Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I'm Watching...

Our Daily Bread
A film by Nikolaus Geyrhalter

This film won the following awards:
1)Grand Prize Paris Eco Film Fest
2)Best Film Athens Ecocinema
3)Special Jury Award International Documentary Film Fest Amsterdam

I will spare you the most gruesome slaughterhouse images from this film, but consider this my disclaimer that there are some unpleasant descriptions to follow.

As I inserted this film into the DVD player, I was not entirely prepared for what was to follow. What I viewed was a stark, clinical and minimalist display of the industrialization of food, peppered with shots of what I consider to be animal cruelty. Now, having said this, yes I have blogged about dishes that involve meat and poultry -- I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do respect and love animals.

I admit, I do not know much about Nikolaus Geyrhalter. I applaud his efforts to bring the subject of the industrialization of our food to light, especially in such a unique manner, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend this film to everyone. In the style of half documentary, half art film, there is little to no audible dialogue heard throughout. At times attempting to be the "Baraka" for the topic of food production, this film provides many jarring images, including the somewhat gratuitous "baby chick scene" those of us who are familiar with Baraka have seen before. Many scenes in the film were enough to make me never want to eat meat again and I had to fast forward through a few portions because I simply love animals too much.

When people finally entered the frame, they seemed to me to be heartless, automated factory workers with no regard for animals' lives. Set to a mechanical soundtrack of machines and factories, the film at times lulls you to sleep, and at other times opens your eyes to the industrialization process that our food has undergone over the years in order to put food on the plate internationally.

One scene shows the teasing of male cows -- just when they think they're going to have some "intimate time" with a female cow, they get the wind knocked out of their sails by a sperm pump. Whatever happened to letting cows reproduce naturally? Another scene shows animals jailed in pens like they've done something wrong, pelted with grain feed by a machine that shoots their food into their cages. Brutal is the word that comes to mind.

When the monotony onscreen is once again broken, this time it is not by gruesome images of animals -- we actually see people working the land. However, because of demand and the advances of technology, they have a machine between them and the soil. With no real connection to the land, these workers drive down rows of wheat and corn like they're on a paved highway commuting to work. Another worker is shown walking through the chicken coop, which seems like a scene from a maximum security prison with caged animals yelling at him, starving to be free. In the context of the message of this film, even the image of a tree shaken violently by a machine to release its nuts makes you shudder.

If you are constantly searching for more and more literature, film, web content and other sources of food education, then I would recommend watching this film. I didn't personally understand why it won so many awards, but perhaps it was for the unique style which was more like an art installation than a film in my opinion. Geyrhalter does shock you and wake you up to how food is grown, processed, farmed and fished and for that I applaud him. Although he never overtly proposes a point of view, simply watching some of the gut-wrenching scenes implies that he is trying to make the world think about what they're eating.

Halfway through this film, I found myself wishing for a happy ending and hoping it would come soon. It never did. I imagined an ending with contrasting images of happy, healthy families visiting farmers' markets and small farms, then sitting down to a meal of locally sourced, naturally raised food. The film never shows you this happy ending, but it is up to us to make it happen in our daily lives.

That's my film review for today, I promise not every food film I watch will be serious and depressing! I plan to screen some more food films over the colder months and share them with you soon!

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