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‘Bag It’ DVD Packaged With Message in Mind

Because of its message, the documentary "Bag It" required filmmakers to say both "Do what I do" and "Do what I show." A shrink-wrapped DVD was out of the question.
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So you make this movie about the evils of disposable plastic, see, and it comes time to distribute the DVD. So you've got a plastic disc tucked inside a plastic case with a veneer of shrink-wrap as an aperitif.

Nice way to get the message across.

Recognizing the hypocrisy such packaging might suggest, the makers of the new documentary Bag It looked for containers and distributors that would honor the spirit of the film. Eventually, director Suzan Beraza says, her company, Reel Thing Films, found an appropriate DVD tray made of starch, cellulose and water, and produced by the Dutch company PaperFoam. The trays are the same size as those ever-flimsier plastic cases commonly used in many movie rental stores (but not by the Netflix and Red Box DVD services). Besides being made of biodegradable goo, the trays happen to weigh a lot less than traditional cases and cut down on the carbon footprint of shipping the movies around the country.

"We found a distributor and said up front that we cannot package the movie in plastic," Beraza recalls. "They were OK with that but said, 'We might need to shrink wrap it.'" Beraza's voice trails off and her head drops in a hangdog pose and continues. "They said, 'Some outlets won't take it if it's not shrink-wrapped.' Of course the DVD itself is plastic, but the whole message of this film is we have to rethink, and so our stance is that it's at least a little step." Ultimately, the decision was to take that step and let the DVDs go au naturel.

Such are the travails of the idealistic cineastes we routinely discuss in's Moving Pictures blog. It is tough sometimes to walk the walk an advocacy movie talks, as Beraza and Bag It producer Michelle Hill recently noted when they brought theirs to Miller-McCune's home base, Santa Barbara, Calif. The showing and their appearance came courtesy of local nonprofits and the sustainability-oriented clothing company Horny Toad, not-unusual sources of distribution funding for low-budget advocacy movies disdained by most multiplexes.

The showing also came shortly before the California Legislature — in the annual Sacramento bacchanalia known as the last week of the session — voted on a controversial bill to ban plastic bags in stores and to require a charge for paper ones. Although some countries, including China, have banned bags, the California legislation would have made it the first U.S. state to follow suit. But the bill failed in the state Senate at the session's 11th hour, spurring proponents to promise a patchwork of local bans across the state.

Notwithstanding its name, Bag It calls for more than an end to single-use plastic bags; it examines disposable plastics generally and finds them to be ocean-filling, bird-killing, baby-poisoning and unnecessary trash. "It would be great if the cost of plastic was its true cost," Hill says. "But the cost is not currently being passed on to the consumer financially, but in a much darker way." (She's only slightly less dismissive of paper bags, which come with their own ecological price tag, a problem that reuseable bags neatly sidestep.)

Plastic bags are one end product of an oil-refining process that puts countless tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and they morph into another huge environmental villain after their average 12 minutes of practical use have ended. Still, bags aren't the beginning or end of the globe's environmental woes, and the film as a whole isn't anti-plastic but anti-"stupid" plastic.

"It seems small among all the other environmental issues," Hill says, "but if we could just change this, we might be able to start changing the others."