Trashed In Paradise: Why We All Need To Start Listening To Jeremy Irons

“I wanted to make a documentary about something that needed to be talked about. I spend much of my energies telling fictitious stories. This is a very true story. An important one.”
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“I wanted to make a documentary about something that needed to be talked about. I spend much of my energies telling fictitious stories. This is a very true story. An important one.”

When someone like Jeremy Irons speaks, you figure people will listen. Because he’s Jeremy goddamn Irons, top tier A-lister, Best Actor Oscar winner (Reversal of Fortune). As in Dead Ringers, The Lion King, Die Hard 3 Jeremy Irons, who can even make a papal wardrobe (The Borgias) look passable.

So you bet, if I was making a movie (or in this case a documentary), then Jeremy Irons would be up there as my first choice go-to, like he’d be for most everybody, like he was for Candida Brady.

Candida Brady is the director of last year’s eco documentary, Trashed. Brady describes herself as a mother worried “about the effect our toxic legacy is having on our children”, where researching for the project compelled her to make Trashed, “come what may.”

Which leads me to one very simple question:

Trashed, starring Jeremy Irons; this important true story that had to be made come what may; have you heard of it and seen it? Because I hadn’t. At least, I hadn’t until recently visiting a film festival (the IFFP) on the Greek island of Patmos. And it was after the screening that I got to interview Jeremy Irons and admit that his new movie had been new news to me.

Yes, a little awkward. But also telling. And rallying.

So let me save you the same admission, tell you about Trashed, and compel you to see it, too.

A PARADISE CALLED PATMOS; A MOVIE CALLED TRASHED 

Trashed screened on the third day of third annual film festival on Patmos. It was a day where a troop of SPF 50’d children had been combing the beaches for discarded water bottles and lollipop sticks, before then turning them into pieces of artwork that went under (the right kind of) hammer in the festival’s charity auction that evening.

The setting of Patmos is rather perfect for screening an eco docu like Trashed, because Patmos is an island paradise, an Aegean gem, where crystal clear waters are cut by diagonal blades of sunlight that still shimmer 20 metres down. The glancing eye of a visitor might miss the island’s landfill challenge or ongoing beach and water clear up, but it’s there and happening. And it’s very likely because you’re so accosted by nature’s beauty, on such a beautiful island, that you feel more aware of the care we should be taking with our planet, and how we might be quite seriously trashing it.

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Skala, from above (Patmos island)

Of course, this open-your-eyes island life vantage is rarely afforded. Too often, we’re all too busy marching through our every-days with our heads down and our thoughts everywhere else.

Which is where Jeremy Irons, Candida Brady and Trashed come in. Irons is plainly aware of how profile and celebrity can force people to slow their march, to stop, stare, and be drawn closer to the flame.

“I feel it’s incumbent on people who have a profile to raise the profile of these issues. We have no agenda. We don’t have to answer to shareholders. We artists just get to look at the world around us, free of bias, so we get to see it pretty clearly.”

And what is clear is this: Trashed is a documentary that needs to be seen, that needs to enter the mainstream. Because we’re (still) trashing the planet. We’ve heard this enough to stop thinking about the implications, to start humming to what’s become white noise - but Trashed rearticulates the message, volunteering a not just inconvenient but downright harrowing set of truths.

Our life of making and chucking away plastic anything should come with a multi-generational cancer-causing health warning. Really, truly, it should.

This is why Candida felt compelled to make this movie. This is why Jeremy Irons is a UN Goodwill Ambassador (of the Food and Agriculture Organization) and served as Executive Producer on Trashed. It’s also why Irons didn’t just lend name and voice and simply commit a couple of studio days on voiceover duties.

“I wanted to be the voice of the audience, to really be there, in it, the one asking the questions the audience would like to ask.”

Consequently, Irons very deliberately puts himself in the frame, in the narrative cross hairs. He is not just our guide but our eye witness, travelling from Lebanon to San Francisco, via the UK, Iceland and Vietnam. The globe-trotting is the opposite of glossy. It demonstrates the scale of the issue and how heart-felt the matter is for Irons, Brady, and all involved.

This kind of sincerity makes for what the critics like to call “brave” documentary-making. And certainly, Trashed doesn’t hold back on the heavy punches. There are shock tactics and scenes. When Irons is feeling it, you feel it too. And that’s maybe as it should be, because to leave a lasting impression sometimes requires candour and the suspension of sugar-coating and niceties. Trashed becomes a movie to face up to.

