Blue Vinyl (Directors: Daniel B. Gold and Judith Helfand, USA, 2002): After seeing and enjoying Helfand and Gold’s latest film Everything’s Cool at Hot Docs this year, I was looking forward to seeing this, their first film. Let’s just say that the pair have developed quite a bit as documentarians in the past five years. Though the film explores an important subject, the toxicity of the vinyl used in siding and other products, the tone and production values were ultimately distracting for me.
Helfand is very much involved in the film, since the project grew out of her concern that her parents’ installation of vinyl siding on their house would lead to health problems and other environmental damage. She does a decent job investigating the vinyl industry’s record of deception and coverups, but she’s just a little too gimmicky. She reminded me too much of Michael Moore, putting herself into every scene, and even carrying around a piece of vinyl siding throughout the film. In a few places, her inexperience as an interviewer is obvious, and although she tries to play it for laughs, it falls flat.
One subject that I wanted to hear more about was the search for alternative building materials. She does talk to a number of people at a California convention, but doesn’t provide enough information about the innovation going on in the construction industry. The film aims for a light tone but has a hard time maintaining it when we hear about how many people have become sick or died from working with vinyl and PVCs. This is a decent first effort, but I’m glad that in their latest film, Helfand generally stays off screen. As well, they chose to make a more positive film focussing on solutions, which suits their style better.
Note: Ironweed featured this film on their April 2007 Earth Day edition. They’ve posted a good collection of resource links about vinyl siding.