Documentary casts a wide, bright light

Joan Úbeda, a 1999 International Knight Fellow from Spain, said the success of his 2010 documentary about planned obsolescence, “The Light Bulb Conspiracy,” took him and his team “totally by surprise.” A German publisher is now preparing a book based on the film, and it will be shown in the European Parliament later this year, where new legislation about e-waste is being discussed.

Joan Úbeda

Documentary producer Joan Úbeda. photo courtesy centennialbulb.org

In fact, Úbeda, managing director & executive producer of Media 3.14, is currently working with his Light Bulb director, Cosima Dannoritzer, on a film about the illegal e-waste trade from Europe and the U.S. into Africa, India and China. He hopes to have it ready for fall 2013.

“The Light Bulb Conspiracy,” now showing at the Doxa Film Festival in Vancouver, has won eight international awards, including Spain’s Ondas Internacional Award, Best Technology and Science Film in Shanghai and Ghuangzhou, China, and Best Film in Australia’s science film festival. (See trailer at http://vimeo.com/media314/trailertlbc).

His other documentaries include “The Man Who Unfolded a Thousand Hearts,” about the Spanish family doctor who discovered the single-muscle structure of the heart; “Wings of Antarctica,” about three skydivers, and “The Dali Dimension,” about the famous artist’s interest in science.

“The Light Bulb Conspiracy” premiered on Spain’s TV3, where Úbeda worked when he was selected as a Knight Fellow. Úbeda said his own interest in science and technology was sharpened during his Knight Fellowship. And it was at Stanford that he realized how much information can be had in the United States “simply by asking for it,” and in the “fabulous collections” of newspapers and magazines accessible through Lexis-Nexis and other Internet databases.

Since its premiere, the documentary has been aired in 17 countries, and shown in nearly 50 festivals around the world, including the 2011 Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C. and the 2011 United Nations Association Film Festival at Stanford.

It has had more than 150 public screenings by city councils, universities and grassroots organizations, and had record viewing figures in France, Germany and Spain. The word “obsolescence,” which was hardly known or used in Spain, has now entered the public discourse, Úbeda said.

The film continues to resonate with audiences: Uploaded on YouTube, it has sparked interest and debate online. It was even played on Qantas domestic flights this March, he said. 

If he were a Fellow today, Úbeda said, he’d like to explore ways to match the slow maturing of documentary projects with the fast turnaround and immense reach of the Internet. In short: “traditional doc + Twitter/Facebook = ?”