I left the office early on Thursday, October 25th and headed back to my apartment on the Upper Westside of Manhattan. As I approached the front stoop of my brownstone, I saw a man leaning against a car, right across from the front steps. A camera with a large telescopic lens hung from his neck. I was curious and approached.
“What you are shooting?”, I asked.
“Matt Damon”, he replied in a thick European accent. “He is in the bakery down the street and he’ll be leaving soon. His kid goes to the school across the street.”
I got more information than I anticipated.
“Are you paparazzi?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “of course”
“From Italy?” I asked,
“No Spain." And we shook hands.
I hung around. Within two minutes, out from the bakery comes Matt Damon. His head was nearly shaved. He walked with whom, I presumed, his father and mother. They approached us. My new friend starting snapping in frenzy, as if he held an automatic handgun providing constant fire. Pop! Pop! Pop! Matt, walking with great ease and nonchalance, crossed the street, entered the school and disappeared.
“Hey!” I said. “I was at the Woodstock Film Festival last week. The Executive Director said my film, Idle Threat, was the #1 film not to miss. Do you want to take a few shots of me?”
He smiled and posed me next to an iron fence. He checked the light and rifled off a half dozen photographs. We exchanged business cards and he promised to attach them to an email the next day. We parted with a handshake.
Interesting encounter. Matt Damon - one moment - A filmmaker the next – photographed by a Spanish interloper. Such is a glimpse of street life… on the upper west side of New York City.
One Man’s Crusade Against Idling Motorists
George Pakenham’s pioneering documentary Idle Threat will have its World Premiere at the celebrated Woodstock Film Festival in upstate New York (October 10-14).
The statistics are numbing in this idle threat. Idling engines consume more than 10 billion gallons of gasoline a year, spewing high levels of toxic carbon emissions. New York City is a prime offender, a microcosm of a worldwide epidemic. In New York alone there are more than one million exhaust emitting automobiles, 13,000 taxis and 6,000 buses. It’s literally enough to make one sick—eight million New Yorkers, one million of them wheezing asthmatics, struggling to breathe.
A Wall Street banker has decided to do something about it. Crusading George Pakenham, dubbed the “Verdant Vigilante,” has engaged in a five-year campaign, documented in the New Yorker, newspapers around the world and in television reports, to get motorists to turn off idling engines. In New York, it’s illegal to idle a car or truck engine for more than three minutes, and millions are ignoring it daily.
Not Pakenham. In close to 3,000 encounters with idling New York motorists detailed on a spreadsheet, this white shirt-and-tie vigilante has succeeded in getting 80 percent of them to shut off their engines. The fines for these infractions, if enforced, would have totalled more than $350,000 in revenues to the City of New York. Universal enforcement of the law would net the city close to $4 million in revenues, and in the process, curb a critical health issue.
It’s no surprise that Pakenham has been yelled out, cursed out and one angry motorist once directed him to wrap his lips around a tailpipe.
Still he perseveres, and New York is the better for it.
Pakenham’s efforts are chronicled in Idle Threat, making its world premiere October 10-14 at the Woodstock Film Festival. The film, featuring New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, city council members, angry New Yorkers, and Car Talk stars Click and Clack (Tom and Ray Magliozzi) in their documentary debut.
The film, directed by Pakenham, is a documentary of one man’s resilient struggle with motorists, politicians, and the New York City Police Department to enforce a 38-year-old anti-engine idling law to reduce air pollution and combat global warming. It’s a David and Goliath epic with a denouement that wins one for the environment—an eco “Super-Size Me.”
“Pakenham is unusually shy and well mannered for a curmudgeon,” writes Ben McGrath of the New Yorker. Somewhat of a rumbled Columbo, Pakenham engages offending motorists with the salutation, “I hate to bother you, but…”
George Pakenham would make a terrific interview. He is a terrific talker, as you can see by the film, and has lots to say. In addition to the film Idle Threat, George has penned a companion children’s book – Big Nose Big City about Cyrano the Bloodhound and his other four-legged friends on the streets of NYC – both as in a colored version and as a coloring book.
