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No Impact Man: Earth-saving ego trip



Another Michael Moore documentary? Well, no, but it's accurate to say that No Impact Man is cut from the same inflammatory cloth.

Like Moore, Morgan Spurlock and others, Colin Beavan is one of the new breed of ego-tripping documentarians, ably mixing sincerity with showmanship. With No Impact Man, he's made a nonfiction film based on an idea that turned into a blog and then into a book and will soon be transformed into a fictionalized Hollywood feature. Whew! That's a lot of mileage for a project that's only a couple of years old, but Beavan is nothing if not adept at selling himself.

The title refers, of course, to Colin himself; his plan was to minimize his impact on the environment for one year. That meant no motorized transportation (including elevators), no food that had to be shipped in from somewhere else (local produce only), no electricity (clothes had to be washed by soaking them in the bathtub for two hours), and -- yikes -- no toilet paper. Of course, for the project to work, Colin had to get the cooperation of his wife Michelle, a writer for BusinessWeek. And it's clear from the start that Michelle isn't as gung-ho about the idea as her husband. A city girl if ever there existed one, Michelle lives for designer clothes, fancy expressos, and expensive makeup. Admitting that she doesn't care for nature, she's not thrilled when Colin purchases a mess of worms to break down the garbage in his makeshift compost bin or when she's required to give up meat and live solely off vegetables and fruit obtained at the local farmers market.

Described by acquaintances as "bourgeois fucks," Colin and Michelle can be an infuriating couple, he with his frequent moodiness and she with her occasional shallowness. But as the project progresses, they both relax and adapt to their new lifestyle, which, among other pluses, gives them more opportunities to spend quality time with their button-cute daughter Isabella. In the end, No Impact Man -- both the movie and the project -- is little more than a stunt (otherwise, why only a year instead of a lifetime?), but its message is admirable, its tactics are amusing, and its family dynamics are intriguing.

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