The TH Interview: Sara Lamm, Director, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox

We first reported on this Magic Soapbox in June June. The film was a great blend of loving a family for who they are and who they aren't. Now the film is available on DVD so we thought we'd check in with Sara to see how things are going and if we can expect any new updates on the dvd.TreeHugger: Why did you originally decide to do a documentary on Dr. Bronner's soap? Your website says that you did a stage piece incorporating the label?

Sara Lamm: Well, in getting to know Ralph, as his story came out in bits and pieces, I just felt like it was something that someone needed to document. Originally he wanted to come to New York to do a performance piece about his father. So this is what I originally set out to do. I asked if while he was in New York I could follow him around with a camera crew and get his story.

TH: Did you go in with any preconceived notions, either about the direction of the film or the family or the product? Were these validated?

SL: Not really. In looking into the story of Dr. Bronner, I realized that there is not a lot of archival footage of him. There are plenty of audio archives but very few video archives. Knowing this, the plan was originally more about Ralph and his vision of his dad. I was going to shoot footage of Ralph and weave in audio from Dr. Bronner in sort of a "ghostly" format. Then we were fortunate enough to get in touch with another filmmaker who began a project in the 80's on Dr. Bronner and had tons of video footage. This really helped out with the making of the film.

TH: How has the family received the film?

SL: They have been very supportive. It's always tricky when you're trying to make a film about family history. There is always the fear that you will leave stuff out and certainly, as an outsider, you are going to have a different perspective on the subject than others. I learned that a family is made up of individuals and that everyone will have their own perspective. Everyone had different parts that they liked more and that they wished were a little different or not left out.

TH: Where did you find the people that you interviewed for the film?

SL: Actually we went to a trade show and talked to a lot of the attendees there. That is where you get most of the scenes with people standing in a blocked in area, those people were at the trade show. The rest were just people that we met on the street. We had tons of hours of footage of people on the street, many more who didn't make it into the film. Ralph has a good eye for spotting people who might be Dr. Bronner's users. It's actually not hard to find a Dr. Bronners user — chances are if you're artsy or outdoorsy, four out of five times this person has probably tried it at least once.

TH: Did you use Dr. Bronner's soap before the film and do you use it now?

SL: I did and still do. That was the original inspiration for the performance piece. In using the soap and reading the label I just thought, like most people, "What. Is. Going on here? Oh My!". I think everyone who reads it is partially inspired by the label and partially wondering if this is a cult and what is going on. Some people who read the label think it's a marketing ploy. Using the label in the performance piece I wanted to bring to life the words.

TH: Is there anything new we can expect on the DVD?

SL: We did an updated, extended interview with David Bronner, which I'm really glad we got to include because we didn't have as much time on the movie to tell his part of the story. He goes into more depth on their Fair Trade olive oil project on the West Bank that they are heavily involved in, as well as going all organic and their work on hemp. This was a better format because it was a straight interview where we weren't under pressure or time commitments. The DVD also includes a trailer, but no outtakes. There is also a documentary on the Bronner website about their fair trade work which we included on the DVD.

TH: Can you tell us more about this idea of Constructive Capitalism?

SL: Sure, this is the idea that Dr. Bronner spoke about and that the Bronners still believe in today where you share profits with the workers and the earth. Its okay to have a business and make profits as long as you never lose sight of the face that we're all part of the web of life and that we have to take care of each other and the planet.

TH: What do you have planned next?

SL: Well, I have a few ideas now but nothing solid. I'm taking a little time to be with family and then I'll get back to work on the next film.

The Dr. Bronners' Magic Soapbox dvd is now available for purchase from the website.

Tags: Fair Trade | Hemp | TH Interview | United States