George worked in advertising in NYC for 8 years, and produced TV on the side. Over the years he produced one documentary film and three short films. Currently working for a major international bank, he finances international mortgages as well as financing for wind and solar farms. As a volunteer within the bank, he is developing charitable mortgages for low-income Haitians to buy their first homes.
He hates waste and foul air, which compelled him to begin the idle free campaign in NYC in 2006.
Visit the film’s website to view a film preview at: www.idlethreatmovie.com
And don’t forget to turn off those engines.
Idling car and truck engines are causing severe health hazards worldwide, contributing to global warming and consuming billions of gallons of wasted fuel. Wall Street banker and “Verdant Vigilante” George Pakenham is working The Big Apple to change all that, crusading for enforcement of a 38-year-old anti-idling law on the books, but not enforced. Consider the core of the problem:
Idling engines consume more than 6 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the U.S., a significant but little-known contributor to local air pollution, respiratory disease and global climate change.
Idle Threat Movie is a lively look at one man’s spirited struggle to improve public health by raising awareness about idling’s impact, starting in New York City. Against all odds, he succeeds, helping improve local air quality, and in the process gains world-wide recognition for the anti-idling cause, with articles featured in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker magazine, and the Financial Times.
In white shirt and tie, Wall Street banker George Pakenham has walked the streets of New York for over five years, courteously confronting over 3,000 motorists to explain idling’s impact and the law prohibiting running a parked vehicle for more than a short time. Responses vary from thanks to anger, but Pakenham never wavers. He’s determined that the problems idling poses be recognized, and lobbies successfully for the city to enforce its idling laws.
Featuring Click and Clack from NPR’s Car Talk, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Idle Threat profiles one man’s challenging quest to make his city and the world a healthier place, and shows that sometimes one person – and a simple act like turning a key – can make a big difference.
Click for Idle Threat Study Guide and the Idle Threat 5-Year Study Results and Statistics.
"Highly recommended. An eye-opening documentary that draws attention to a common problem, and a solution, that few people even recognize. It also shows the link between individual actions and solving broader environmental and political problems such as energy dependence, environmental pollution, and public health challenges. Well-done and entertaining..."
-Educational Media Reviews Online
"In an engaging and informative approach to a serious environmental issue, Idle Threat tells the story of effective citizen engagement and impact."
– Holly Wise, Virginia Tech Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability
"In the vein of Michael Moore’s cinéma vérité, Pakenham becomes our man on the street accosting idlers who pollute the streets of NYC with their vehicles’ exhaust. The film manages to make you realize the deadly dangers present at the same time it makes you laugh out loud.”
– Prof. Cathleen Miller, San Jose State University, author of Champion of Choice
“An entertaining and informative ride that shows how citizens who care can make a difference.”
– Marc Norman, Director of UPSTATE, Syracuse University School of Architecture
"Opens a conversation about the relationship between science and society... For students, it provides a case study in how they to could take scientific research to define a problem and then take action as a result. In a high school or college classroom, the video would be a way to start the discussion with students about issues that have an impact on their community. This could be a springboard for them to research a problem and the impacts, and then develop a plan that they could implement to make change."
A *must-watch* explaining why every city needs green crusaders, NOW!
It has been said that people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care...Once you see this film you'll understand why George Pakenham cared enough to become one of The Big Apple's greenest crusaders (or as he more cleverly self-proclaims, the "Verdant Vigilante").
Through this work and VerdantVigilante.com, I have learned how one man's dedication to bring attention to an act that is often overlooked as a harmless everyday-occurrance by ordinary passersby, has helped to challenge law enforcement and raise the brow of commuters and enviornmentalists, globally.
I highly-reccomend this documentary to everyone that breathes.
