Monday, March 15, 2010

Chemerical: An interview with the film's director, Andrew Nisker

Andrew Nisker is a talented film maker. Fortunately he uses his talent to make films on environmental issues, bringing to our attention some of the problems we tend to ignore.

His creative approach makes these materials more accessible and makes sure we give at least some attention to stuff we usually just don't pay attention to. In his last
film 'Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home', it was all about garbage. His new film, Chemerical, is getting inside the house and looks into the chemicals we use and is an invitation to a parallel world, free of toxics.

Chemerical (or in its full name - Chemerical: Redefining Clean for a New Generation!) is challenging a part of our life that looks as natural as breathing or eating. We tend to see chemicals as part of modern life, progress and a tool that is a must to enable the quality of life we're used to. We rarely think about alternatives and why should we? we're assured that it's safe and that greener alternatives are more expensive and don't offer the same quality.

Well, Nisker's new film show us how wrong we are. Like with Garbage we have here a family challenge and a journey that begins with a lot of skepticism and ends with much more optimism and enthusiasm.

Here's the film's trailer:

I really enjoyed this film and I was hoping Nisker will agree to answer couple of questions about it (just like we did with Garbage) and he did.

Firstly, here's more about the film:

Filmmaker Andrew Nisker puts a new spin on the story of how we treat our planet in his latest film Chemerical. He asks a family to purge their home of everyday chemicals and adopt a chemical free lifestyle. Chemerical then takes the audience on an eye-opening journey through the lifecycle of everyday chemicals the family uses.

Chemerical digs deep to explore the consequences of living in a chemical laden nation by raising the following questions: What are the chemicals doing to us and the environment? Do we need the chemicals we use on a daily basis? What would happen if an average family kicked the chemical habit for three months? Would their health improve? What effect will living a chemical free lifestyle have on the environment?

Sparking awareness through an interesting and inspiring dialogue of an issue that affects the lives of everyone; Chemerical will seek to catalyze a change in behavior. Focusing on the lives and foibles of a family that subsists on a chemical dependent lifestyle, the film will relate and share their story as a basis for connecting the dots between our consumer choices and community environmental concerns.

And now to the interview with Andrew Nisker:

What made you focus your film on chemicals at home?

The inspiration for Chemerical came from research I did during the production of Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home. In that film, I had a family keep their waste for three months to connect the dots between the pollution we create at home and to show how their lifestyle affects the environment.

One of the areas we explored, for Garbage!, were the effects that cleaning products have on our water and the environment. Through that analysis we discovered that waste water and air quality in the family home are affected by cleaning and personal care products. I thought this subject alone was worthy of further examination and I came up with the idea to have another family rid their home of all toxic cleaners and personal care products and figure out how to live without them or make their own.”

What impact would you like this movie to have? What you will consider as a success?

I want all of us to start to question the products we use. Read labels and become more educated about things we "trust" just because we are familiar with the brand.

To have people connect our health and the status of environment with the way we clean our homes and bodies, would make a huge difference on the toxic load we are all facing. On our website, we encourage everyone who sees the film to let us know how many toxic products they have removed from their homes. Wouldn't it be amazing if that number grew into the millions and we could quantify the impact of the film that way.

Getting rid of toxins in our homes, schools and places we like to play is a very important step in creating a healthy society.

Your last film, Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home, was on the challenge another urban family, the McDonalds, took on itself. Which family had a more difficult time - the McDonalds or the Goodes?

The Goodes. Garbage is something you can see piling up. It's tangible. Toxins, which bio accumulate in your tissues and organs are not only hard to measure for an average family, people generally believe they are harmless because they don't feel sick. That is the underlying problem with this issue, once you start to feel the effects of these toxins, it's often to late. Then all of sudden, your doctor will say, "now that you have Cancer, I think you should remove these toxic products from you home during your treatment".

Often, it's human nature to not react to anything unless it's a crisis. The Goodes, were slow going because they felt fine. That was until they got rid of eveything and realized how toxic they really were.

If chemicals are so bad for us and if the alternatives can be equally satisfying and even cheaper - how come we don't see more families getting rid of their toxic cleaners, personal care products and cosmetics?

Because they have not seen Chemerical yet! LOL.

