“Plastic Planet” is that rare call-to-action documentary that might rouse viewers to do something more than nod their heads in agreement. A methodically researched yet engaging examination of the environmental and health problems associated with plastic, this wide-ranging warning cry uses an intelligent investigative style along with animation and vintage footage to drive home its message. Though helmer Werner Boote indulges in a few Michael Moore-like encounters, his likable personality makes him an appealing proselytizer. A September Austrian release unspooled on 28 screens; offshore specialty houses will benefit, but ancillary will have the biggest impact.
As a child, Boote was captivated by his grandfather’s fulsome praise for the wonders of plastic. It seemed everything could be made from the magic substance, rendering modern life easier, cheaper, even healthier. The helmer starts his investigation by talking with PlasticsEurope prexy John Taylor, who largely repeats the lines Boote’s grandfather told him decades earlier. Educational shorts from the ’50s and nostalgia-inducing vintage Tupperware commercials further convey the wonders of plastic and its 500-year shelf life.
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However, as Boote learns, the incorruptibility of plastic is largely industry hype. The problem is that there’s no regulation of what goes into plastics, which are routinely combined with toxic additives. So while that beach bucket in the garage might be around another four centuries, part of it is already disintegrating and entering the food chain.
Boote visits a Chinese manufacturer of plastic blow-up globes — a fortuitous metaphor — which turn out to be heavily adulterated with mercury and the toxic compound Bisphenol A. In Italy, he interviews Beatrice Bortolozzo, whose father, Gabriele, was a kind of Karen Silkwood, drawing attention to chemicals being pumped into the Venice lagoon. Interspersed with these and other scenes are sped-up vignettes of families from different social and ethnic groups emptying their homes of a phenomenal number of plastic products.
The docu also addresses the pollution problem, from the now plastic-strewn desert where “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot to the Pacific Ocean, where Charles Moore reveals an enormous patch of water thick with bottle caps and other plastic debris. There is a positive note toward the end, with a discussion of degradable bioplastics, but as Boote points out, even were the world to switch tomorrow, we’d still have billions of tons of the old stuff sitting around for another few centuries.
The docu’s cumulative effect is bound to make auds think about the kinds of plastics they use and how they dispose of them. While the topic is serious, Boote makes it playful through his own humor and Peter Hoehsl’s manga-style animation. Though shot in 15 countries around the globe, the lensing has an attractive cohesiveness. For some inexplicable reason, the narrator in the international-release version maintains Boote’s first-person p.o.v., though it’s obvious the voice does not belong to the helmer.