The title of Min Sook-Lee’s My Toxic Baby sounds like a horror film, and in a way, that designation is apt.
The Toronto-based filmmaker’s new short documentary — which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month — pivots on perhaps the deepest and most universal anxiety of all: The terror of becoming a new parent.
“I’ve always seen myself as a socially conscious person,” says Lee, an award-winning director whose previous credits include the excellent 2005 doc Hogtown: The Politics of Policing.
“But I had never wholly integrated ecologically friendly living habits into my life until my daughter was born. Bringing a brand new person into the world changed the rules of the game fundamentally.”
Indeed, the theme of My Toxic Baby is change, with Lee turning the lens on herself as she attempts to purify her new daughter’s living environment and connects with other parents similarly committed to shifting notions about what should constitute a healthy child-rearing environment.
And yet, the documentary does not feel like a screed: Lee says that the last thing that she wanted to do was come off as sanctimonious.
“I’m very aware that women are constantly being judged for their ‘skills’ as mothers,” she says, “to the point where it’s almost a public sport. I didn’t want to contribute to that.”
The other thing that Lee wanted to avoid was a too-conventional documentary format: The glut of PowerPoint-style eco-documentaries in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth have brought the form dangerously close to redundancy.
What separates My Toxic Baby from the herd is its uncommonly intimate, personal dimension — which does not preclude its pointing towards wider implications.
“You might notice, I didn’t put any ‘talking head’ experts in the documentary,” says Lee. “At this point of crisis, there are enough sad scientific stats out there pointing to what is becoming increasingly more clear — we are in a chemical war zone. I wanted to focus instead of people who are responding to the crisis. For me as a mother, that is essential — finding hope.”
• My Toxic Baby airs on Global on Friday night