All Things Bakelite: The Invention of Plastics

All Things Bakelite: The Invention of Plastics – a documentary at the Mark Twain Library, Redding, Connecticut.  A little history of this extraordinary substance.

In 1907, a determined chemist named Leo H. Baekeland created a new synthetic substance that could not be easily classified. He called the substance – a synthetic plastic — Bakelite. A provocative documentary on Baekeland All Things Bakelite: The Invention of Plastics will be presented by his great-grandson, Redding’s Hugh Karraker, on Saturday, April 16 at 3 p.m. at the Mark Twain Library.

The film by John Maher explores the life and work of Baekeland, the “father of modern plastics,” who was responsible for one of the most transformative discoveries of the 20th century. The primary source and impetus for this illuminating was Karraker, who is the film’s executive producer.

“I wanted to celebrate Baekeland’s life,” Karraker said. “His invention had a huge impact on our lives, but little is generally known about him.”

The film is indeed a celebration of Baekeland—his genius, his innovation, and of a progressive era in America that defined the nation. Karraker spent over ten years researching his great-grandfather’s life, and had access to his mother’s notes on Baekeland’s meticulous collection of 62 diaries. Karraker brought all this to filmmaker John Maher and the result is an hour-long film that is a both a joyous and a provocative exploration of a subject relevant to everyone.

Maher makes history come alive as he weaves interviews with Karraker and other family members with beautifully realized period re-enactments of Baekeland—seen as a curious boy growing up in Ghent, Belgium, then as a persistent chemist and inventor in New York, and later as an old man reflecting on the toll that running the business of the Bakelite Corporation had taken on his life. Archival footage, intimate family photos, and first-person accounts transport us back to the dawn of the modern age when individuals like Baekeland, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and others led a revolution of innovation with their inventions.

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