Susan Gerhard, SF Bay Guardian

Plastic makes it possible: Indeed, "every three seconds another
house in North America is sided with vinyl," reads the opening title to
Judith Helfand's HBO documentary Blue Vinyl. Tacky, yes, and
sinister. After Helfand's had her 100 minutes with you – visiting PVC-making
plants and the diseased neighbors who live near them, consorting with legal
muckrakers who've exposed manufacturers' schemes to keep the public uninformed
about PVC's dangers to the environment, and getting intimate with former PVC
workers dead or dying from exposure to toxic goo – those words are below-zero
chilling. At Sundance this past year, Helfand, the Michael Moore of the moment,
supplemented the frightening take-home message with cheerful handmade
tchotchkes – the actual vinyl from her parents' Long
Island home, now being recycled as the pendants on Mardi
Gras-beaded necklaces. Lately, Helfand's turned the revelations into a road
show, which hit town earlier this week at the Oakland Museum – as a
collaborative effort with Bay Area Cancer Coalition, the Center for
Environmental Health, Greenaction, Healthcare without Harm, and the Healthy
Building Network – and continues with community-based screenings throughout the
month. The Bay Area comes across in the film as a utopian paradise of
recycling, featuring local homes made with recycled license plates and experts
in straw-bale home manufacture, but these screenings, organized with the help
of Blue Vinyl coproducer and Bay Area resident Julia D. Parker, are
targeting populations affected by toxic processing in their neighborhoods, as
well as green builders and their friends. Look out for Blue Vinyl at a
May 6 screening at the Shields Reid Community Center, near north Richmond's oil
refineries; a May 9 screening at the Natural Step Sustainability Conference, at
Cowell Theater in Fort Mason Center; a May 15 screening and panel discussion
with architects, designers, and members of Planners for Social Responsibility
and Healthy Building Network, at the Pacific Energy Center in downtown San
Francisco; and other to-be-determined events at the end of May and in early
June in Hunters Point, west Oakland, and Redwood City. For more information
call the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland at (510) 594-9864 or go to the film's
Web site at