Paradise isn’t lost, as film shows we can mend our plastic-using ways

Filmmaker Angela Sun

Filmmaker Angela Sun

By Lawrence C. Ochoa

I must admit my initial interest in “Plastic Paradise” sparked because one of its cinematographers is my brother, JB, before he became a Yahoo! sports producer.

About four or five professional videographers filmed the documentary for Angela Sun in a span of seven years. This film is being featured at the Asian Film Festival in San Diego November 16, 2 p.m. at the Encinitas Public Library.

The film documents Sun’s travels to the Midway Atoll widely known especially to the environmentalists as the “Midway Garbage Patch.” Midway Atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef surrounding a lagoon and is between Hawaii and Japan. This is where seabirds like the albatross find their home base.

Unfortunately Midway scientists affirmed that approximately five tons of plastics end up in the corals every day and into the stomachs of these birds.

An Emmy-award winning film editor, JB Ochoa said that “filming on Midway Atoll was definitely the most eye-opening experience for me. It’s an insanely beautiful island, but covered with trash from around the world. Some of the trash had English words printed on it; some had Chinese, some Japanese. There’s also a visitors’ center where some of the garbage is displayed. One of the items I remember the most was a toy action figure (It was ‘Rocksteady’ from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series). I know this because I owned one as a kid. I don’t remember what happened to it, but I’m sure it’s probably floating around the Pacific Ocean somewhere.”

JB emphasized that “I’m definitely more aware of all the plastic I use now. I try to eliminate using plastic bags when I go to the grocery store. It’s unsettling how much literally gets dumped into the ocean. And it’s really unfortunate to realize that there are tons of people out there trying to clean up after me”.

At the movie premiere last month at the Lamaelle Theater in Santa Monica, Angela Sun conducted a post-film Q and A. She said she encountered scientists, industry leaders, legislators and activists who educated her on what our society’s consumption of disposable plastic is doing to our oceans, and what it may be doing to our health.

At the Q&A Angela went into detail about how much environmental awareness has spread since she had started the film, and emphasized how important it was for the audience to follow through on what they had learned about. “I think that it starts organically, but I think the awareness and education is still in the growing stages.” She said she’d like pre-ks to teens see the film so that the conversation about preserving our planet starts very early.

“You guys are also owners of it (awareness) too”, she told the audience. “It starts with awareness, then industry, then industry, then legislation, explains Angela. She ensured that the audience tries to practice out what they had learned in order to make those key differences she had mentioned. She was adamant on her lifestyle changes and that the importance of the film goes beyond the theatre.

Her exposure to the Garbage Patch stretches throughout years, from the shock of discovering the island that ironically in 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt declared the islands a seabird conservation area, were littered with dead albatross. Scientists stationed at the island had shown her the extent of man-made environmental damage. A series of footages were grossly showing birds’ internal organs filled with plastic covers, little toys, threads, etc.

The film is successful in mobilizing the uninformed about the global impact of ignoring how one plastic bag could affect the chain of life in the long run. “Plastic even if re-cycled, still is plastic,” the film echoed this subliminal message. The video images were a surreal reminder of what could be man’s last hours on earth – heaps and heaps of garbage affecting our survival.

“The huge amount of dead albatross chicks on that island is messed up” said filmmaker Ochoa. “The island is a breeding ground for these birds and since the island is covered in plastic waste, the albatross’ parents are mistakenly feeding plastic to their young. As a result, a lot of them dies. One of the scientists working there walked around with us one day. Every dead bird we came across had a handful of random plastic pieces inside them – we know because he cut them open in front of us. Fishing line, broken pieces from lighters, even a dry-erase marker cap were some of the things we were finding inside these birds. It was pretty gross,” he added.

Ochoa told The FilAm Los Angeles: “I guess my perception of where trash goes was most affected. Now when I trash a plastic cup or a pen that doesn’t work, I can picture it landing on some beautiful island somewhere. Honestly, I still make mistakes all time – mostly because I’m ‘too busy’ to make the right choices. But I do think about it more than I did before, so i guess that’s a start.”

Cinematographer JB Ochoa

Cinematographer JB Ochoa

Angela Sun said, “We should make sure we can utilize our technological resources as an outlet to spread the aforementioned awareness. We see how these social changes make the world a different place, with different social issues, and I can’t see why the same can’t be done with plastic. Sure, it’s not as sexy as saving a polar bear or a panda”, she joked, “but I was hoping the film was to hit home that these things are affecting our bodies”.

One of the most rewarding things for Angela is to see the eyes of the viewer’s light up, “or young people get really excited and want to change things, and write a petition. It starts in the grassroots; instead of just waiting for change in the government. I just try to stay optimistic as I can, and that’s the only thing that I can do, and you want to protect young people who are so excited in watching this (…) and this is what constantly spurs me forward.”

This young producer believes that the ideas would spread throughout; her documentary has received numerous award from film festivals from Boston to Hawaii to San Francisco.
“There seems to not be a better time for it, enough time has passed for the public to soak in the realizations that our time on this world is limited and the lack of direct action being taken, shortening that limited time-span, and we have to utilize our surroundings and resources to maximize the chance we have of preserving the planet,” Sun said.
Does the cinematographer think the movie will have an impact?

“I think the younger generations are doing a great job in breaking bad habits that were passed down from older generations. And overall I do think there will be substantial change in my lifetime. Where I live now (San Jose) plastic bags have been prohibited from being offered in grocery stores – that’s a huge start. Hybrid/electric cars are becoming very standard and seems like they are getting more affordable. I think some plastics are necessary right now, but I definitely have seen a difference already,” Ochoa said.

A mountain of trash mostly plastic

A mountain of trash mostly plastic

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