Having sounded the alarm successfully on ills ranging from global warming to health care, documentarians are now laying their cards on the table. Three new docs address glaring concerns about the future of food, from agricultural abuses to the hazards of overfishing and the clash of citizens and entrenched bureaucracies. For one week, the Belcourt will screen the films in a kind of cinematic symposium on the state of our sustenance, with the feel-good cooking-contest doc Pressure Cooker (click here for the review) as a palate cleanser.
Surrounding the films, The Belcourt has assembled a series of events. Scene food critic Carrington Fox will moderate a panel discussion Friday night after the 7 p.m. show at the theater, which will serve hors d'oeuvres provided by Whole Foods. The panel features raw-food advocate Laura Button; Cindy Delvin, president of Tennessee Organic Growers Association; Will Harris, owner/operator of the grass-fed cattle farm White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga.; Cassi Johnson, director of Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee; and Marty Mesh, executive director of the Florida Organic Growers. On Saturday starting at 11 a.m., the theater turns its parking lot into an Outdoor Info/Expo Fair for local farms, producers and organizations.
Why would people gather in lobbies and parking lots to discuss the state of the world's food supply? The answers are in these films.
FOOD, INC. (June 26-July 2) If you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, then you know the main characters in this sobering documentary about the American food system: Big Corn, Factory Farms and Supermarket Pastoral. Part spy thriller, part animal snuff film, Food, Inc. brings to genetically engineered and hormone-enhanced life the story of post-industrial farming, with menacing scenes of crop-dusting helicopters, aerial footage of manure-caked feedlots, and one mother's heartrending campaign to improve food safety after her toddler died from E. coli.
The political, environmental and personal themes that made Pollan's book an unexpected page-turner also make for a riveting couple of hours at the movies. (It doesn't hurt that the occasional voiceover by co-producer and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser sounds like The X Files' David Duchovny.) Director Robert Kenner paces deftly from poorly ventilated chicken sheds in the Midwest to alabaster halls in Washington, D.C., to make the case against a web of agribusiness and consumerism—from the FDA turning a blind eye on food safety in favor of Big Beef, to Monsanto browbeating farmers who decline to use pesticide-resistant seeds.
Like any good persuasive campaign, Food, Inc. presents only one side of the story. The heavyweight industrial growers declined to speak on camera, and little voice is given to the global nutritional advances associated with industrial agriculture. Still, by the time Bruce Springsteen breaks into "This Land Is Your Land" as the closing credits roll, your high-fructose-corn-syrup-infused movie snacks won't taste as good as they once did—and Kenner will ably have made his point. CARRINGTON FOX
THE END OF THE LINE (June 28-29) If Monsanto emerges from Food, Inc. as the cat-stroking Bond villain of agriculture, it turns out the fishing industry has its own Dr. Evil: Mitsubishi, which controls some 40 percent of the world's market in bluefin tuna—and which Rupert Murray's documentary accuses of hoarding frozen reserves that will become a piscine goldmine once the last bluefin has been flopped onto a dock.
Unfortunately, that may come sooner than later, as Murray and investigative journalist Charles Clover argue in this muckraking doc. The world's growing taste for sushi and seafood—stoked with nets big enough to suck up a dozen 747s—is rapidly depleting populations of tuna, grouper, red snapper and other desirable fish. Leading with the near-extinction of Newfoundland's cod in 1990, the movie warns that the end result of overfishing will be net losses in every sense of the term.
Hopscotching from Chesapeake Bay to Tokyo fish markets to the shores of Somalia, where divers face the end of their way of life as foreign trawlers vacuum the seas, Murray lays out a chilling argument that seafood could be a thing of the past as early as 2048. As moviemaking, The End of the Line is Discovery Channel standard-issue bolstered by fine undersea footage—but its message of impending crisis will leave its hooks in you. JIM RIDLEY
THE GARDEN (July 2-3) After the 1992 L.A. riots resulting from the Rodney King verdict, one salve offered to the community was a 14-acre plot of land in South Central. The city bought the barren property from Ralph Horowitz under imminent domain and eventually created the largest community garden in the U.S.—a true urban farm. But 10 years later, Horowitz decided he wanted the land back, and a closed-door deal was made to return it at the same price the city originally paid. Scott Hamilton Kennedy's Oscar-nominated documentary follows the fight that sprouts when the 372 farmers arrive one day to find an eviction notice.
Their outrage results in a battle that grows to involve community activists, politicians, musicians and actors. As the organized South Central Farmers dig deeper, they chop away at the corruption taking root in their own community, including members of the city government who claim to have their best interests in mind. A project that blossomed out of chaos eventually relapses as conflicts burst forth between classes, races and neighbors, bringing Kennedy's documentary to a devastating conclusion. Exposing issues of community rights, poverty and human respect, The Garden proves that every Eden has its snake. BRENT ROLEN
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