TED Talks comes to Kelowna

Jan Vozenilek, whose film on Midway Island is due out in fall 2013 and illustrates the impact non-biodegradable products like these plastic caps are having on baby Albatrosses dying in the Pacific, will be among the first TEDx speakers at Habitat. - Jennifer Smith
Jan Vozenilek, whose film on Midway Island is due out in fall 2013 and illustrates the impact non-biodegradable products like these plastic caps are having on baby Albatrosses dying in the Pacific, will be among the first TEDx speakers at Habitat.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

Jan Vozenilek wants to give people a reason to think before picking up another disposable plastic product.

He's chosen to do so by making a documentary about Midway Island, a small enclave of environmental destruction in the Pacific Ocean where Albatross babies are dying from ingesting everyday household items like shampoo caps and toothbrushes.

As it will be another year before the film is complete, for now, he's pitching his message at TEDx, a mini version of the the famous Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences coming to Kelowna for the first time next month.

Running under the tagline, "Ideas worth spreading," the TED Talks non-profit organization authorizes mini events like this TEDx evening at Habitat on Leon Avenue, which all lead up to a semi-annual TED conference of select talks given by leading thinkers from around the world.

Nearly three decades into the phenomenon, the talks now fill the Internet, compiled into films and used to launch all manner of businesses and creative concepts on an international level.

This local event was initiated by developer Andrew Gaucher and focuses on ways entrepreneurship in the Central Okanagan is proving a catalyst for social change.

"With the turbulent times, people are looking for ideas," said Gaucher, who works in green building and development attune with environmental issues.

Pulling in the Okanagan Young Professionals and Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission as sponsors, his team is hoping to make this an annual event to highlight local bright lights, like Vozenilek, on a global stage.

Vozenilek's partner, well-known environmentalist and photographer Chris Jordan, has already shared the Midway message at one of the larger TED conferences; but Vozenilek says his talk is different. As a regular guy who has worked in filmmaking for years, doing everything from commercials to music videos, he will talk about how much Midway changed his approach to everyday life and what he's doing to minimize his environmental footprint.

Sorting through a cardboard box of plastic items anyone might have in their home, he said he tries very hard to turn away as many plastic products as possible since making the trip, never drinking bottled water, for example, and choosing products packaged in paper over plastic.

In the "reduce, reuse, recycle" continuum, he believes the real key lies in the "reduce" component, noting the very things killing these birds can be found on the shore of any beachside community—like Kelowna—after flushing down streams.

"It's completely preventable," he said. "The majority of this stuff is plastic junk that we really don't need to use."

The trailer for the movie, due out in the fall of 2013, was just released. On Tuesday alone it garnered 85,000 hits and has a total near 2.5 million views.

"You see this little tiny island come alive in the decomposing bodies of the albatross babies who live there," Vozenilek said, explaining it's the parents who are feeding the birds the plastic.

With reams of garbage floating around in the ocean—apparently a mass of plastic twice the size of Texas in one area—the larger Albatrosses pick pieces of plastic out believing it to be food. As fully grown adults, it's possible for the birds to regurgitate the debris back up to feed the babies. The little ones, are not so lucky and so the plastic product accumulates in their stomachs until there is no room left for food.

Among the hours of footage he's gathered thus far are haunting images of birds' skeletal remains surrounding mounds of the plastic parts responsible for killing the original being. Vozenilek plans to brings those plastics to the TEDx stage and send the audience an inescapable message about the products that equally will never go away, never biodegrade.

He will be joined at the event by musician-turned-urban farmer Curtis Stone, Disney corporate citizenship manager Nicole Rustad, ultra-running fundraiser Crystal Flaman, the 15-year-old founder of Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan, Alaina Podmorrow, and Paul Etherington, part of a family insurance business who back the Special Olympics.

The event sold out within the first two days of ticket release.

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