THE TRUTH IS… IT AIN’T EASY SELLING GREEN 

“Money is to be made in recycling. We have too many incinerators in England and Europe - what are laughingly called waste-to-energy incinerators”, says Irons. “They are in fact waste-to-waste. But policies and new methods of recycling can be put in place. Some of this is very simple to do.”

We chuck away, and it becomes landfill, hidden away, out of sight and mind. Or we try and incinerate what we chuck, and it becomes ash, but then what do you do with the ash, which, as Irons emphasises, is simply a different kind of waste. What happens to all the smoke that hopefully just blows away? A big sky full of air. A big sea full of water. Surely our waste would dilute? Wrong. The long-short is the opposite. Nature doesn’t dilute pollution, but re-concentrates it. Every plastic bag we bury or burn goes back into the environment, and back into the food chain, which goes back into our mouths. Whatever goes into the air and soil and sea goes back into us. The fish, the livestock, their diets becoming our diets, becoming carcinogenic metals (the most bad-ass kind of nasties called dioxins) that we can’t excrete and that accumulate in increments, rather like a time bomb ticking down.

So recycle or die becomes the message of Trashed, because we’re killing ourselves by not.

And yet… it ain’t easy selling green.

Green still creates an audible groan. Eco messages still fall on too many deaf ears. Until the sky falls or the seas rise enough to start building Arks and grabbing our snorkels, until we have palpable and all-too-late evidence, then the great danger is that we’ll mostly continue to think and feel and behave in all ways short-termist. By consequence, governments don’t push the green agenda because they don’t have to, because green issues don’t sway voters or win elections. Green still gets dismissed with a wafting hand, the preoccupations of tree huggers and tofu munchers.

There are occasions where green gets cut-through. An Inconvenient Truth created global alarm about global warming, but that movie message has thinned since its 2006 moment at the podium.

The truth is, with our goldfish memories and inclination to swerve inconvenience; we need to be frequently reminded of how we’re trashing the planet. It’s only through reminder and prompting that we’re likely to stop trashing and start fixing.

Trashed becomes a fresh reminder and aid memoir: we cannot keep treating our world the way we’ve been treating it.

And this fresh reminder, where and when it is seen, is affecting change. Irons points out, “Those who see Trashed, some are decision-makers, many can be influencers. Trashed screened in New York, where Mayor Bloomberg subsequently made a statement that from now on, all plastics of whatever type, would be recycled.”

Even Jeremy Irons can only open so many doors, hearts and minds to a set of ideas that needs to become a better way of life. The trick is: how do you get everyone to see it? Until attending the Patmos film festival, I awkwardly admit, I hadn’t. “Is Trashed creating the reaction you’d hoped?”, I ask. “Is it yet being talked about the way you’d hoped?” Irons is very open in response. “It’s always difficult to know.”

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THE DISCOVERABILITY BOOGEYMAN 

Go to IMDB and Trashed gets an 8.6 out of 10, having so far generated… one ‘user review’. It also got 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The stats are great… but you don’t have to search deep in cyberspace to establish that Trashed hasn’t yet gone supernova. Trashed’s one user review on IMDB is from a guy who watched it at the Cork Film Festival last Autumn, who calls it “well intentioned” but who felt at times “like standing up and going ‘OK I GET IT!! LET'S MOVE ON!!’" (The fact is, of course, societally we’re not “getting it” and can’t move on until we stop trashing.)

It’s says everything about our Ctrl-Alt-Comment times, when a 0.20 second performing Google search for “Trashed” takes you one click away from first-stop site IMDB - where the first batch of words you read includes a guy who saw it in Cork and felt frustrated by how Trashed reinforces its message.

Stay on IMDB and you’ll discover Guggenheim and Gore’s 2006 global warming warning, An Inconvenient Truth, has 497 user reviews. It has of course had 7 years to generate those reviews, but there’s no question that at its time of release An Inconvenient Truth cut through and gained the kind of mainstream attention that got it shown in company lunch breaks and school classrooms. And even 497 user reviews is modest the moment you step outside the docu genre. Blockbusters like Avengers Assemble have nearly 1500 user reviews on IMDB.

