HIFF Review: ‘Plastic Paradise’

Oct. 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY NINA WU / nwu@staradvertiser.com

Los Angeles filmmaker Angela Sun never considered herself an environmentalist or crunchy granola, just an ocean enthusiast who loves swimming, snorkeling, surfing and scuba diving.

In her documentary, “Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Sun goes on a journey to Midway Atoll to see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch firsthand.



World Premiere

Screens at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, and 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18; also 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Hilo Palace Theater (Hawaii island), 5:15 p.m. Oct. 25 at Waimea Theater (Kauai) and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the St. Regis Hotel Princeville (Kauai)


For those who have never heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s a big island of trash floating in the Pacific about halfway between California and Hawaii, and said to be at least twice the size of Texas. It’s not just on the surface, but under the surface of the water, too, making its way through the ocean food chain.

For those who’ve seen Suzan Beraza’s “Bag it: Is your life too plastic,” this film does not introduce anything entirely new. You will see dead Laysan albatross birds with their stomachs cut open to reveal guts full of plastic. This time, in the opening of the film, you’ll actually witness one being dissected, with a plastic marker cap being pulled out of its stomach. That might turn some people off, but it is the stark reality.

Still, Sun offers a fresh, new voice for her generation and has made a film that can appeal to the masses, including those who’ve never heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To her credit, Sun delves into the history of plastic and how it was invented, as well as how it has become so ubiquitous in our daily lives.

She also examines the science behind the damaging health and environmental effects of plastic, which never breaks down and essentially, “never goes away.” She explains POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, and how they can be ingested, ending up in the fish we eat on restaurant tables.

She’s not afraid to be hands-on, diving into the ocean at Midway to help retrieve heavy nets that are damaging the coral reef below, or submitting herself to a blood test to determine the levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) before and after scrunching up a thermal paper receipt in her hand.

She interviews a number of scientists, professors and researchers, as well as Capt. Charles Moore, who first stumbled on the garbage patch on the way back from a yacht race, along with Jean-Michel Cousteau, Andy Keller, founder of ChicoBag and North Shore singer Jack Johnson.

She even tries to confront bigwigs from the American Chemistry Council and goes to a plastics industry conference, only to be escorted out.

I give Sun points for trying to have a dialogue with the “other side” to balance out her documentary, but it’s clear from the beginning that she’s not going to have much of one with what appears to be primarily men dressed in black suits (and faces blurred out).

Historical, black-and-white footage including American commercials extolling the virtues of plastic products are interwoven with the mound of trash piling up at Midway Atoll, on-the-street interviews and images of plastic bags wafting away in the wind.

The documentary covers a lot of ground in just 57 minutes, but does seem to drag at times.

There’s a nice side story, where a letter in a bottle ends up on the shores of Midway, and gets returned to the elementary school in Long Beach, Calif., where it was originally written (and coincidentally, not far from Sun’s own home).

Whether you’re already aware of the environmental damage plastic does or not, this documentary is worth watching as a reminder of how our everyday actions have a lasting impact on our Earth and our oceans.
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