Food, Inc. | documentary 25 of 100

Well tomorrow’s a big day for a select group of documentary filmmakers – the official Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning at 5:38 am Pacific. I wasn’t planning to be awake for that. But tonight after screening one of the films in contention, Food, Inc., I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to sleep at all. Don’t watch this film if you aren’t prepared to change your eating habits. This film won’t necessarily make you a vegetarian, but it will send you to the free-range, organic isle for life. See you there.

Synopsis: Think that FDA stamp of approval means your steak is good? Think again. Filmmaker Robert Kenner teams up with two investigative journalist authors, Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, to uncover the ugly truth: faceless megacorporations have taken over the food chain. If you’re a carnivore, you might be thinking soybeans … until you learn that one company is forcing virtually all farmers in America to plant its genetically modified beans. Despite the grim reality, this is a hopeful film, reminding us that as bad as it is, Big Tobacco was until recently in the same place is Big Food is today.

Story Structure: The opening sequence of this film is my favorite ever. Not only does it surprise and delight, but it makes a subtle comment about labels on food in general: we think we have a cornucopia of choices, but we really don’t. In fact, we hardly see brands and labels at all, not realizing that just a small handful of companies are delivering most everything on the isles. And what they are delivering leaves something to be desired. But I digress. The story is narrated by the two authors who the filmmaker teams up with to make the film: a pair of investigative journalists, who we return to over and over in the film to regain our bearings in an otherwise dizzy array of facts. The film makes use of everything from home movies of a boy who died from an e-coli outbreak, to interviews, to news footage, to hidden camera footage shot by employees of one of the 6 meat packing plants that server the entire USA.

Cinematography: This was a tough film to shoot, because the big food companies don’t like it very much when filmmakers look below the surface of their expensive logos and pr departments. That means we’re treated to fly-overs and drive-bys of feed lots, more often than the thing itself. Which make them a lot prettier than they really are. The filmmakers are a lot more polite than Michael Moore would have been in gathering footage, but they do manage to get meat packing plant employees to carry a hidden camera that reveals a tiny slice of the horrors awaiting pigs, chickens, and Mexicans who manage to avoid being captured by the INS long enough to work in these pits. In one memorable scene I spotted a LitePanel sitting on the dash of a pickup truck driven by a farmer who ends up not allowing filmmakers to film his chickens. At least his face was beautifully lit while he caved to the man.

Editing: The rotating business card animation is my take-away editing trick from this film. It’s that thing otherwise known as “revolving door” in which lobbyists and industry big-wigs get plumb government jobs in between commercial gigs. If they were your friend, you’d have a hard time remembering which email address to use to invite them to your daughter’s graduation. Or funeral.

Music and Sound: The got “The Boss” to chip in a song at the end. What more do you want.

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