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Lightbulb Conspiracy, The


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Grade Level: SrH-Adult
Producer: Video Project
Closed Captioned: Yes
Running Time: 52 mins
Country of Origin: United States
Study Guide: No

Copyright Date: 2010
Available in French: No

The Light Bulb Conspiracy uncovers how planned obsolescence has shaped our lives and economy since the 1920’s, when manufacturers deliberately started shortening the life of consumer products to increase demand. The film also profiles a new generation of consumers, designers and business people who have started challenging planned obsolescence as an unsustainable economic driver.

The documentary begins by visiting the longest running light bulb in the world, which has burned continuously for over 110 years in Livermore, California. Initially, light bulbs were built to last. But the film finds historical evidence revealing how a cartel in the 1920’s decided to produce bulbs limited to a maximum life of 1000 hours, making the humble light bulb one of the first examples of planned obsolescence and a model for increasing profits on other products.

Shot over three years in Europe, the U.S. and Ghana, The Light Bulb Conspiracy investigates the evolution and impact of planned obsolescence through interviews with historians, economists, designers and manufacturers, along with archival footage and internal company documents. The film profiles several well-known historical advocates -- Bernard London, who famously proposed ending the Great Depression by mandating planned obsolescence, and Brook Stevens, whose post-war ideas became the gospel of the 1950’s and helped shape the throwaway consumer society of today.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy also looks at modern examples of planned obsolescence, including computer printers and the controversy over the inability to replace iPod batteries. Environmental consequences are seen most dramatically in the massive amounts of electronic waste that end up in uncontrolled dump sites in Third World countries such as Ghana. The film concludes with examples of consumers and businesses moving towards more sustainable practices and products, including Warner Philips, great grandson of the founder of Philips Electronics, who is producing an LED bulb designed to last 25 years.

"An intelligent film which shows how, in our globalized world, planned obsolescence and outrageous consumerism create a new sustainability problem and a new form of oppression in the planet’s poorest countries. The clear and precise structure of the film allows students to easily grasp the complexities of the issue and encourages their own independent thinking about it."
– Miquel Barceló, Professor, Computer Engineering, Barcelona Tech University

Awards:
Winner
Best Documentary, Spanish Television Academy Awards
Best Feature Documentary, FILMAMBIENTE, Brazil
Best Film, SCINEMA, Australia
Maeda Special Prize / Japan Prize
Ondas Internacional Award, Spain
1st Prize, Science, Technology and Education, GZDOC, China Special Jury Mention – FICMA, Spain

Finalist
Focal International Awards, London
Magnolia Awards, Shanghai TV Festival 2011
Prix Europa 2011

Official Selection
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital
United Nations Association Film Festival


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