Tough to Swallow
NO-GMO Film Festival rolls out documentaries that dive into food production’s dark places.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Do you know what’s in your food? Do you know how it was raised? Processed? And by whom?
Those are some of the questions the four documentaries of the NO-GMO Film Festival, playing Saturday, Jan. 9, at Cannery Row IMAX, attempt to answer. At their core, they champion organic, ethical, sustainable practices, while exposing and shunning mass-produced, chemically dependent farming, and reliance on genetically modified (GM) food technology in particular.
“The health impacts of GM foods are not well researched,” says Danielle Russo, campaign manager for GMO-Free Monterey County, the grassroots coalition seeking to ban GM food crops from the county and organizing the festival. “Every single study we have on animals show numerous problems, from cancerous cell growth to smaller testicles. There’s no proof that it’s OK for us to eat that. I think people have the right to say, ‘I don’t want this in my food.’”
“PRETENDING SOMETHING DOESN’T EXIST DOESN’T HELP. THESE FILMS ARE A CALL TO ACTION.”
The Future of Food (11am-12:30pm), the most science-focused film in the lineup, launches into topics like food diversity (there were once thousands of varieties of potatoes and apples), the the 1940s Green Revolution that tapped new technologies to mass-produce food, and a 1975 conference of genetic scientists that was called the “Woodstock of molecular biology” – and took place at Pacific Grove’s Asilomar Conference Center. But it hovers over Monsanto, spotlighting its attempts to control food, from strong-arming farmers and splicing genes, to pushing patented Round Up-ready seeds and dispatching armies of lawyers and investigators.
Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. (12:45-2:15pm) is divided into three parts: the production of meat, the production of crops, and the companies we have entrusted with both. It sears into the memory graphic images of sick cows being pushed into pens by forklifts and raw meat churning along conveyor belts, but it also draws power from what it doesn’t show: The companies that make the food we eat decline to be interviewed on camera throughout. And it’s also spiked with rallying moments, like when one farmer says, “People have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us and we’ll deliver, I promise ya.”
More consistently positive – celebratory, even, of the human spirit and will – is 2006’s The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (2:30-3:30pm). When Russia’s economy and political structure collapsed in the early ’90s, Cuba, which was dependent on imports from its comrade country, suffered a sudden drop in oil and had to revert to antiquated practices to survive: resurrecting public transportation (in creatively weird ways), riding bicycles, community gardening, distributing land into farming co-ops and recycling like their life depended on it. The people banded together, proving that community spirit was the ultimate resource. Alongside the grim revelations, that redemptive message shows up in all the films; that’s what GMO-Free Monterey County seeks to tap into.
“It’s always easier to pretend things are not happening around you,” Russo says. “Pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t help. These films are a call to action. [The Power of Community] is an extremely optimistic film. I strongly believe in the power of community.”
Monsanto gets called on the carpet in three of the films, especially the 2008 Canadian/French English-language doc The World According to Monsanto (4-6pm). It’s a heavy piece of investigative journalism, interspersed with shots of writer/director Marie-Monique Robin sitting at her computer Googling words like “PCB,” “bovine growth hormone” and “Agent Orange,” all Monsanto products. From there, it launches into interviews, vignettes, stories and documentary footage of hearings, amassing a damning case against the chemical giant.
All the films are lined with scientists, journalists, farmers, victims of industry pollution and poisons, and activists, including authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. They deliver their dispatches of foul play and offer counter-strategies with efficiency, but it’s still a lot to absorb in one day.
“I don’t think anybody will watch them all back-to-back,” says Russo. “It’s not ‘buy a ticket, see a film, and split.’ Come hang out. There’s going to be live music by Bob Phillips, Dave Gordon and George Young. [Photographer] Michelle Magdalena will have an exhibit.”
“Most people I talk to are very unaware of GMOs,” Magdalena says. “Some don’t care. These movies really help you understand and care.” To further understanding and dialogue, the festival concludes with a panel discussion (6pm) of local experts (including Eric Schlosser) who will talk about GM foods from human rights, environmental justice and farming perspectives. And GMO-Free Monterey County is circulating a petition, talking to county supervisors and sending mailers to keep GM crops out of the county.
“[That campaign] got new impetus when Monsanto signed a deal with Dole to improve the taste of local crops [last June],” Russo says. “A five-year contract to improve the taste of lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.”
The seeds of a showdown have been planted.