Full Frame Review: Balloonfest & Plastic China

Where does plastic and rubber go? They aren’t the biodegradable wonder. They have to go somewhere and Full Frame Documentary Film Festival put together a double feature about where rubber and plastic ends up with Balloonfest and Plastic China.

Balloonfest is a found footage short film about an event that most people outside of Ohio might not remember. Back in the ’80s when the city of Cleveland was suffering a major inferiority complex, some plucky folks came up with a great community celebration called Balloonfest. The idea was have a bunch of kids blow up nearly 2 million balloons so they could be released at once and get the city in the Guinness Book of World Records. Things immediately start going bad since nobody considered having all these kids blowing up so many rubber balloons would lead to hundreds of blistered and bloody fingers. The event is a glory to behold when the balloons are released and wrap themselves around the buildings like a swarm in a science fiction building. But all is not so pretty as we cut to news footage of the police and Coast Guard looking for two fishermen who fell of their boat. The search gets complicated since Lake Erie gets filled with balloons which makes it hard to see the head of a bobbing men on the water. And then there’s that whole thought that nearly two million rubber balloons are now filling the lakes. Of course the organizers don’t care since all this trash blew into Canada. Director Nathan Truesdell and crew have uncovered another freakish chapter of Cleveland’s history.
Balloonfest shows people who didn’t think out the consequences of their uplift the community.

Plastic China will make you feel uncomfortable about recycling. Sure it’s great to put the plastics in the separate collection bin, but everything doesn’t magically turn into new plastic junk. Some of your used plastic gets put on a slow boat to China. Instead of being sent to some massive factory, the plastic might end up in a mom and pop operation with a backyard reclamation operation. Plastic China takes views into one of these places where two families live and work in piles of unsanitary plastic. The soul of the film is Yi-Jie, an 11 year old girl whose parents illegally have left their province to work for $5 a day in the toxic world. The owner of the facility has big dreams of owning a luxury car as he pays Yi-Jie’s barely enough to feed his family of six. He gives them an unheated shed space to live inside that’s next to the melting and extruding operation. This is not a solitary event, there are over 5,000 of these backyard recycling centers in the town. The place is an industrial mess with burning plastic trash and creeks filled with toxic sludge. This is the perfect film to show your libertarian uncle who believes the government should have no right to tell people what they can’t do on their property. Would they want these small businesses on either side of them?

The plight of Yi-Jie makes so much of the film heartbreaking. The girl is very smart, but what’s the point when your future is sorting the plastics that can’t go in the machine. She’s stuck in a world where no matter how hard her family works, they aren’t going to succeed in life. She can’t go to school because of her illegal status in the eyes of the Chinese government. She gets a little fun out of finding advertising images from around the world in the piles of trash. You want to see her do more with her life. Audiences will be shocked and disgusted when her family goes fishing. Plastic China is a film which will make you understand the need for the EPA, OSHA, public education and a living wage. It’s hard to feel happy about recycling being a way to save the world when you see that your old milk jug can be adding to this ugliness. Director Jiu-laing Wang and his crew have made one of the great films about a child growing up in poverty.

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