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Movie review: Fresh November 3, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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The movie Fresh didn’t achieve wide release. That means it relies on volunteers to host screenings and prospective viewers to do a little legwork to find one. As a result, the only people likely to see the movie are those who are already converted to its cause of healthy, local, sustainable food. Accordingly, the screening I attended was patronized by about 200 enthusiasts of all things local and family-farm produced, and was preceded by a light local-food dinner – sustainably-raised pulled chicken sandwiches and 100% grass-fed beef hotdogs.

In a nutshell, Fresh is a celebration of the locavore movement and its heroes. If you’ve read Omnivore’s Dilemma or seen Food, Inc. you won’t find any new facts or surprising revelations in this film, but if you’re a locavore in the mood for a morale-boost (and who isn’t sometimes) you will enjoy it. Extensive interviews with OD author Michael Pollan, sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, and urban farming advocate Will Allen inspire an outpouring of “yes we can” sentiment which doubtlessly everyone sitting with you in the theater will share. Just don’t expect any critical discussion or penetrating analysis of the arguments for and against the movement. That’s OK. It’s not the first movie that asks you to suspend judgment for an hour and a half and just enjoy yourself.

Movie review: Our Daily Bread August 20, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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Don’t bother turning on the subtitles for the German-language food production documentary Our Daily Bread. Hardly anyone speaks, though the constant whirring, humming, drumming, droning, clanking, and whining of the outsized machines running the show make it anything but a silent film. The film is a tribute, for better or worse, to the mechanization and implied depersonalization of the work of growing and processing food. Just the vast scale of the “inputs” – land mass, machine size, number of animals processed – is both awe-inspiring and discomfiting.

Director and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter opens the doors to the meatlocker, the greenhouse, the fish farm, the slaughterhouse, and the spookily striking salt mine, and leaves it to us to judge what’s inside. It’s up to us to discern the irony that the eggs on the conveyor belts of the henhouses are handled far more gently than the baby chicks we see at the beginning of the film, who tumble through belted waterfalls and spew out of separator chutes like so many M&Ms. There is no gratuitous cruelty – you won’t see PETA-like footage of workers kicking downed cows here. There are just machines, and efficiency, and antiseptic cleanliness. Be warned if your stomach turns easily, however, because those machines do a lot of stripping, slicing, and gutting, and plenty of animal innards are in full view.

Geyrhalter was asked in an interview if he had a hard time getting into the animal raising or processing facilities. He answered that actually many of the farms and processors he contacted were eager to share what they were doing, and you can see why – if you judge the success of a farm in terms of maintaining a controlled environment, keeping food safe, and producing massive quantities of it, these farms seemingly excel. The question is whether that’s all there is to it.

Movie review: King Corn August 18, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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King Corn is a rollicking jaunt though the life of an acre of corn, or more specifically, an acre of yellow dent #2, one of the industrial varieties that make up the vast majority of the corn currently grown in the US. Aaron Woolf’s documentary kicks off with a pair of friends who are informed by a scientist at the University of Virginia that they have corn in their hair – literally, that the composition of their hair indicates that their diet is corn-based. They’re confused, because they hardly ever allow an actual vegetable to cross their plates. But what does cross their plates is lots of corn-fed hamburger meat, corn-syrup laden soda, corn-oil doused fries, etc. So Ian and Curtis plant an acre of yellow dent #2 to follow it in its journey to their stomachs, a journey which takes them from an Iowa cornfield through a Colorado cattle feedlot to a Brooklyn, NY convenience store.

Ian and Curtis are pretty laid-back protagonists, and they ensure that KC never gets preachy or depressing, even when they’re in the middle of a feedlot where the cows are sunk ankle-deep in their own shit. Their easy demeanor conceals two determined journalists, however, who score some thought-provoking interviews that are the opposite of dry documentary fodder. A couple of gems: Audrae Erickson, spokesperson for the Corn Refiners Association, whose polished and fluent explanation of why they can’t possibly visit the refinery – for their own good, of course – fits her right into the role of corporate stooge; and Earl Butz, the Nixon administration’s unapologetic driver of the current farm subsidy structure, whom you have a tough time villanizing as he powers himself down the hallway in his wheelchair, even as he praises the Age of Plenty (and plenty, and plenty more) that he ushered in.

At the end of it all, KC’s message is aptly captured by the sight of Iowa’s staggering corn mountains and the words of one of those interviewees: “We subsidize the Happy Meals, but we don’t subsidize the healthy ones.” Indeed.

Movie review: Food, Inc. August 18, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. could have been the Omnivore’s Dilemma of film – the authority on the reality of our modern food production system. Instead, Kenner engineered an endictment of Big Ag, Big Government, and Corporate America that alternately illuminates and excoriates the food industry. The overzealous bits unfortunately make FI the sort of movie that exactly those people most in need of illumination will refuse to see – and the sort of movie that detractors will find easy to attack.

The merit of FI is that it manages to get movie cameras and interviewers inside some of the parts of our food chain that we never glimpse: the harsh Confined Animal Feeding Operations, the nighttime police round-ups of immigrants working in slaughterhouses, and the halls of justice where lobbyists fight laws preventing food contamination. But then come vignettes that verge on the maudlin, like the extended home movie footage of a young boy who died from E. coli poisoning, and overzealous witch hunts like the one villanizing Monsanto (to which the company released a fair response).

Overall, FI is an informative introduction to our food system if you can get past the ham-fistedness. A better option: invest the time to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and get a more thoughtful and even-handed point of view.

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