Soozie Eastman
Soozie Eastman, director of “Overload: America’s Toxic Love Story” | Courtesy

On Friday, more than 240 people packed into the Kentucky Science Center to see the final selection of the 2019 Flyover Film Festival, Louisville native Soozie Eastman’s “Overload: America’s Toxic Love Story.” The sold-out event was held at the four-story, 3-D digital IMAX theater and celebrated a project that took nearly seven years to film — from idea to roll credits.

The moment was surreal for the filmmaker and executive director of the Louisville Film Society, the organization responsible for Flyover. And it wasn’t anything Eastman had anticipated when planning the annual festival. The Flyover board asked her to include her first feature-length documentary in the mix, and she was honored to do so.

“Having my film on a big screen is a very unique feeling,” she tells Insider. “At the Film Society screenings, I always talk about how special it is to view motion pictures with an audience, a room of people engrossed in seeing and hearing a film for the first time as a community. For this screening to be comprised of my community, my hometown, and it being my first feature film, it’s an incredibly exciting and special feeling.”

“Overload,” which is look at the alarming number of toxins we encounter on a daily basis, has since been picked up by Bullfrog Films, the country’s oldest and largest environmental film distributor, and will start streaming on Amazon by Oct. 1, with other streaming outlets soon after.

For the project, Eastman used her own body as the film’s subject, visiting numerous doctors and professionals to learn about the toxicity found throughout our everyday lives. In fact, the film’s premise came from the unsettling information that hundreds of synthetic toxins are now found in every baby born in America, and the government and chemical corporations are doing little to protect citizens and consumers.

As the daughter of an industrial chemical distributor and a future mother, Eastman was curious to see just how many chemicals we come encounter with and if it’s possible to lead a toxin-free life.

We caught up with Eastman to talk more about her findings and how she was put to the test in “Overload.”

Insider Louisville: At what point in the filmmaking process did you decide to become the subject of your documentary and use your own body to experiment with? 

Soozie Eastman: I was planning on a documentary about the excess usage of chemicals and lack of regulations in the products we use and goods we eat, but it wasn’t a personal story in the beginning. I met Stephen Nemeth (producer of “Dogtown & Z-Boys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), and he said he wanted in on the film only if I was willing to be in it.

He knew about the backstory of my father having been an industrial chemical distributor and my desire to one day start a family and being concerned about what I would eventually pass down to my offspring, so his desire to be involved only if I was willing to step in front of the camera made me do some serious thinking (getting in front of the camera is VERY different from being behind it).

Eventually I realized that, in order to tell the personal story I wanted to tell, I would need to be in the film. Trust me, I would have preferred to avoid being in a sauna or without makeup on camera in a heartbeat, but this story was personal to me and, in the end, I am glad it went the way it did.

Insider: What are some of the things you gave up while detoxing?

Dirty Dozen
The 2019 Dirty Dozen list

Eastman: When I tried to see if I could impact my exposure to everyday toxins, I used the Environmental Working Group’s phone app called Healthy Living to help guide my purchases. They use scientific and academic data to create ratings for the toxicity of products on store shelves.

You would be amazed at what comes in as highly toxic — mascara, hair spray, foundations, lotions. It was overwhelming at first, but the app helped me find affordable, less toxic alternatives at nearly every store. I used only personal care products rated 4 and under and cleaners rated C or above. I avoided plastic/bottled water, receipt paper (most are covered with BPA), Styrofoam containers and non-stick surfaces.

While some people might think you would need to eat all organic, I actually only switched out the food on the Dirty Dozen (the 12 most pesticide-sprayed fruits and veggies list that comes out every year). On it are things like berries, apples, peaches, potatoes and spinach, but not everything is on there, and that was a great feeling. It wasn’t actually the overhaul this list makes it out to be.

Insider: After filming ended, what did you work back into your diet and everyday routine, or are you sticking to the toxin-free lifestyle?

