jake sumner discusses directing 'the plastic age'

We speak to Jake Sumner, director of i-D's new documentary exploring plastic pollution in the ocean, and what fashion is doing to fight it.

by i-D Team and i-D Staff
15 April 2015, 12:30pm

In The Plastic Age, released today exclusively on i-D, we pull the problem of plastic pollution out of the ocean and put into the consciousness of the public eye. Directed by Jake Sumner the film director artfully showcases the issue at hand in Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, that's rapidly becoming a massive problem as 300,000 tons of plastic floats in oceans the world over. But there is hope: people are using the plastic as a resource as RAW for the Oceans, Parley for the Oceans, G-Star RAW and Bionic Yarn explore in their new initiative. We caught up with Sumner to find out what he expected when starting the project, putting the problem into perspective and what we can do to help.

What made you first want to get involved?
I love the ocean and was curious to learn about plastic pollution in the ocean. It's something I had thought about but didn't know that much about. I like to work on projects where I stand to learn about something new, so this seemed like a good opportunity.

Did you know what to expect?
No, though I had always thought about packaging and disposable plastics and how much of it must be in the world at this point, but I wasn't knowledgeable on the extent of the problem. The reality is shocking. I think it's such a giant unspoken problem that our whole way of life is tied to this material. Also it's obviously very hard to come back from.

Was there a particular part of the film that you found most affecting?
Shooting on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii. It's in the middle of a huge national park and is extremely remote, yet it's completely covered in plastic from the Pacific Rim countries. Hawaii is the most isolated group of islands but Kamilo is known as one of the dirtiest beaches in the world. It's all plastic that's washing up from thousands of miles away that's been carried by the North Pacific Gyre and this area happens to be in the way. We're plasticizing places like Hawaii. This is just one example, but it's happening all over.

What do you hope viewers take away from watching The Plastic Age?
It's a short documentary piece that looks into the problem and the innovation of Bionic Yarn and their collaboration with G-Star RAW. I think a lot of the technology and initiatives that are coming about are pretty interesting and might make the difference. From what I've learned working on this project, we're running out of choices. I think we should try to embrace some of the innovation that's happening and the people who are thinking about ways to reuse and salvage this material, from fabric to whatever else it can be used for. There are some really clever people working on this problem.

Is making more films with a social conscience something that interests you?
Well right now we're working on a documentary project called 52: The Search For The Loneliest Whale In The World directed by my good friend Josh Zeman. It's about a whale who sings at a different frequency to any other known whale and is believed to have lived his or her life in solitude. It's about the search for this creature that's never been seen before to try and establish a connection and to show that we're listening. Something I'm personally trying to work on is a trip to northeast Thailand to make a film about this amazing Thai Molam band, Khun Narin. The style of Molam music is really heavy: electric instruments projected out of a homemade sound system accompanied by a marching band rhythm section. It comes out sounding like lo-fi 60s garage rock. It's really amazing music and there's lots of other amazing bands in the area. My friend Josh Marcy went and recorded an album with them last year and we're trying to tell their story through a film.

What do you stand for?
If we're talking about the environment, a common sense approach to the world around.  

The Plastic Age
jake sumner