CDFF '16: Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

by Jason Suzuki

Journalist Angela Sun's love for the ocean eventually lead her to rumors of an island made of plastic somewhere out in the Pacific Ocean. Being a filmmaker, she documented her investigation of this supposed island. Instead she finds not an actual island made out of plastic but beaches and significant areas of the ocean polluted with pieces of plastic from shards of toys to discarded nets. The durability of plastic is a plus when in use but has serious consequences once discarded. Broken down pieces get eaten by birds and fish while discarded nets create giant underwater tumbleweeds, snagging upon and tearing apart the reef. Food chains are being affected including the one that humans are a part of.

Angela Sun's documentary is a to-the-point film in the style of a pop exposé utilizing dynamic graphics in order to create an immediate call to action. This is not a meditation on documentary filmmaking or does Sun traffic in conclusions of ambiguity. The film still remains thoughtful and is able to highlight subtle ironies through the combination of audio from pro-plastic PSAs played over footage of bird carcasses filled with plastic net and piles of plastic pieces strewn out over a beach.

Angela Sun uses set ups and pay offs to make her film a breeze to sit through, never risking overstaying its welcome. Two particularly memorable sets ups include Angela coming across a literal message in a bottle from twenty years prior washed up on the shore of the plastic paradise. With a signed name and location she finds the sender of the message, an illustration of the indifference and what has largely been considered an unknowability of where what we throw out, whether with the hopes of reaching out to another or not, really goes. The other set up I want to mention might also be the film's smartest inclusion; an extended episode where Angela assists a study on the amount of bisphonal-A that is transferred through our skin when touch thermal receipt paper. The results should come as no surprise given prior moments of the film, but it leaves the viewer with a grand illustration of plastic's link with product and consumerism.

By inserting herself into the story the film is not just an exposé but incorporates personal questions. It asks questions of practicality and what can be done in the future on an individual level. How much of what we recycle actually gets recycled and what sort of green marketing is actually furthering our complacency? These are the elements that elevate Sun's film and with another thirty minutes it could have had even more of it. But being to the point is admirable and won't allow the film to meander from its main issue.

Plastic Paradise played at the inaugural Colorado Dragon Film Festival.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.