Skip to Content

What's in Our Air? 1999

Not Recommended

Distributed by The Video Project, 375 Alabama, Suite 490, San Francisco, CA 94110; 800-4-PLANET
Produced by Rainbow Video and Film
Directed by Sharon Genasci
VHS, color, 88 min.



High School - Adult
Environmental Studies

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, Washington, DC

Having visited the Pacific Northwest and Northern California on numerous occasions, I was interested in watching What's in Our Air? to learn about the air pollution threatening those areas.

Unfortunately this video taught me very little. So many topics are introduced into this 24-minute program that the underlying pollution problems never get adequately described. There is no who-what-when-where-and-why for any given segment so this viewer was immediately lost. An apt description of this title would be that of a loose assemblage of footage on air pollution much more than that of a documentary.

It opens with individuals complaining of a smell in the air but the specific sources of the stink are never investigated. One moment there is a mention of the emissions released when gasoline is loaded on ships, then a moment with a dry cleaner who is reducing his use of pollutants, and then a group trying to shut down an incinerator. There is a charge of racism regarding which neighborhoods get cleaned up first but there are no details to verify the point. There is a reference to an EPA grant that provided citizens with bucket monitors to test the air but one is left to wonder if they were effective and what their findings meant. There are many unidentified people interviewed and of those who are identified one is left to guess what their stated organizations represent. This film is meant as a consciousness-raiser but there is so little story development it's hard to imagine one being inspired to action by it.

The visual production quality is decent (good images and graphics) though the soundtrack of African percussion is incongruous with the images and serves as a distraction.

Though one may believe it's necessary to tell a story in sound bites to accommodate short attention spans, those sound bites must tell a story. This work is so fragmented, jumping from location to location and subject to subject, there is never enough information to convey an understanding of even one of the topics. The snippets might have worked as support material in a piece that had focused on one or two stories but standing on their own they are meaningless.

According to the producer's website, What's in Our Air? won a Gold Award at the 1999 Houston International Film Festival. The target audience is listed as grade 10 to adult though I don't recommend it for any age group.