Trash Talk with Alley & Em
Young Filmmaking Duo Discuss Their Film4Climate Short “Garbaggage”
Emily McDevitt, a rising staffer at Hooligan, recently co-produced and starred in Garbaggage, an independent short film for the Film4Climate Global Video Competition. Launched under Connect4Climate, the World Bank Group’s global partnership program, the competition challenged young filmmakers worldwide to bring their unique perspective to the conversation of climate change, while inspiring action, new solutions and change across the globe.
Written, directed and co-produced by McDevitt’s best friend and longtime collaborating partner Alexandra Leinweber, Garbaggage illustrates the dangerous “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon of the unnecessary disposable product waste polluting our oceans — hello, coffee culture, this film’s calling you out.
Garbaggage has been selected as a competition finalist. You can watch it and cast your vote for it here. The #CheckYourImpact tagline also serves as Leinweber and McDevitt’s call-to-action on social media.
We sat down with the two budding filmmakers for a conversation about climate change and the making of Garbaggage.
Where did the idea for Garbaggage come from?
AL: The idea was solidified while watching a video clip of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I saw an island of water bottles, plastic cups, yogurt containers, cutlery, boxes and plastic bags galore just collecting in the ocean – items we use and dispose of every day. I knew it was the subject to address.
EM: The fact that this immense trash island is floating in the Pacific is heartbreaking. What’s more, it is often overlooked or forgotten. Since these plastics are broken up into micro particles suspended in just the top feet of water, and because it is not visible via satellite, divers and boats travel through these waters without even realizing they’re moving through plastic. This encompasses the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon that Alley and I wanted to address in this film.
Why did this particular environmental issue resonate with you for a short film subject?
AL: Ocean water covers ¾ of our planet and holds 97% of the planet’s water supply. It produces more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorbs the most carbon from it. To me, the ocean is the most magical thing we have access to and we have a responsibility to protect it.
EM: The way this story and its message moves from land to sea really spoke to me as an ocean lover, scuba diver and lifelong New Yorker – but it doesn’t take a local to tell you that Coney Island and all of the city beaches are becoming increasingly weighed down by trash each year.
What type of sources and research were entailed? Did making this film teach you more than you knew going into it?
AL: The brainstorming stage of this project was a huge learning period. My research spanned testimonials, papers, and documentaries on the environment, most notably Racing Extinction. I wanted to not only address the Sustainability Goals outlined by the UN, but also one that had a true, long-term impact. My original ideas circulated around water preservation, but upon speaking with biologists working with city water and sustainability projects, I understood that the real issue to tackle was water pollution. It was extremely sobering to realize how our disposable culture impacts sea life; just last week 29 beached whales in Germany were found with stomachs full of plastic. There is also a growing body of research that substantiates the connection between plastic pollution and our increasing ocean surface water temperatures, which impacts climate change, too. Ultimately, my research connected me with other filmmakers dedicated to improving the environment and raising awareness. It is truly a proactive and passionate global community with stories that seek to reverse our destructive impact.
Talk about why you chose the “silent film” approach?
AL: Ocean pollution is a universal problem and Connect4Climate has a global reach. I wanted to create a message without language barriers. I tried to stick to disposable items that are relatable worldwide: water bottles, soda cans, plastic cutlery, plastic bags, etc. The items we put on Emily represent about a week’s worth of waste. This obviously varies from person to person, but again, it’s relatable in that it’s not TOO much stuff. We also show her using everything that ends up on her body. The amount of trash is meant to highlight the direct relationship between using and polluting.
Any humorous anecdotes or production stories you’d like to share about shooting in and around NYC with trash hanging all over you?
EM: I did become a little bit of a spectacle, especially for the midtown shots! We wish we had given out the hashtag or something that would’ve allowed those people to share their stories. The best feedback was the affirmation that this was something people were thinking about and that they approved of the project. We even had a few off-camera moments with people at Coney Island who shared their observations about how the beaches had changed over the years.
AL: It gave the project an interesting dual effect – kind of like a street-art display on 8th avenue and Coney Island, but also an intentional short film. Although we didn’t run into Humans of New York (which I secretly hoped would happen!) Em definitely got a lot of attention that day. We thought one gentleman was particularly interested in the project, but really he just wanted to use the cans for coins – at least he’s recycling!
So what’s the story behind the coffee filter scarf?
AL: The coffee industry is wasteful on many levels. I wanted to draw attention to our reliance on a fix that contributes to consistent daily waste. Beverage packaging in general leaves a lot of room for eco-friendly improvement – but not all of them are as pretty and gauzy as coffee filters.
The filmmakers would like to give big hugs and a shout to the following friends and filmmakers. Without their support, Garbaggage could not have been made.
Inspiration: Angela Del Sol
Videographer and Animator: John P
Editor(s): Andrei Ionescu and Charlie Shelton
Music: Cowboy Sam
Consultant: Zigis Switzer
Production Resources: Hooligan NYC, Rosemary Quigley, and CouchSurfer.