Finite oil is being squandered. It's not just about clean air
The amount of oil wasted by unnecessary idling may be close to 33 million barrels per year in America alone. It's a resource tragedy when you consider how vital oil is for so many things, and that we'll never get it back. People are largely oblivious to where energy actually comes from.
The arrogance of the drivers who consider Pakenham a nuisance is telling. They are just dumb takers. I don't know if mere education will be enough. Most people just grab what's available to them in the short-term. They are not genetically programmed to consider scarcity and greed is a big factor in behavior.
In this unique and inspiring film, we are reminded and shown that one person CAN make a difference! How refreshing when it's so easy to "let the other guy do it." To think that one articulate, determined man was willing to put his idea into positive action requiring so much patience, time and effort is a joy to behold. This film deserves a huge audience. I hope those who buy it will share, share, share and spread this important message on the dangers of idling. Bravo to George Pakenham!
Everyday, a line of SUV's sit idling outside of my high school waiting for the school day to end. Everyday, parents run their cars for 20 to 30 minutes while waiting for their children to file out of the school. They never give a thought to the fact that their kids walk through poison to get into their comfortable cars or that the heater or air conditioner they are running is simply recycling the exhaust from the car in front of it. More people need to see this video and spread the word that this simple idea will help us all live cleaner and healthier lives!
Idle Threat is not Idle
This documentary is a must see for anyone who cares about the environment and their health. I don't want to spoil the pleasure of seeing this by talking about the content. Suffice it to say that it will amaze you. It is very informative and told with humor.
So many of us sit by idly (no pun intended) and complain about issues without ever trying to do anything about them. This movie shows how one person can make an enormous difference. I found it truly inspiring and would love to see it used in classrooms to spur students towards activism. If you are passionate enough about any issue, you CAN be an agent of change!
Great for classroom use
I screened this film in my freshman rhetoric courses and it provided excellent material for discussions about eco-activism, as well as how arguments are made in documentary films. The students were able to think critically about their own behavior and engage in thoughtful debate. Highly recommend to educators of teens, young adults, and beyond.
Clean air, anyone?
Many of us living in big cities like New York too often take for granted the air we breathe, unconcerned about the dangerous assault on that air from the constant fumes of cars, trucks, and buses. With courage and tenacity, George Pakenham has taken on a one-man crusade against that assault and presented it all in a way that is clear, convincing and entertaining. If you enjoy breathing clean air, this film is worth watching.
This is the best documentary on engine idling
George is creative, and dynamic, and explains the issue of unnecessary idling. For cities with budget difficulties, think of how much money could be raised just by issuing tickets! It would quickly change behavior, and we wouldn't do it as a society anymore. It just requires a little change in daily behavior.
In a world where it is easy to take in everyday problems and simply do nothing about them, Idle Threat tells a tale of a vigilant fight against pollution. The story told by George is easy to relate to and it inspires the viewer to be active in their pursuit of a cleaner environment. Great music and humour round off a fun documentary experience! Bravo!
-Patrick J. Stahley
Idle Threat - an incredible movie
This movie is a call to ALL of us to not just sit back and watch when we see something wrong. I applaud Mr. Pakenham for his unending dedication to his cause. I just wish that I had his determination, guts and stick-to-it attitude. Highly recommend this to EVERYONE.
Great Idea for all of us to Save our World!
This documentary is highly informative. It shows how each and every one of us can easily prevent thoughtless annihilation of our own planet by performing just one very simple step: Stop drivers from idling their cars for extended periods of time.
Kudos to the producer(s).
Important and fun to watch
I have lived in NYC for many years, and never focused on an AVOIDABLE source of pollution that is all around us, in this city and elsewhere. In an interesting and humorous way, this movie shows us what's going on, and what we can do.
Easy changes we can make in our daily lives that can have a massive impact
An enjoyable movie addressing a serious subject- Pakenham's narration makes this an enjoyable view and highlights how an individual can make a big difference to their environment