In this series of short film reviews, we share our thoughts on some of the recent documentaries that have caught our attention. Spanning a range of topics around human health, public lands and indigenous foodways, these films highlight some of the key challenges of our time – they are all worth watching.
Director: Sanjay Rawal
Samuel Gensaw of the Yurok Nation was ‘born with the burden of being indigenous’ and the responsibility of learning how to pass down the traditions of his people to ensure his culture is not lost.
‘What will we do if our salmon don’t come back?’
This question, asked by a young man of the ‘salmon people’, in the beautiful film Gather, is ultimately a question we should all be asking – what will we do if the earth can no longer sustain us?
Gather, commissioned by the First Nations Development Institute, follows growers, fishermen and foragers in their attempts to promote the healing of their communities and of their land and water, through the revival of indigenous food sources and knowledge.
Clayton Harvey, a farmer of the White Mountain Apache Nation, had never heard of food sovereignty when he was asked what he thought about it by a student doing his thesis on the farm. He didn’t think anything about it, he said, because ‘you don’t hear about those things here’. The student pointed out, ‘You’re doing it, it’s all about feeding your people.’ ‘Now I live and breathe food sovereignty,’ he says.
Gather is often painful to watch. Archive footage and photographs demonstrate a land and its people colonised and brutalised. That the brutality continues into the present day is borne out by the testimonies of abuse – substance abuse, sexual abuse, diabetes, depression – ‘we are living out long term genocide’.
But ultimately, Gather is a film about hope, possibility and fighting spirit. ‘The industrial revolution is over. Now if we want to survive, if we want to carry on life on earth, we need to be part of the restorative revolution. Whatever that looks like to you, make sure you get your hours in.’
Everyone should watch this film.
Public Trust / The Fight for America’s Public Lands
Director: David Garrett Byars
The United States has some of the most diverse and remarkable landscapes, and the government has an extensive portfolio of the most significant of these ‘public lands’. They are protected from private development to preserve their extraordinary uniqueness and beauty. The best known are the National Parks but the lands also include forests, rivers and lakes, fish and wildlife in these protected areas. These lands are preserved for public access and they are sites of conservation and preservation of unique flora and fauna, geology and history. Many of them are also sacred ancestral lands to the varied tribes of Native American peoples.
There are, however, those who would seek to open these places to extractive development. With the rise of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the privatisation of public lands began, and Conservative political forces worked to remove them from federal government and put them in the hands of the States – where they could be sold to the highest bidder.
Bears Ears National Monument is one such example. It is a place of both archeological and geological significance, remarkable red rock structures which were once home to indigenous people who left ancient hieroglyphics scratched into the stone – a place that truly, no one in their right mind would think was appropriate to destroy for the recovery of uranium, coal, oil and gas. Bears Ears is the ancestral lands for the Navajo, Ute, Hopi and Zuni tribes and the possible privatisation and destruction of these lands is a terrible concern for them. Under the Trump Administration the land included in Monument was cut by 85% to allow for future private development – President Biden, it is hoped, will restore this.
These lands are increasingly under threat despite the convenants that they are preserved under. One of the most precious and spectacular, is the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), home to the porcupine caribou, pupping sites for polar bears and the native Gwich’in. In the last days of the Trump Administration leases for oil drilling in ANWR were put on offer – which President Biden almost immediately put a temporary moratorium on. However, the threat of development on public lands, the preservation of which the majority of Americans support, still hangs in the balance waiting for the decisions of the next American president, and it is an ongoing and important issue.
Sacred Cow / The Nutritional, Ethical and Environmental Case for Better Meat
Director: Diana Rodgers
Sacred Cow takes firm aim at meat consumption and begins to unravel how it became so vilified, taking the question of whether we should be eating meat by the proverbial horns. Author and director, Diana Rodgers answers this with a definite yes. The film, which takes its lead from the more comprehensive book of the same name by Rodgers and Robb Wolf, makes an uncompromising argument for the ‘nutritional, ethical and environmental case for better meat’.
The power of her argument lies in its wider contextualisation – within ethics and the environmental impacts of industrial farming on a planet facing potentially irreversible climate change. The film, inevitably, considers the degradation of soils on the vast American Mid-West plains and the extensive monocropping that occurs in this region which drives biodiversity loss. At the heart of these issues is the Green Revolution and the move from traditional mixed farming to the its chemical future. The SFT’s CEO Patrick Holden speaks eloquently about this in the film.
Livestock are central to the solution, an argument that is being made widely by advocates of sustainable farming across the world and features also in the recent film Kiss the Ground. Ruminants’ integral involvement with the land they live on creates a holistic regenerative ecosystem that has the power to remove vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, whilst working with nature rather than at odds with it. And meat from livestock is also a long-standing nutritional powerhouse as a food. But the argument in favour of livestock must be separated from the involvement in industrialised livestock production, which is in no way regenerative.
Sacred Cow will make you think much, much more about the intricacies of healthy eating and nutrition and how that interfaces with an industrialised food system – or more favourably, a regenerative one that offers a way forward for our nature, our planet and ourselves.
In the UK and UK, Sacred Cow is available on Amazon Prime. You can also purchase a DVD.
Director: Karen Atkins
Despite all the news about drug cartel killings across Mexico, the country’s number one killer remains type 2 diabetes. From the early noughties on, diabetes has risen hugely across the Mexican population, significantly overtaking US figures.
Remarkably, little is understood about diabetes in the general population. A study in 2017 found that more than three quarters of the population think that diabetes is caused by ‘el susto’– a fright, scare or disturbance in one’s life. ‘El susto’ reaches back into the indigenous folklore of Mexicans and is still treated by shamans.
There is an integral link between the consumption of processed foods in the US and its export to Mexico with NAFTA. Between 1984 and 1998, Mexicans consumption of fruit and vegetables fell by nearly 30% while, consumption of sugar sweetened drinks rose to almost 40% – a shocking increase. Traditional diets were being replaced by imported processed food and drink, largely from American companies.
The film offers some breathtaking statistics: Mexico has the highest rate of death, by far, from type 2 diabetes than anywhere in the world; and 65% of children 1-2 years old consume sugary beverages – which is partially the result of poor levels of water quality in the country, with mothers worried about its safety.
The impact of widespread diabetes on poor rural populations is devastating, in part because the Mexican healthcare system is not set-up to treat non-communicable disease – treatment must be paid for by the patient, so the side-effects of diabetes such as blindness and amputations are rife. The 2013 tax on sugary drinks and junk food was a landmark and since, its influence has spread widely across the world. It marks the beginning of a significant public health movement in the country which is growing in force and impact, with hope for a healthier future.
Visit https://elsustomovie.com/ for more information on viewing the film.
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