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BAG IT: when plastics get personal

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

After watching the trailer above, you may well have already characterized BAG IT as another activist documentary that does that Micheal Moore thing of setting an “everyman” out on a journey of exploration, learning and that final “ah ha” moment. And to some degree, you’d be right. Jeb Berrier (the face of the film) describes himself as an “average American,” one who doesn’t give a lot of thought to the impact of his consumption choices. You may think “Okay, I know where this is going,” and again, you’d be half right.

While director Suzan Beraza does follow in Berrier’s footsteps much like a Moore or a Morgan Spurlock follow in their own, she allows room for the journey to take whatever twists and turns come up. Berrier quickly comes to realize that the plastic bag (which was going to be the focus of his exploration) is merely a symptom of single-use products (like water bottles), and, furthermore, that the litter issue so often cited as a reason for efforts to “ban the bag” is only the tip of the iceberg. Our reliance on use-and-toss plastics has broad impacts on both environmental and human health, and Berrier follows this thread as he discovers it for himself.

His exploration starts off as mainly academic, but it later become deeply personal for Berrier as he and his wife, Anne Reeser, find out they’re expecting their first child. He shifts from interested explorer to a parent-to-be (and, by the end of the film, an actual parent). The world in which his child will live becomes his primary motivation, and the actions he takes to learn more about the effects of plastics acquire an urgency unseen at the beginning of the film.

the berrier family in BAG IT

The Berrier-Reeser family

As with any good documentary, Beraza and Berrier consult a wide variety of experts in the field, from Cradle to Cradle co-author Michael Braungart to consumption activist and educator Annie Leonard to plastic-free blogger Beth Terry (a blogging buddy). And like theĀ predecessors mentioned above, Beraza incorporates humor into the narrative (the effect of BPA on penis size comes immediately to mind).

When I started watching BAG IT, I also thought “Okay, I know where this is going.” I, too, was only half right. The narrative does parallel previous documentary makers, but Beraza trusts her topic and her subject enough to allow the story to move in unexpected directions. It’s clearly not the film the creators were expecting to make, but that ultimately makes it a much stronger exploration of the broad issues surrounding our reliance on cheap plastics, and the effects they have on human and environmental health.

BAG IT is making the film festival rounds, but if getting to a screening is difficult, you can also watch it on the online (and social) movie theatre Constellation TV (for the price of matinee ticket). Each screening there features hosted discussions of the film (Ed Begley Jr. and Dianna Cohen were hosting when I watched).

It’s worth checking out. If you do so, come back and let us know what you thought.

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Image credits: Suzan Beraza