First-time filmmaker Ed Brown's documentary Unacceptable Levels arrives for a one-time only screening at The Belcourt, tonight at 7:30 p.m. Motivated by tragedy in his own life, Brown set out to learn more about the chemicals hiding in products we use (or ingest) every day. As seen in the trailer above, the doc takes us with him as he speaks to some of the top scientists and advocates dealing with this issue.
I spoke to Brown yesterday about what motivated to make the film and what we should take from it. Our conversation is after the jump:
My understanding is that you were not a filmmaker before this, is that correct?
That is correct. I was not a filmmaker before I decided to do this, although I always wanted to do movies, but I definitely never wanted to do a documentary or anything like that. And then, here we are.
So what made you decide to make a film, and why on this topic?
Well, it was a personal tragedy, is what it really comes down to. My wife had two miscarriages out of three pregnancies. And I had been thinking a lot about this problem for a long time, and what I initially came to the conclusion of was — whenever we started thinking about why this was happening, what could cause something like this? I started digging into chemicals and started looking into it a little bit further, and I started to understand that products contain so many harmful chemicals inside a lot of them. Skin-care products, and the food that we eat and things like that. And a lot of people don't know anything about this problem, and it is something that affects every single person in the United States, along with the planet. So as I started on this journey as a father, I learned that along the way over the course of four years, I've stumbled across the one issue, a very serious issue, that's affecting every single one of us.
One thing, I think, that keeps people from getting more involved and engaged in this sort of issue is that it can be extremely intimidating, you know? It's easy to sort of feel outgunned intellectually or informationally, on either side, whether you're hearing from people who say it's a problem or hearing push back from these companies. Did you experience any of that getting into this, and what was that learning curve like?
It is easy to feel overwhelmed in a lot of different ways, especially when it comes to the amount of information you have access to, and the people you have access to. I made every attempt to try to get a lot of people from the chemical industry to be interviewed in this, along with the [Environmental Protection Agency] and the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the Personal Care Products Council, and ultimately what it came down to is I got "no" from a lot of people. They told me flat out that I couldn't speak to them. So that made it difficult for me as a filmmaker to really tell a balanced story. So what I had to rely on is just the facts, and that's why I sought out the most reputable people in the United States and across the planet to reinforce this concept that synthetic industrial chemicals are affecting us every single day. So I'm reliant on their expertise and I'm reliant on their abilities to tell the story, is what it really comes down to. So I didn't need to worry about my credibility because I'm just a filmmaker. What do I know about the research and the details and of course the studies and the health ramifications? But they know a great deal about it, so I thought, especially when I went to universities, and talked to people, that's why I feel like their credibility is really what builds the story and makes it difficult to cut down what we're learning from them. Because these are the types of people who are working with this problem every single day.
Since the film has come out and been playing around the country, have you gotten any push back from any of these companies or from the political sphere?
As a matter of fact, yes. Our film has played at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and Sen. [David] Vitter, who is one of the coauthors of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. He's from the great state of Louisiana, and he has publicly, in a press release, called out Linda Birnbaum from the National Institute of Health, and he derided the film, suggesting that it was speculative and that there was misinformation, that I'm trying to plead my case by getting an emotional response from people, without having the facts presented. But unfortunately, I don't know if he actually even watched the film or not, but I think if he did see the film, he'd understand a lot more about what is really happening to himself and his family and his friends and neighbors. And also his constituents, because if you watch the film, I think anybody who watches it can understand these are really top minds in the country talking about this. This isn't just anybody from a community college, these are really the top people studying this every single day. So I do think that whatever he has made a decision to push us a little bit, I do find that to be disconcerting. We really need someone like Sen. Vitter to really think long and hard about what he wants to see with the chemical safety and improvement act, and what he wants to do for the people of Louisiana and across the country.
So other than seeing the film tonight, what do we do?
Sure, of course, seeing the film is going to be a great first step. What people really need to start doing is start asking questions. As one in every two men and one in every three women will have cancer in their lifetimes, start asking questions. How is this happening? We know one thing, it's not genetics. It's not just genetics alone. Genetics don't change that quickly. Something environmental is affecting us. I think people really need to start asking themselves. This isn't just a lifestyle at this point, as we're living with it longer, and a lot of us are encountering it along with autism and diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Start asking questions, how do these things happen in the first place, instead of concentrating so heavily on what to do after the fact. Once you get sick. It's going to be very uphill climb for anybody, so they have to understand that this is going to be part of the scenario, so people need to get curious.