Saturday, August 2, 2008

Garbage Warrior: A man on a mission

The word inspirational is over-used but there is no other to describe the film Garbage Warrior and its hero, Michael Reynolds. The excited chatter of the audience leaving the Auckland Film Festival screening left me in no doubt others felt as I did about this incredible testament to human ingenuity.

The documentary film follows radical architect Michael Reynolds who over the last 30 plus years has been building ecological houses out of beer cans, used car tyres and a host of other recycled materials. Reynolds is clearly a visionary. Referring to the challenges of climate change and peak oil Reynolds says he feels like he's in a herd of buffalo running towards a cliff edge and it's his job to try to turn the herd - but he's not a self pronounced messiah on an ego trip - he says its simply self preservation.

While the rest of us moan about separating our rubbish for recycling and struggle with reusing carrier bags, Reynolds has been out there building houses that are totally solar powered, off the grid and independent of the sewerage system. And he says it's liberating. A trained architect, his philosophy is to try things without fear of failure and to learn from his mistakes. He just gets on and does it.

The houses (known as Earth Ships) are built from old car tyres filled with rammed earth, they have glass fronts that catch the low winter sun and thick walls that provide thermal mass to keep the heat generated in at night. They seem to be light and open with bags of character, and not a little quirky. But I could actually see myself living in one.

We meet a selection of characters Reynolds has inspired along the way. People are clearly attracted to him and with his support and encouragement a whole settlement of `spaceship' houses sprung up in the desert. When the powers that be challenged this eco-settlement and declared the development illegal, Reynolds took a bill to the US senate which would allow him to bypass building regulations and continue to experiment with sustainable building techniques. Watching this long haired straight talking eco-builder telling administrators and senators how it is in the outside world is a treat in itself, albeit a little frustrating when he comes up against people playing a political game or trying to justify their own job.

After the Asian Tsunami devastated the Andaman Islands, Reynolds leads a team of builders who build one of their sustainable houses for the local community. Teaching local men, women, engineers and architects along the way they leave their building skills and a little hope with the community. A heart warming story but also an interesting comparison with the administrative challenges his work faces at home in the United States.

Maybe it is easier to change a system from within, but sometimes it takes a radical to force change, especially if the system itself is part of the problem. This film is not just for `greenies' and anarchists but is for everyone. Its eye opening, empowering and a testament to what the human spirit can achieve.

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