Director: Brett Plymale
Q: Talk about your motivation for making A Chemical Reaction.
A: Initially I wanted to make this film simply because it’s a great story of a modern-day David vs. Goliath. But as I delved deeper into the intricacies of how the anti-pesticide movement gained momentum and the impact that it had on the entire continent of North America, my motivation has become more driven to find out what forces are at work to shape public opinion, and why we collectively, willingly do things that are potentially harmful to ourselves.
Q: It’s a title that can be taken a number of ways. Talk about why you picked that name.
A: The title was chosen for the very reason that it can be taken a number of ways. As with any title, its intent is to catch someone’s attention and have them say to themselves, “hmmm... what’s this about? I want to find out more.” Pretty straight forward. However, I think when you look at this title for the first time, it puts you into one of two camps. Just by observing how it makes you feel when you read it can reveal a bit about how you relate to chemicals, that is, whether you feel they're helpful or harmful. Almost instantly you have your own reaction, and that’s the emotion the movie wants to get at.
Q: What were your early motivations as a videographer and how have they evolved over time?
A: My motivations as a videographer, and now as a director, have been consistent over the years. Ultimately my goal is to use this medium as a means to give a voice to a story that needs to be told. That’s what motivates me. The subject matter really could be anything under the sun that I find compelling. I guess it could be over the sun too, if I could figure out a way to shoot it.
Q: What got you interested in lawn care and the pesticide issue?
A: The lawn care and pesticide issue is really Paul Tukey’s mission. My interest is in telling his story and that of Hudson. The lawn care companies that use synthetic chemicals as a means to care for turf spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to get their message out. Their four-step plan is an embedded cultural practice that is tried-and-true and millions of Americans swear by it. The products have been used for decades and are approved for use by our federal government. Their scientists have concluded that the benefits they provide to homeowners are worth the trace amounts of chemicals that end up in our bodies and the environment.
In making this movie, I’ve been told hundreds of anecdotal stories about sick children and pets and I’ve heard from some adults that claim these chemicals have resulted in serious illness or even death. I have interviewed many credible doctors, veterinarians and scientists who all agree that the chemicals found in these lawn care products are dangerous, and in some cases they are known carcinogens. They also agree that the effects on the human body are largely unknown and are nearly impossible to isolate and prove scientifically.
My interest is to force the issue that every single person who uses these chemicals on their lawn needs to be aware of the risks. The people warning of the risks don’t have a million-dollar advertising campaign to reach the public. The government scientists won’t allow companies to claim that these products are “safe” for use, but they say you can minimize their risks by following their recommendations. These risks need to be known so that a homeowner can make an educated decision about what they’re doing on their patch of paradise, and conversely what effects their decisions have on their community, or better yet, their own family.
Q: You have worked with Paul Tukey for a number of years and now on this movie. Talk about Paul and your working relationship.
A: Paul and I have been working together for about 6 or 7 years, and in that time I think we’ve come to respect each other’s work ethic and drive to make the impossible possible. Paul’s definitely on a mission of his own creation, and he has been ever since I first met him. He is determined to get the rest of the world to see the error of their ways and to embrace organic horticulture in its many facets. He’s so absolute in his determination that inevitably he has become a polarizing entity within the industry. When we’re out shooting on the road, we have people come up to him and call him their hero. And then, in the very same day someone will call him a fear monger and say that he’s out of his mind.
I admire that his will doesn’t get broken by the criticism and he never seems concerned when he has a low turnout at one of his talks. He just keeps moving, blazing a trail, and getting his message out to anyone who wants to hear it.
I think he does take heart in the current green movement though. He’s been at this for 15 years. He started back when organic wasn’t so much chic as crunchy and marginalized. I believe that this momentum gives him hope that it will continue to grow and flourish, and that the role he is playing is really worth something.
Q: What are the goals of this project?
A: First of all I want to convey Hudson's extraordinary story of standing up for its right to protect its citizens. I want to show how social change can occur, and I want people to feel empowered by the process of democracy.
In terms of lawn chemicals, the goals of the project are simple; to completely change the way every single person in America thinks of lawn chemicals. That's it. I’d be satisfied if that were the outcome.