Review: Powerful Eco-Documentary "Unacceptable Levels" Screens in Chicago

The award-winning environmental documentary Unacceptable Levels premiered in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art to a sold-out crowd of hundreds, with actress and health advocate Mariel Hemingway co-hosting the evening’s event, along with filmmaker Ed Brown.

Filmmaker Ed Brown with his family: Lauren Brown, Maia Brown, and Brayden Brown

The VIP reception, movie screening, and Q&A session included a cross-section of the local health and wellness community, including leaders from The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Karyn’s Raw Vegan, and more.  The evening also included eco-conscious area residents, as well as foot soldiers active in consumer product companies offering non-toxic, natural, and plant-derived ingredients.


Filmmaker Ed Brown with national health & wellness treasures Karen Calabrese and Mariel Hemingway

Unacceptable Levels examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes of filmmaker Ed Brown, a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children.  After his wife experienced several miscarriages in between two healthy births – Brown and his wife began to examine the larger impact of the toxic, and largely unregulated chemicals that we all breathe, ingest and absorb.

“I made this film because I couldn’t ignore the effects of chemicals on my family. I had to find out more,” said Brown.  

Brown’s job waiting tables for the better part of a decade also provided plenty of time to ponder the purity of all that drinking water he was dispensing. He narrates the film from the perspective of the plaintive “everyman,” who learns as he goes. 

But it was his past life in media (including a stint with Emmy-award winning filmmaker Michael Moore) that proved so valuable in helping channel his burgeoning personal interests into something bigger that would eventually encompass 58 interviews in 37 locations for his 90-minute documentary.

Brown’s crew traveled extensively to interview the top minds in the fields of science, advocacy, and law.  And weaving their testimonies into a compelling narrative, Brown presents us with the story of how the chemical revolution brought us to where we are, and of where, if we’re not vigilant, it may take us.

Panel Members: Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council; Olga Lyandres, PhD/research manager at the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Ruth Kerzee MPH, executive director at Midwest Pesticide Action Center


The film hammers home that 80,000 chemicals flow through our system of commerce, and many are going straight into our bodies. The film puts a harsh spotlight on the 200 synthetic industrial chemicals that are making their way into our bodies, including more than a few known to cause cancer.

Mariel Hemingway with Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. Dr. Epstein is an international leading authority on the causes and prevention of cancer. He is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He has published some 260 peer reviewed articles, and authored or co-authored 11 books


Overall, viewers left the film with a worse (but better) appreciation for the chemical stew that’s all around us (and in us) – on farms and in barns, as we eat and drink, shower and swim, clean up, slather up and pretty up. 


The audience at the Chicago debut of Unacceptable Levels

For anyone looking to fast-track their knowledge about the impact of chemicals – the experts interviewed in the movie provide a goldmine of guidance on whom to follow, and what to read.    An abbreviated list follows:

  • Ralph Nader   Author, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism
  • Dr. Devra Lee Davis   Founder and President, The Environmental Health Trust
  • Stacy Malkan   Co-Founder of The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
  • Ken Cook    President and Co-Founder, The Environmental Working Group
  • Christopher Gavigan    Former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World and CPO of The Honest Company
  • Dr. Alan Greene     Pediatrician, Author/Feeding Baby Green
  • Dr. John Warner    President & Chief Technology Officer, The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry
  • Andy Igrejas    Director, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families
  • Joan Blades    President and Co-Founder, MomsRising.Org
  • Dr. William Hirzy    Chemist in Residence, American University
  • Dr. Richard Clapp    Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University
  • Dr. Tyrone Hayes    Biologist, The University of California Berkeley
  • Jeffrey Hollender    Former CEO, Seventh Generation
  • Randy Hayes    Founder, Rainforest Action Network

The Midwest/Chicago office of the Natural Resources Defense Council showed support for the film by sending a contingency for the evening’s events. Pictured are NRDC staffers Attorney Rebecca Riley and Program Assistant Hannah Girardeau

Unacceptable Levels has been screening to positive reviews, grabbing the Health and Environmental Prize at the 30th International Film Festival in Paris.  Domestically, it’s screened in 13 locations on the film’s summer tour, including Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C.   Future screening inquiries are available via the movie’s website at

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