by Jeff Nield, Vancouver, British Columbia on 01.22.09
Now that this year's Oscar nominations are out, debate will rage about which films deserved it, which actors should have received a nod, and who should (or shouldn't) win. While these food films flew under the Academy's radar, at least when it came time to nominate, that doesn't mean they all didn't deserve a nod, or at least a closer look.
If you watch all of these films you'll understand where our food system stands today, a little bit about how it got that way, and you'll have some insight into what it might look like in the future. There's a scary, uncertain future built on greed and there's a bright, progressive future built on community. I reckon we end up with the latter, and I hope these films help you make choices to become a part of that future.
Read on for the list, including a clip from each film.
The World According To Monsanto
When TreeHugger Kimberley reviewed French journalist Marie-Monique Robin's film back when it was released, she summed up the biggest concerns with Monsanto quite nicely.
Monsanto claims that their genetically modified seeds will solve the food crisis, especially in developing countries, where it will provide significant economic benefits, higher quality and better yield. Nevertheless, the film compellingly shows the unsettling possibilities of genetic contamination of conventional or local varieties of seeds by their genetically-engineered cousins, pointing to a horrific future where global plant biodiversity is nil and farmers are not able to grow anything but genetically contaminated food.
It’s a terrifying thought. But perhaps Monsanto’s agenda is even simpler than all their lofty claims put together. As one farmer puts it, “The reason they do it is control. They want to control seed. They want to own life. I mean, this is the building blocks of food we are talking about. They are in the process of owning food, all food.
I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, but The World According to Monsanto is a frightening film that makes it clear that there are people in the world that see everything as a market opportunity. And, what could bring more wealth and power than controlling food?
The revelations in this film are too many to mention. But, one of the most telling scenes shows George H.W. Bush visiting a Monsanto laboratory during his time in the Reagan administration. He jokes with the Monsanto management about how they should talk to him if they have any trouble getting permits to test GMO crops because he's in the deregulation business. Add to that the almost unbelievable career path of Michael Taylor who must be dizzy from all his time in the revolving door between Monsanto and Bill Clinton's FDA and USDA - who is incidentally a current member of Obama's transition team - and the future looks very scary indeed.
Watch this film to get informed, take a deep breath, and keep reading to the bottom of the list for some positive inspiration.
King Corn is the closest thing we have to a film companion to The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's investigation into the American food system. In the film Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney drive to Iowa to plant, grow and harvest an acre of good ol' American industrial corn. As Lloyd explained when he reviewed the film when it was released on DVD, their hope to follow the crop all the way through the food system quickly fades as their corn disappears into the maw of the industrial food machine soon after harvest.
A review of King Corn on Grist, written by Nicole de Beaufort, demonstrates the potential power of this film.
After gently drawing viewers in with the narrators' earnest quest, King Corn lays bare some of the causes and effects of our relationship with corn: what happens on feedlots, how high fructose corn syrup changed our diet, and how one well-meaning but misguided bureaucrat altered our collective fate because he dreamed of "fields of plenty."
The film forces us to question why our national farm policy perpetuates untold devastation to people, places, and things -- ultimately shortening our lives and widening the prosperity gap. If King Corn manages to gain the audiences and backing of An Inconvenient Truth, it has the power to focus our nation's attention on changing the way we feed ourselves.
A must see film for anyone trying to understand how the U.S. food system works and why America grows so much corn.
Our Daily Bread
Our Daily Bread blew my mind. Shot in a similar style to other non-narrative films like Baraka or Manufactured Landscapes, director and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter takes the camera inside the industrial food system to offer an unfiltered look at how most of our food is produced.
Manohla Dargis writes in the New York Times:
It’s hard to imagine what a voiceover could possibly add. Part of the film’s brilliance is how it lays out the images and their wells of meaning with such cool deliberation, showing rather than telling through the long tracking shots of which Mr. Geyrhalter is a master and which underscore the ongoing, mechanized flow of work. Much like his scrupulous use of perspective, which directs your gaze toward the center of each image, the tracking shots reveal the filmmaker’s artistry as well as a deliberate ethics. In “Our Daily Bread” Mr. Geyrhalter wants us not only to look at the world we have made with care and with consideration, but also to contemplate a reality newly visible that is all too easy to ignore and just as impossible to look away from.
Geyrhalter's film is hypnotic, although for some it may be unbearable to watch. (The squeals of the piglets in the above clip are close to heartbreaking.) I spent much of the film with a dropped jaw and was constantly puzzled by what the people in the film were actually doing.
Unless you know where every bit of your food comes from chances are that some of it is produced using the methods shown in this film. Powerful stuff.
Two more to go; read more about food fights and what Cuba is doing well when it comes to food.