inspired. I don’t know if I could ever live in a Tiny House, but it certainly reminded me that my ongoing journey to minimalise my possessions was waiting for me to revisit it!

Some of the people I went to the screening with felt the movie was lacking in depth. By focussing on two aspects – Christopher’s story of building a Tiny House and also the lives of others who choose to live in Tiny Houses – there wasn’t enough time to go deep into Christopher’s story, his plans and his dreams beyond the consturction project, nor to truly understand how Tiny House dwellers make living in a Tiny House work. The film finishes with Christopher towing his newly built tiny house to his patch of land in the wilderness. But questions remain about how this house can really be home. What about food? Water? Fuel for the heater? Work? Is he intending to live in this dwelling, or is it actually more like a campervan for holidays?

For me, this movie was a beautiful story, and I felt like I could really connect with the reasons behind the choices these people make. If you want to see an inspirational look into the lives of people who choose to live differently, then this film is for you. But if you want to know more about the practicalities of Tiny House living, of what happens once the choice to live this way are made, then the film will probably still leave you with a number of questions.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Do you have any thoughts on Tiny Houses, or the Tiny House movement? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a message in the comments!

A Movie Review: Trashed

On Tuesday night I went to a movie night hosted by Transition Town Guildford for the documentary Trashed. Released in 2012 and featuring Jeremy Irons, Trashed explores the extent of the global waste problem, and the consequences – including pollution in beautiful and uninhabited environments, the health risks to animals, humans and children, and the contamination of the oceans.

When I say ‘explores’, this movie does not just skim the surface. It gets right in there. It’s a powerful film, and it gets the point across that we need to change the way we do things. If you’re not convinced before the film, you won’t be left with any doubt afterwards that waste is a serious problem – and it affects all of us.

Featuring farmers from France and Iceland, hospital works in Vietnam, and waste disposal sites in the UK, Lebanon and Indonesia, it is clear that this is a global issue.

Here’s the trailer:

I loved the message, the depth of the science and the exploration of the facts. It was hard-hitting and some people, particularly those who aren’t already aware of the issues surrounding waste may find it pretty confronting. They tried to end on a positive note, bringing the movie back from the feeling of impending doom, with just enough positivity for the audience to leave without feeling like it was all too hard and all too much. But only just.

My only real criticism was the lack of exploration of the issues surrounding recycling. Clearly there wasn’t space to cover everything, but I felt that plastic recycling in particular could have been further addressed. At the end of the film they show huge bales of plastic waiting to go to China (from San Fransisco) for recycling, but no mention is made of the issues of transporting huge amounts of plastic across the ocean, nor the hazardous processes involved with recycling the plastic in countries with less stringent safety regulations.

Particularly after they talked in length of the dangers of burning waste, I felt this was a glaring omission.

The other interesting point is that this segment of the film was recorded in 2009. Back then, China was a huge buyer of plastic waste, but the plastic shipments were often contaminated with non-recyclable plastic and other debris, and in February 2013 China has cracked down on this with Operation Green Fence, meaning all plastics must be washed and uncontaminated. All shipments are inspected on arrival, and if they are contaminated they are sent back, with the sender incurring the cost. In the first 3 months, 7600 tons of waste were rejected.

I’d definitely recommend watching it, but if you’re new to the issues of waste, you might find it gentler starting with the Clean Bin Project or my all-time favourite, Bag it!.

If you’re interested in hosting a screening of your own, you can find the details on the Trashed website.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Did you find it motivating, or did you think they stepped over the line into Doomsday-ville? If you haven’t seen it, what were your thoughts after watching the trailer? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear what you think!

Plastic Shores: a Movie Review

Last Friday I saw the eco documentary Plastic Shores at the delightful Ecoburbia monthly movie night. The Producer/Director Edward Scott-Clarke describes the movie like this:

‘Plastic Shores’ is a documentary that explores how plastic affects the marine environment. Travelling from the International Marine Debris Conference in Hawai’i to the polluted Blue Flag beaches of Cornwall, the film reveals just how bad the problem of plastic debris is and how it harms aquatic life and, potentially, human health. 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced in the world every year and a third of this is for disposable packaging. There is now, according to the UN, not a single beach or sea in the world that is not affected by plastic pollution and the problem is only increasing.

Here’s the trailer:

Now you know me, I love a good eco documentary, especially one about plastic. I love Bag It!, and also The Clean Bin Project (not specifically about plastic but waste in general, and an excellent documentary), so I was looking forward to this.

I have to say, I found it somewhat disappointing. It opened with an interview, and the interviewee was extolling the virtues of plastic, and this wasn’t really countered by the film’s narrator. The interviewee actually made some good points, including that transporting plastic is lighter than glass (reducing fossil fuel use and emissions), and that if plastic was replaced with other materials, there would be far greater burden on the planet in terms of mining and cost.

I was expecting the movie to then counter these arguments, perhaps with a mention of the need to cut back on consumption in general, the fact that whilst plastic has some great uses, a lot of plastic is for single-use items, or that plastic is made from fossil fuels, maybe even that despite the benefits, the ultimate environmental cost outweighs all the advantages.

But there was no response at all. It seemed a strange way to introduce the movie, leaving viewers confused as to the message the film was trying to get across.

The content itself was informative, although a little slow moving. There were facts revealed that I didn’t know (apparently 5% of oil production is used for plastic manufacture), and the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans was very clearly explained. There was a lot of detail of how plastic has affected Hawai’i, and interviews with some knowledgeable and informed plastic activists.

What disappointed me most, though, was the solutions, presented after all the negative impacts of plastic on the oceans had been covered. I guess I was just expecting more.

‘Reduce’, was the first option; the solution? Take your own bags to the shops. I felt that most people who would take the time to watch this (any?) eco-documentary were probably past the whole ‘bring-your-own-bags’ scenario. This was discussed in great detail, including interviewing a man who ran a company making biodegradable bags… from fossil fuels. Hardly a win-win solution.

No other solutions were really discussed; the movie moved on to ‘Re-use’. There was a sweeping statement that all plastic is reusable, combined with camera shots of used syringes, empty crisp packets and condom wrappers. I would think that the issue with most single-use plastic is that, actually, it is not reusable. Surely that is the point?

Then we were back to the trusty ‘Recycle’. “We should recycle what we can”, the movie tells us. Again, most people taking the time to watch an eco documentary are probably already at this point.

I just felt that there was so much more to say. There was no discussion about the impact of convenience, of how convenience is a key generator of waste and a huge part of the plastic problem. There was no real discussion about reusable containers, cutlery, water bottles, refusing straws, avoiding single-wrapped items, yet there was so much potential.

I felt this was a missed opportunity.

The biggest let down, for me, was that this movie did not inspire. It educated, yes, but I didn’t leave feeling like I could make a difference, or armed with any new tips, or empowered to make changes. That’s exactly what I love about Bag It and the Clean Bin Project. They show what ordinary people can do (and are doing) to make a difference. For me, that is the key to a successful eco documentary. It should empower.

Oh, and there should be some light-hearted moments, some humour, some fun. It’s not all doom and gloom, and making people feel like it’s all too much does not inspire change.

If you’re a die-hard zero waste advocate, then watch it; you’ll probably still learn something new. If you’re not, I’d give it a miss. Bag It! and Clean Bin Project have a similar message but are uplifting, fun, and more enjoyable to watch.

Have you seen Plastic Shores? What did you think? Do you agree with me that a good eco documentary should be inspiring? Maybe you’re a fan of the ‘Doom and Gloom’ approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts!