Director presents toxic comedy about vinyl siding

Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and environmental activist Judith Helfand screens her documentary Blue Siding, a serio-comic expose of vinyl siding, at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, in the Keck Classroom (G52) of Pettengill Hall. The public is invited to attend the 96-minute screening, co-sponsored by Bates Hillel and the Environmental Coalition, free of charge.

The movie follows Helfand and her co-director, Daniel B. Gold, as they travel, with humor and a piece of vinyl siding in their hand, from Helfand’s Long Island hometown to America’s vinyl manufacturing capital, Lake Charles, La., and beyond in search of answers about the nature of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Her parents’ decision to “re-side” their house with this seemingly benign cure-all for many suburban homes turns into a toxic odyssey with twists and turns that most ordinary homeowners would never dare to take.

Blue Vinyl manages to be charming and chilling in equal measure,” wrote a Toronto Sun reviewer about this feature that won the cinematography award in documentary competition at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and received two Emmy nominations for best documentary and best research.

Acclaimed for making films that are simultaneously humorous and inquisitive, Helfand is as recognized for her environmental health activism and community organizing as she is for her filmmaking. Co-founder of the nonprofit Working Films, Helfand links documentary filmmaking to long-term social change.

Blue Vinyl is the second collaboration for Gold and Helfand  — herself a cancer survivor who underwent a hysterectomy at 25 after contracting a rare form of cervical cancer due to her mother’s ingestion of the drug DES, a synthetic estrogen that was supposed to prevent miscarriage. With Gold, Helfand chronicled that period in her life, exploring the personal impact of toxic chemical exposure on her relationship with her mother, in her documentary, A Healthy Baby Girl (Sundance, 1997), which garnered her a Peabody Award for excellence in journalism and public education.

A sequel of sorts, Blue Vinyl picks up essentially where A Healthy Baby Girl left off in front of the Helfands’ house as they are putting up the blue vinyl siding.

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