by Steven Felsschundneff | [email protected]
About 30 years ago, El Roble science teacher Joan Felsch, who was also the reporter’s mother, liked to ask her seventh and eighth graders, “If you throw something away, where did it go?”
The question should stimulate a discussion about waste and make your students think about what happens to the physical things we no longer need. Now a film called Scrap, showing at the Laemmle Claremont 5 this week, explores this very issue on a more metaphysical and much larger scale.
Through the documentary, viewers are invited to “discover the vast and strangely beautiful places where things die and meet the people who collect, restore and recycle the world’s junk”. California residents have embraced the “reduce, recycle, reuse” mantra that has been a part of our daily lives for more than 30 years. This film focuses on large-scale waste, objects such as cars, airplanes and ships that have reached the end of their useful life.
Written and directed by Stacey Tenenbaum, Scrap premiered at the 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto last spring. The film screenings at Laemmle Claremont 5 at 7.30pm on Monday 28th November and at 1pm on Tuesday 29th November.
“I’m fascinated by things that carry their history, and I’m nostalgic for a time when life slowed down and things were built to last,” Tenebaum said on the film’s website. “It was that nostalgia that I wanted to capture in SCRAP. I made the film to show the beauty of objects that have reached their ‘end of life’ and to get people thinking about what happens to things like planes, ships and phone booths when they’ve served their time.”
The filmmaker’s motivation is twofold: a love of old mechanical objects and a desire to illustrate the waste of a consumer-obsessed world.
“SCRAP is a love letter to the things we use in our daily lives,” reads the film’s synopsis. “This documentary film tells the stories of people who all have a connection to objects that have reached their ‘end of life’. Together, their stories convey a deeper ecological and human message about our relationship with things, the sadness we feel at their eventual loss, and the joy we can find in giving them a new purpose. The film raises awareness of the fate of the things we use and explores how artists and other creative thinkers can help breathe new life into the things we throw away.”
Tenebaum lets people tell their stories in her film, which is blended with luxurious imagery by cinematographer Katerine Giguére and an original soundtrack composed by Ramachandra Borcar. The use of slow motion footage enhances the lonely beauty of the discarded objects.
The film begins with one of those slow aerial shots as we glide through Old Car City, a 35-acre junkyard in White, Georgia owned by Dean Lewis. The camera follows Lewis as he strolls across his country with 4,400 vintage cars, most of which are slowly returning to Earth.
“Art is the way the vegetation, the trees, grew through and around the cars…that’s art,” Davis said. “They’re going back to Earth…most of them are going back.”
The aerial images become particularly striking when the objects get larger, like the family in Bangkok, Thailand, living in the fuselage of an old passenger plane, or a facility in Gijon, Spain, dismantling giant cargo ships. Another of the story’s protagonists, Tchely Hyung-Chul Shin, turns parts of these ships into sculptures, including Temp’L, an art installation created from a discarded ocean liner.
“Governments and businesses are required to dispose of tons of materials each year — a recycling and disposal challenge that can have global implications,” Tenebaum said. “The two main drivers of our waste problem are overconsumption and throwaway culture. Things are made cheap to be used and thrown away. Obsolescence is built into products and consumers are encouraged to update rather than fix them.”
As society becomes more computerized, fewer items can be repaired and even fewer people know how to repair them. And people who still have the skills are often stymied by manufacturers who actively discourage repairing machines so they can sell more stuff to consumers. More recently, the Right to Repair movement aims to reverse this trend by requiring companies to make products that can be repaired and providing consumers with the technical information needed to perform the repair .
“People are aware of the need to recycle, but recycling is a band-aid solution that does nothing to address the root causes of this problem,” Tenebaum said. “By showing the fate of these objects, I hope to stimulate a discussion about how we can change our production and consumption habits to extend the lifecycle of the things we use.”
The film is full of other inspiring personalities such as Tony Inglis who restores British telephone boxes, sculptor John Lopez and Ed Metka who is a lifelong road car enthusiast.
Scrap will be screened at Laemmle Claremont 5 on Monday 28th November at 7.30pm and Tuesday 29th November at 1pm. Visit laemmle.com/theater/claremont-5 for more information.