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// Films // Blue Vinyl

Blue Vinyl

Daniel B. Gold & Judith Helfand / United States / 2002 / 98 ' / English


Sari Gilman
Daniel B. Gold
Daniel B. Gold, Judith Helfand & Julia D. Parker

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Awards & Festivals

2002, Winner, Bermuda International Film Festival, Best Documentary
2002, Winner, High Falls Film Festival, Audience Award
2002, Winner, Santa Cruz Film Festival, Audience Award
2002, Winner, Sundance Film Festival, Best Cinematography
2002, Nominated, Sundance Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize

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A toxic comedy look at vinyl, the world's second largest selling plastic


With humor, hope and a piece of vinyl siding firmly in hand, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand and co-director Daniel B. Gold travel from Helfand’s hometown to America’s vinyl manufacturing capital and beyond in search of answers about the nature of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Her parents’ decision to “re-side” their house with this seemingly benign cure-all for many suburban homes turns into a toxic odyssey with twists and turns that most ordinary homeowners would never dare to take. The result is a humorous but sobering and uniquely personal exploration of the relationship between consumers and industry in the feature-length documentary BLUE VINYL, which won the cinematography award in the documentary competition at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and will broadcast on HBO Sunday May 5th.

Early in the film, Helfand, who readily admits that her last science class was tenth-grade biology, invites two environmental experts from Greenpeace over to her parents’ vinyl-sided home in Long Island to give her and her dad Ted, a crash course on PVC. “Granted, these guys were biased in favor of saving the planet and its inhabitants,” Helfand quips, acknowledging the inevitable bias of advocacy groups, “but I didn't have a problem with that.” But, she soon augments her Greenpeace education with more revelations about vinyl from people such as Billy Bagget—an independent lawyer in Louisiana who has spent the last decade piecing together a conspiracy case against 29 of the largest PVC-producing chemical companies in the world. From Bagget’s office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the film travels to Venice, Italy, where 31 executives from a PVC-producing company are in the midst of a trial, personally accused of manslaughter in the deaths of their employees and polluting the Venice Lagoon. (All of whom were subsequently acquitted.)

What makes BLUE VINYL unique is the balance of humor and horror, facts and anecdotes, and the face off between cynicism and hope. Helfand’s character—and the overall attitude of the film—never shies away from having a point of view. Although the film reveals a complex web of alleged corporate conspiracies and the tragic loss of human life from chemical exposure, BLUE VINYL also poses a refreshingly simple question: “Is it possible to make products that never hurt anyone at any point of their life cycle—when manufactured, when used, or when disposed of?” With this reasonable question, Helfand turns her attention to her parents' modest, vinyl-sided home, where she attempts to convince her mother and father, Florence and Ted, to take the vinyl off the house if she can find a safe—throughout the entire course of its lifecycle—and affordable alternative that fits in with the neighborhood.

People often grow numb at the suggestion of the next toxic threat to fret about, so BLUE VINYL was made to transcend the expected. Never lingering on the fear of what might be lurking in our chemically infused environment, Helfand leads the audience on an international journey using a scrap of blue vinyl siding left over from her parents' renovation as a calling card and conversation starter. The film's quirky, fun and irreverent style—coupled with its clear mission for environmental health and justice—uniquely places it at the nexus between the worlds of entertainment and corporate accountability.


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