Seriously, people generally do what they are sold. Until non toxic cleaners are marketed the way toxic cleaners are sold, it will be an uphill battle. The information is there, people just have to start asking questions. Like I said earlier, why would somebody even think to question their shampoo that they have been using for twenty years? I didn't and it was only until I made Garbage! that I started to ask questions about my lifestyle and the impact it was having on the my health and the environment. Using tools that you can find at the is great place to start.

(Nisker on the left with Alain Menard of the Green Beaver Co.)

In your film, the Goode family is focusing mainly on moving to creating their own cleaning products and even cosmetics - do you think that this option is more viable for families comparing with buying greener options like the Green
Beaver products?

It depends on how much effort and time families want to spend on these issues. I think the hardest thing for most families will be to find replacements for their personal care products. Not because they are "hard to find", but because they feel different.

No matter what, changing the way we feel is often very hard to get used to when it comes to smelling different, feeling a different clean; it's all very personal. Either way, going toxic free means a whole host of choices when it comes to personal care but once you figure that out, you will never go back to the toxic stuff.

As for price point, what you save today you pay for tomorrow with higher health care costs. Why short change your health? Besides, making your own hair jell or toothpaste is much cheaper then buying it made in the store.

What's your take on big companies like Clorox that begin to market green lines of products such as GreenWorks?

I applaud them. They were the first big company to step up and say "hey, we need to start changing the way people clean". But we have to remember that these products are by no means perfect.

As Collin Dunn reported on ..: " They say their alkyl polyglucoside comes from coconut oil and their ethanol and glycerine from corn oil; while that's better than using petroleum-derived alternatives, there are still major issues with rainforest habitat destruction relating to harvesting coconut oil and all sorts of issues with corn-based ethanol."

Last year, in a recession, the green cleaning products sector grew 35%. This is trend that isn't going away and companies that jump on the bandwangon, that have an enormous amount of shelf space in stores across the nation are leading the way in educating consumers about their choices more then I ever will. Although not perfect, atleast these products raise awareness and are good entry point for people to start green cleaning. Hopefully, the formula will keep improving and people will in process will discover a less toxic way to clean.

Do you think taking action on personal basis is enough when it comes to chemicals or we need more regulation to make a real change?

Regulation is paramount BUT why wait? Do something about it now and vote with your pocketbook. For the sake of your family's health, get rid of those toxins. Yes, if every family went toxic free we wouldn't have to wait for regulators. The factories who create these toxins would shut down and our overall health would improve. The revolution starts at home.

I guess you came to this film with prior knowledge about this issue. Still, what did you learn during the process the shocked you the most?

1) How easy it is to find non toxic alternatives to our toxic products.

2) The lack of regulations that protect consumers. This website is the perfect place to get more information about our fight for better regulations. 3) The power of advertising. How we have been marketed "solutions" that create more problems. Using advertising in a positive way, we decided to package this film as the anti-brand.

We created the Chemerical brand, which is a combination of the words chemical, America, and miracle. We thought this film would be an opportunity for people to re-think the way they clean their homes, and it would be our opportunity to re-brand the way we all clean. After all, the way we clean and learn to clean has been shaped by how everything is marketed, which started in the 1940s. The creation of the soap opera brought an avalanche of cleaning ads into the home, targeted at housewives.

We have animations in the film, and what we’ve done is gone back to the old cartoon ads, that used to pitch cleaning products in the home, and we’ve given them a fresh look. We’ve created a new Chemerical family with a new pitch person, and we’re re-defining clean for a new generation through the film. These ads are a tongue-in-cheek ode to the way we clean.

What lessons from the film do you personally implement?

All. I avoid products that don't have ingredient labels on them for starters. I always choose non toxic alternatives when it comes to my personal care products, house cleaners and cosmetics my family uses. Most importantly I share what I have learned with others :)

What is going to be your next project (I have a feeling that it's going to be something with food..)?

Yes, you got it. Garbage! and Chemerical have focused mainly on how our everyday behaviors effect both our outdoor and indoor environments. Now it's time to focus on what we put in our bodies. There have been a tremendous amount of FOOD films made in the past few years, but I haven't seen anything like what I want to do. All I can say is if you liked Garbage! and Chemerical you will love the new film.

Thanks, Andrew!

You can read more about Chemerical at the film's website -, where you can also order a copy online.


Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting sustainable reading!