Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service. Follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook for updates about film events and more reviews.
Food Chains (2014)
“It is so hot that some people don’t like it. Sometimes we feel the breeze from the pesticide spray. And it feels good.”
Such is the plight of migrant farm workers in the United States. These particular workers ply the fields in Florida and are paid $24 for the entire day. As one advocate says, many times the workers themselves do not eat because they live day-to-day. As he says, “This is not a dignified way to live.”
Food documentaries have become quite prevalent over the past decade—from Food Inc. to Super Size Me to Forks and Knives, the food industry has been chronicled from many different sides: the corporation, the consumer, the system and the environment. But few have looked at the people who work on the farms and pick the food. Food Chains does exactly that. We meet the workers, see the conditions in which they work and live, and follow them in political campaigns. Watching an activist group stage a hunger strike against the Publix corporate headquarters in Florida is both inspiring and laughable. Corporate workers take their lunch hour outside, watching the hunger strike as they eat and the company refuses a dialogue.
The film itself is informative, slick, well produced, and is chock full of stars and recognizable characters from the food doc world (such as Eric Schlosser). Politically, the film puts the onus on the end-of-the-line companies: the grocers, food service, and fast food. It is another in the long line of informative and heart-wrenching films that exposes the inequity in the system we buy into every day: our food.
Is there an answer to fixing the inequities along the line? You will like this film if you enjoyed Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, and/or Forks and Knives.
Opened Nov. 28 at the Sie Film Center.
The Virunga National Park is home to many different types of animals who live in the wild, particularly the endangered mountain gorillas. This large, geographically diverse park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a vast oasis that is also constantly under attack—from poachers, companies who wish to mine the park, and to oil companies. The only line of defense in this fragile country/region is the park rangers, a group of dedicated, if not undermanned and underfunded local men who have dedicated their lives to protecting the park. It is a constant war to keep a national park alive.
The new documentary Virunga, a Netflix original production, chronicles the history of the park and the more recent events that pit government troops against larger groups of well-armed rebels (backed by foreign oil interests), and pits the park rangers against those same rebels—and seemingly everyone else in the world. As their families flee, the rangers stay and fight against the rebels, trying to keep their fragile station from the hands of the rebels. And away from the gorillas.
The film is really two films—the first part gives a concise history of the Congo (and in the process, a history of European Imperialism in Africa) and the park. We meet the rangers and see their heroic efforts to protect the park and the animals in the park. The second part plays out like a thriller, with the rebels attacking the villages (and advancing toward the park) while a sympathetic French journalist plays undercover agent to expose the link between the oil/mining interests and the rebels. Her report will expose the whole story.
The main antagonist in the film becomes SOCO International, a British oil and gas company. The film portrays them as money-mad pirates intent on drilling in the park at any cost. Their involvement with DRC leaders and the rebel groups is somewhat murky, and of course, always denied by the company. But what is clear is how even though institutionalized imperialism died some time ago, the practice continues in economic form.
The cinematography is quite beautiful, the editing can be confusing at times because of the vastness of the geography and change in locales, but it is the melancholic score that holds the film together. At one point during the rebel attack, one of the rangers (who had been introduced as the gorilla caregiver) says “You must justify why you are on the Earth. Gorillas are why I’m here on this Earth.” The score highlights his plight.
You will like this film if you enjoy political documentaries. Available on Netflix.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.