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Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Film Review

Plastic Paradise Film Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Watch the world engulfed in plastic in this scary, eye-opening doc.

Director 

Angela Sun

Journalist Angela Sun offers new insights on the damage that modern technology is doing to the planet.

If you’re wondering why many stores will soon start banning plastic bags or charging for them, an intriguing new documentary, Plastic Paradise, may help to answer your questions.  Many fine environmental docs have already been produced, but this film from journalist Angela Sun offers valuable new insights.  It is currently making the rounds at film festivals but should find a home on television, where it will invigorate the dialogue about the damage that modern technology is doing to the planet we all inhabit.

The film begins with a disturbing image of a dead bird being cut open, as plastic objects are removed from its stomach. This leads into a brief history of plastic, which (in contrast to natural materials) never really decomposes.  Anyone who has visited a beach has encountered plastic residue, but viewers may not realize the extent of the problem. The centerpiece of the film is a journey that Sun takes to the Midway Atoll, best known as the site of a famous battle during World War II. The large island in the Pacific has become a massive garbage dump that Sun’s camera explores. The enormous amount of waste has proved deadly to the large population of albatrosses that are one of the island’s primary residents.

Another revelation is how much chemically treated plastic has been ingested by fish and the harm this can do to people who eat fish on a regular basis, rather naively convinced that it is a healthier alternative to chicken and beef. In addition, the oceans’ coral reefs are being steadily destroyed by the accumulation of plastic.

The villains of the piece are usual suspects like Dow Chemical, Dupont, Exxon Mobil, and the American Chemistry Council, an industry group that has sought to downplay the dangers of chemicals attached to plastic. In one sequence Sun pulls a Michael Moore and sneaks into a meeting of the Council and tries to confront some top executives, who promptly have her ejected from the premises. A surprising hero of the film is former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who railed against the glut of plastic bags.

It might be argued that all in all, Sun insinuates herself a little too frequently into the proceedings. She narrates the film herself and is often present, though she also includes informative interviews with marine biologists, other scientists, and environmental advocates like oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau. The photography is a strong asset, and images from Midway Island are especially striking.  When Sun tells us at the end of the film that the amount of plastic in the world will quadruple by the year 2050, it is not exactly a happy conclusion to this thoughtful, chilling film.

Director-screenwriter:  Angela Sun.

Producer: Tanya Leal Soto.

Executive producers:  Angela Sun, Gil Elbaz, Elyssa Elbaz, Cathy Tsang, David Tsang.

Directors of photography:  Joseph Ochoa, Francisco Aliwalas, Mark Bella.

Music:  Jack Johnson, Scott Ohtoro, Ben Lear, Vanacore.

Editor: Wendy Shuey.

No rating, 57 minutes.