We live in a digital age, the ‘Age of the Share’, where a mercurially chosen few find fame and following, and where most “content” fizzles into nothing. “Discoverability” is the challenge, in this vast and misty digital sea of so much. The movie, music and publishing industries are all kept sleepless and nocturnal by the “dicoverability” boogeyman. Because he can neither be understood nor caged. Because “The Discovered” is not necessarily based on criteria like quality or importance. The absurdly trivial catches on. Sneezing panda’s, Clit Lit and South Korean pop videos become global idea viruses and pop cultural tent poles.

‘PSY – GANGNAM STYLE’ is closing in on 2 billion views on YouTube and nearly 8 million ‘Likes’. Considerably more effort than clicking a ‘thumbs up’ icon, over 26,000 people have felt sufficiently compelled to write a Customer review on amazon.com for Fifty Shades of Grey.

Irons is entirely right when he says, “There is a clear feeling from a growing number of people that the time has come for us all to start to try and change our ways, and to endeavour to live a more careful life."

Yet society still inclines to mobilize en masse and devote its time to the pop culturally trivial and inconsequential. The challenge with a movie like Trashed is how you get a subject of significance to not just ripple but shockwave the Zeitgeist, to get as many people to see it as have read Fifty Shades or done the Gangnam pony dance. This is where you and I come in. To repeat Irons, “The time has come.”

TIME TO SUIT UP 

Don’t we all want to leave this place better than we found it; the planet, an heirloom past on in reasonable shape? A toxic legacy is no kind of legacy. While we’re here, don’t we want to achieve something of worth, make the odd contribution that’s real, tangible, even noble? Sure, we might not be able to be noble every day. We may have bills to pay that urge us to pursue things more mundanely every-day, but surely on some days, we can aspire to making a lasting difference. And surely every day, we can recycle, which will all add up to making a genuine difference too.

A recycling culture isn’t as difficult or as overwhelming as it might still feel. Sure, big business with deep pockets and political connections will resist society’s efforts to change. But politics and big business still has to move with the social tide. We need to create new, stronger currents.

We’re not yet indignant enough. We haven’t yet demonized apathy toward recycling, or vilified the daily practices that don’t support it.

Recycling needs to be made simpler for people, the way smoking was suddenly made hard. “You can’t smoke in here. Get outside in the cold if you want to smoke. Oh, it’s raining? Good.” Smoking has been socially marginalised, the act now seen as foolish, reckless, selfish, stupid.

Even with a piece of dream-casting like Irons, there’s still no absolute guarantee that any movie and message is going to be seen and heard.

A green message, about conservation, recycling and the consequences of not recycling: this stuff doesn’t tend to fan the flames of fanboy frenzy, get the whispering classes yabbering, or trend in Cyberspace like a new Bond or Batman movie. Assemble the Avengers and everyone will get giddy and the Box Office tills will trill to a note in the billion dollars register. But make a documentary about trash, which makes us feel not like superheroes but planet-trashing parasites… well, it’s a tougher selling flavour of Kool Aid.

Only, Trashed is a Kool Aid we need to drink and a message we must heed.  It’s action out of awareness time. Avenger-like, we need to assemble, to suit up, as individuals, and as a society. We need to watch movies like Trashed, start being smarter and behaving better - in order to save this planet and give us any shot of there being a real-life sequel. We need to listen to Jeremy Irons:

“We have to build up general public consensus. We have to change our ways. We have to build a movement about an unacceptable state of affairs.”

In so many aspects of life, we don’t live ‘In the Now’. We live in ‘The Past’, reflecting nostalgically or regretfully. We live in ‘The Future’, worrying about the ‘what if?’ and planning the ‘what might be’. Yet when it comes to recycling, we seem to suddenly ignore both past and future. Recycling, acting today, can help remedy our past gross misdemeanours and help salvage a brighter future.

Before the Patmos screening, Trashed had passed me by. Only, it doesn’t have to have passed any of us by, because it only came out late last year and it isn’t even yet out on rental.

So consider this a Bat sign in the night sky. Let’s get Trashed trending. Let’s ensure Jeremy Irons and Candida Brady are heard and that their movie is seen… “come what may”. Tweet @TrashedFilm and this link to the trailer. Then VOD it through Vimeo for $5.99. It’s coffee shop money, money more wisely spent, certainly worth 98 minutes of your time.

See it, tweet it, trend it. Please. And if you don’t, I might just tell Jeremy. And you can trust me, you don’t want that kind of awkward.

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