No Impact Man

How does a New Yorker live off the grid, anyway?



No Impact Man is the name of a project undertaken by Manhattan writer Colin Bevan, an experiment, blog, performance piece and prospective book pitch, to take himself and his family off the grid, to live for one year with as little negative environmental impact as possible. This means no eating out, no coffee, no TV, no refrigerator, no new clothes, or any of a hundred other modern conveniences most city folk consider a sacred birthright. (Of course, the environmental footprint made by a film crew following you around the clock remains a mystery.) 

New Yorkers are the only criminally self-absorbed twits who'd even attempt this kind of shit, and it's pretty easy to get riled up at the morality and vanity required to do something this pretentious, and like the anonymous posters on Gawker, you'll hate Bevan's guts at first glance. 

It's almost impossible not to have an emotional response to this self-important, blogger asshole, as he subjects his adorable toddler daughter to a life without toilet paper or dignity. What starts with bike rides and locally grown root vegetables keeps expanding exponentially. As you watch Bevan's self-inflicted deprivations get weirder — such as crafting homemade cosmetics or trying to use two dirt-lined clay pots as a mini fridge — your patience will dissipate faster than the ozone layer. 

All of this is made even more incredible because his wife Michelle works at freaking Business Week of all places. Truthfully, some of that business savvy seems to have worn off; even while he's fiddling with a box of composting worms, Bevan seems to have just enough juice to run his laptop and smart phone, so he can field calls from reporters, TV producers and publishers excited by his story. 

Bevan is totally committed to the cause, Michelle, slightly less so, and the friction slowly mounts; she's all for standing by her man, but not if it means giving up iced lattes. It's stunning the lengths some people will go to prove a point; and while the Bevans are totally sincere and loving, no amount of green washing can change their Fifth Avenue yuppie spots. Case in point: They gave their baby a princess name: Isabella. 

No Impact Man is a stunt to be sure, but it feels slightly more probing than say, Super Size Me, because it challenges the notion of activism without insight. Ultimately it's an impossible mission; even basic things like burning candles are arguably worse for the planet than CFL light bulbs. Only fairly late in the game, when he installs a solar panel on the roof, does Bevan realize that the answer lies in technology, innovation and daily understanding, not in asceticism and showy acts of personal sacrifice. If nothing else, the Bevans do learn there is beauty to living every day thoughtfully and simply, something the filmmakers seem to have already gotten.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237) at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb.13.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to

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