Eastman: What I like to say is that it’s about a balance. I don’t want to get obsessed with every single thing I touch and use, but now that I know the potential health (and environmental) impacts of the overuse of these chemicals — and more importantly, the fact that the companies that make these chemicals don’t have any regulation enforced to keep citizens and consumers protected — I feel compelled to make smart choices with my dollars.

It may seem like a small act, but in reality, when consumers have flexed their money muscles before, big changes have happened (BPA in children’s sippy cups). It is far more likely that how we spend our money will impact what corporations do than some regulation the government will create on our behalf — our politicians on both sides of the aisle want money from the oil industry, so they are very hesitant to regulate an industry that pays them so well.

My film is about that personal empowerment. The products I used were readily available right at Target, Sephora, Amazon and Whole Foods and, in most cases, at the same or lower cost.

Insider: What was the most shocking thing you discovered about everyday products or foods? 

Eastman: That the word fragrance in our products’ ingredient lists is a protected trade secret. When you see that word surrounded by all the other listed ingredients, there can be over 3,000 additional ingredients hidden under that one word.

There is no way of knowing what anything truly contains when the word fragrance is used — is it formaldehyde or some other known carcinogen? We don’t get to know. I try to use products that list all ingredients and do not contain the word “fragrance” unless it says “naturally derived” right after it. Much like sugar being added to everything, it feels like fragrance is too. I love for things to smell good, but not at the price of my health.

Eastman at the screening
Eastman and her daughter address the crowd at Friday’s sold-out screening. | Courtesy

Insider: What can we do to decrease the toxins in our life? 

Eastman: If I were to create my top 5 list:

  1. Use less plastic — especially for heating or storing hot food (it leaches into our food and bottled water — that plastic bottle wasn’t climate controlled on its way to you).
  2. Don’t use Styrofoam (when used for cold stuff, it is bad for the planet, but hot food and drinks soak up the chemicals and bring it into the body).
  3. Avoid/minimize (artificial) fragrance — whether in our personal products or household cleaners.
  4. Buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen.
  5. Use cleaners rated C or above off the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living App (super easy to use and will change how you shop — for anything not on the app, you can visit the website and build your own report using the ingredient list).

I think a big question people have is WHY should we minimize the toxins in our lives, because if you don’t have the why, then why bother?

The increase in certain cancers (breast, testicular, childhood and thyroid cancer), fertility issues for both sexes, as well as neurological diseases like Parkinson’s have been correlated to the increase in use of the petrochemicals that act as endocrine disruptors. What that means is when we have these chemicals introduced into our bodies, we receive them as almost identical to the hormones we naturally create.

When we have too many of these hormones, our systems can go haywire and potentially cause a litany of issues that seem to be increasing as quickly as the corporations are outputting these chemicals.

Insider: Is this just a U.S. problem, or are these toxins everywhere in the world? 

Eastman
Eastman talked to internationally renowned doctors in “Overload.” | Courtesy

Eastman: While this is something that impacts everyone everywhere, we are far less protected in the United States. For example, the U.S. regulates 11 ingredients in personal care products, and the European Union has regulated or outlawed 1,300. So, there is still chemical usage, but it’s just the worst of the worst are kept out of other country’s products and are welcome in ours.

In many instances, there are two formulations for many cleaners — one for the EU and one for the U.S. We are the proverbial dumping ground while others are being protected.

Insider: What’s next for you? 

Eastman: Since I couldn’t jam pack the film with every product I used or every tip and trick I have picked up along the way, I am currently working on Cleaner Greener Me — it’s a website and toolkit for people who want to know ways they can live a cleaner and greener life without having to make dramatic changes.

My plan is to have that launched in the fall around the time the film streams online. All my energy is focused on running the Louisville Film Society and prepping my film and the accompanying website for launch. Oh, and taking care of my new baby. I feel like my plate is full with that, but give me just a few minutes and there is likely to be something else I will add to the list!

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."