Editor’s Notes: Just in time for the Holiday season -Stink! had its theatrical run in NYC starting on Black Friday (Nov. 27) and in Los Angeles on December 4.
Stink! Directed by Jon J. Whelan is an investigative exposé of the perfume and chemical industry. Written by Jon J. Whelan and Bryan Gunnar Cole, who has also edited it, the documentary tracks Whelan as he makes his way through corporations as well as adjusting to life after his wife Heather’s demise. The film also won the Best Environmental Documentary in the Atlanta DocuFest.
Though the graphics and visuals may seem to be needing a little polishing, the crisp editing and clarity in the shots keeps the documentary pleasantly paced.
On Christmas Eve, two young girls receive brand new pyjamas from their dad, filmmaker Jon Whelan, only to open the packaging and discover that they smell. Not quite satisfied with the customer care of the particular brand and concerned about the fact that he was being stone-walled, he digs deeper to discover a possible connection between cancer and other illnesses and the chemicals used in our everyday products like fragrances, cleaning products and even cosmetics. Spurned into action by his wife’s death, also due to cancer, Whelan attempts to penetrate the chemical industry for answers which results in an illuminating environmental documentary about the dangers of chemicals we unwittingly come across every day, and the lengths corporations go to cover it up.
Though the graphics and visuals may seem to be needing a little polishing, the crisp editing and clarity in the shots keeps the documentary pleasantly paced. The linear narration offers no real surprises, but there are enough questions and entertainment in the form of the politicians dancing around the questions to feed the film and keep it going. His interviews seem non-aggressive and polite, even when he is being brushed off. The filmmaker seems to have gone through his research in a step by step manner, and his narration is touching, straightforward and rational.
The linear narration offers no real surprises, but there are enough questions and entertainment in the form of the politicians dancing around the questions to feed the film and keep it going.
The casual cinematography offers a good flow, punctuated with footage he shot of his wife, when she was healthy, as we try to go to the source of the whole chemical fiasco. In the initial stages it might even seem like the filmmaker is just fishing for a topic to perform an expose on, who really questions the smell of clothes that would go away after a wash? Which then begs the question that if it’s such an unimportant detail, why great pains are taken by the corporations to hide the chemicals used? Towards the end of the film, opting to impact the audience in a meaningful way, a picture of his wife, during her last days, is shown – a shell of her former self. When you see that, you realise the motivation behind Jon Whelan’s quest for truth, to see someone you love suffer like that, that one picture really cements the justification for all the running around, crossing through the red tape and making this film. In fact the picture comes after this voiceover – “I think of my life with Heather all the time” and then the longest pause in the movie follows. The simplification of the impact of Heathers death, and showing her state right in the end instead of the beginning of the documentary is heart wrenching and a stroke of genius. Kudos to the editor.
You might also end up debating inside your head whether to be shocked or impressed at the ingenuity of the politicians and other officials, at the way they manage to dodge the questions thrown at them when asked for accountability. When a growing number of products use fragrances as a means to attract consumers and as we start assimilating it in our daily lives, we just assume the products are safe, when we could be accumulating toxins in our bodies that can prove disastrous for our future generations. While the primary message of the film is clear, it fails to mention how this can be rectified. Eco-friendly products already exist in the market, yet there are several products that we need in our daily lives that haven’t yet been produced with eco-friendly materials. In fact even the existing products have yet to become popular and become household names. The government, regulations and aggressive promotions have managed to keep harmful products in the market and real change may not be possible unless such films and other media that reach the masses follow through with what are the possibilities that can be done to manage this issue. The search also leads to product companies’ confidentiality as well as other families whose lives have been affected by this. Even with a few questions remaining unanswered, overall the film has managed to give a bird’s eye view of the problem, the major aspect being how seemingly harmless materials can prove fatal, the loopholes deployed by the lawmakers and the vast reach of the chemical industry in politics. Enlightening and warm, the filmmaker’s pursuit for the truth will be unsettling for some, and heartfelt for many.
Quite refreshing, irrespective of the title. Stink! is enlightening and warm, the filmmaker’s pursuit for the truth will be unsettling for some, and heartfelt for many.