The Story of Stuff

Filmmaker Annie Leonard in S.B.

This is a story we all need to know. As we hop, skip, jump, and sometimes flat-out run our way through this consumption-crazed life, reflection seldom means more than what we see in the mirror or the shiny slick metal exterior of our iPhone. Luckily, we have people like Annie Leonard, a funny, über-fast-talking environmentalist with a long-standing habit of digging around dumps and thinking about the future impacts of the mountains of trash we, as a global community, generate. Leonard, thanks to the wonders of the Web, has become an outspoken hero in the push to save us from the perils of, well, ourselves.

Annie Leonard
Courtesy Photo

In what she describes as “simplifying without dumbing down,” Leonard’s animated video short, The Story of Stuff, breaks down the dense linear line of our material goods-based habits. It works to illuminate the multitude of meanings — most of them bad — that the extraction/production/distribution/consumption/disposal dance, which defines so much of our 21st-century reality, has for the health of our planet. In short, it avoids the preachy pitfalls of most enviro-minded pandering and actually connects the dots between what we do as individuals and what it means for the world around us, without bombarding us with dense science-speak.

“These issues are so complicated that it immediately excludes a huge number of people from the conversation really before it begins,” said Leonard, “But once you break it down, I think the message really resonates with a lot of people. I mean, there is a strong growing sense of unease out there about things. There is so much about our consumerism that is clearly not on a good trajectory, and lots of people maybe know this or suspect this but can’t really put it into words.”

Thankfully, though, people are listening. First put online for the masses to access for free in late 2007, The Story of Stuff video has had 12-million viewers and counting, is used in classrooms the country over as a sustainability teaching tool, and has been translated into dozens of languages.

“When we first put this out there, we thought 50,000 people seeing this film would be a success, and we got that in the first day,” explained Leonard. In fact, the outpouring of support for the grassroots film — it was funded essentially via donations from folks who had seen Leonard speak over the years through her work with Greenpeace and offered to pony up cash if she ever decided to translate the presentation into a film — has led to the formation of The Story of Stuff Project. The project is an ongoing experiment in digging deep beneath the surface of consumerism-related issues, boiling them down, adding animation, and sharing it with the world with a decided flair for entertainment that refuses to sacrifice nutrient-heavy content.

Since the original Story, Leonard has produced films that look at the controversial Cap & Trade remedy for curbing carbon emissions, our wicked addiction to plastic water bottles, and, most recently, the cosmetic industry.

Thanks to the folks from Santa Barbara’s Sustainability Project, Leonard will be in town Thursday, October 7, at the Marjorie Luke Theatre, to talk Story and help us all think a bit more about the true cost of the decisions we make in this wide world of stuff for sale.

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