The rise of the documentary
It's fairly hard to avoid documentaries on TV these days – from big nature to extreme travel to food adventures, we’re no stranger to the format. The best examples include a magic blend of data and drama, which educate and tug at the heart strings in equal measure.
And it’s not just limited to television – cinema-goers are increasingly prepared to part with their hard-earned cash to watch films such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which was alleged to have earned over US$222million at the global box office1.
Introducing Food, Inc.
Another example is Food, Inc., which attempts to lift the veil on America’s industrial food industry by revealing the surprising, and often shocking, truths behind industrial food production. In 93 minutes, we get to see why factory farming is failing on so many levels – from animal cruelty to pollution to social injustice to food inequality.
Some Food, Inc. facts
- In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25% of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80% of the market.
- In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food-safety inspections. In 2006, the FDA conducted only 9,164.
- Organics is the fastest-growing food segment, increasing 20% annually.
How does the film fare?
Food, Inc. is certainly engaging – high-production values and a long list of engaging, articulate talking heads bring the subject matter to life in vivid detail. Narrating the film are Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, both of whom have had big success as authors, writing Fast Food Nation and In Defence of Food, respectively. One case study stands out for us in particular – the story of Kevin Kowalcyk, who died from E. coli poisoning after eating tainted meat (read our "real story" about Kevin).
The film has a deeply American viewpoint, but this doesn’t stop it from being relevant wherever you’re watching it – many of the issues raised are issues that we face all around the world.
And don’t just take our word for it. Food, Inc. received an Oscar nomination in 2010. And, at the time of writing, the film has an average IMDB user score of 7.9/10, awarded by over 17,000 users2, while Amazon.com ranks it as their 7th best-selling documentary movie3.
As a point of interest, one particular scene – where free-range farmer Joel Salatin (shown above) is slaughtering his chickens – is at odds with higher-welfare guidance, which would require that the animal is stunned until unconscious before being slaughtered. Joel does not include the stunning process.
Behind the scenes
Food, Inc. was produced by Jeff Skoll’s (of eBay fame) Participant Media4 – a relatively unique production company that claims "....a good story well told can truly make a difference in how one sees the world". The company has an enviable list of successful documentaries under its belt, including An Inconvenient Truth and The Cove. And it’s not just documentaries – other Participant productions include Contagion, featuring Matt Damon, and Syriana, starring George Clooney.
Creating actual change
And what about the legacy of Food, Inc.? Providing information and raising awareness is only part of the puzzle; catalysing action is also vital. It’s good to see that Participant partnered with several different organisations to create a campaigning platform5 for people to take action against the issues raised in the film. Food, Inc. has undoubtedly done much to highlight some of the critical problems with industrial food production – the first step in kick-starting a food and farming revolution.
The latest documentary by Participant Media, Last Call at the Oasis, focuses on water scarcity and pollution, and features famed campaigner Erin Brockovich. We’ll let you know our thoughts on this as soon as we get a chance.
Huge thanks to Participant Media for the image