Saturday, December 4, 2010


I was first introduced to the film Our Daily Bread, in 2009 while watching a series of documentaries revolving around industrialized food, that I had gotten through Netflix. Within the grouping of three films, Food Inc., King of Corn, and Our Daily Bread, this one stood out to me as unique in its approach to the subject matter in its choice to go without dialog or narration. By choosing to go without words and leaving only for natural sound the piece appealed to my thoughts in ways the other two documentaries did not and forced me to think for myself about what I was seeing.

Hanging blankly from the hooks in the ceiling are the carcasses of pigs passing by the lens as the film opens by following behind an employee cleaning the floors beneath. Cutting from pigs to mechanized gardening, from mechanized gardening to cows online for slaughter, from cows online for slaughter to a grand yellow field of sun flowers being sprayed by a crop duster, and from a crop duster spraying to baby chickens rolling down a conveyer belt like car parts in a factory, the film starts out with a visual pace that covers the gamut of food production and leaves little room to wonder how what’s on the table for dinner got there tonight.

Colorful and awakening the film stirs emotions as it unfolds a mix of footage from food production all over Europe. Making industrialized food production look beautiful while at the same time speaking of its dangers isn't easy, but this film did a good job of it and made me feel as if I was watching Baraka meets food production. In its 90-minutes of footage the piece leaves you in awe at how far we have come in mass producing food and then begs you to ask the question if maybe we should start to go back.


Taking the opportunity to delve deeper into how it was made, where the idea came from, and how it effected the people who made it.  I took the opportunity to speak with director Nikolaus Geyrhalter about the making of the piece and this is what he had to say:

DOC THIS:  My first thought is how did you come up with the idea of building this piece?
Nikolaus: Usually, I make the films I would like to see and that no one has shown...and so I was very curious about the subject. My interests didn’t have to do so much with the message that the film has at first instead I initially just wanted to see what was happening with our food and then figure out for myself what the film was about.

DT: In regards to the audio, what drove the choice to go without it in this project?
N: Actually I wouldn't say it’s without audio. It’s without narration and commentary. I mean there is audio in the sense that there is the original sound and this sound is so telling. I honestly wouldn’t have known what to add. I mean - I wanted the audience to be able to really see and hear and feel for themselves and then be able to build up there own opinion. I think that this style versus telling them what to think is much stronger because everyone really can enter the same room, the same area - much like I did when filming and then hopefully they can be over-whelmed in the same way that I was. So I think it was just the right choice to leave the audience alone with what they see…like I was alone with what I saw when I was shooting it.

DT: With an experience like this, how does it changed you?
N: Well –um I was shooting the piece over two years, so I saw a lot of change. But I guess for me what I would say is this...on one hand now I really do believe that organic food is better food. I would never think that for me to become a vegetarian would solve the problem, but I guess I just think that you can try to go organic as much as you possibly can. The other thing I learned is if you try to eat as clean as possible and go organic and if you do all the ‘right stuff’ to try to avoid this industry, you simply can’t really avoid it at some level.  Even if you can escape it because you have the money to afford to buy better food you must realize that there are other people who may not have that money and won’t be able to do that.  So it is the kind of reality that we are facing and living in whether you like it or not…for me I guess there are a lot of concerns.  But at the moment I guess do what I can.  I grow my own potato’s and try to live as organic as possible and that is it.

DT: I am curious with some of the factories with the chickens and the cows and what not.  Did you light those rooms or did you just shoot them with natural light?
N: No, it was all natural light. I didn’t have the chance to put any artificial light in.  Although it wasn’t really necessary because the light as it is it’s part of the architecture - it’s part of the structure of those rooms, so I was very happy to just work with the light that I found.

DT: Where there any scenes that you had to cut out for the length of time or other reasons that you wish you could have left in?
N: You know we cut out all the interviews.   We did do interviews, but it was a decision during the start of editing that interviews were just too boring and so we decided from the very beginning not to use any interviews at all.  It was just that we felt that what ever the people interviewed had to say it would not contribute to the film at all because what we saw with our own eyes was much stronger than what people could tell.  So this was the big change of direction in the film that we decided that we wouldn’t have any thing the interviewers said in it…it was not the original concept.

DT: When you were starting to work on it, how did you go about getting funding? Or how difficult was it to get commissioned for this project?
N: I have to say that in Austria we are very lucky because there is serious funding for documentaries especially if they are made for cinema. And usually you will get some amount of funding for research and then you have to apply again, but if the project is approved you will find they are able to award good amounts of funding for documentaries here.  Now it is getting a little more complicated as the budgets are getting smaller and smaller every year, but at that time to receive funding was not that complicated.

DT: Are you working on anything new now?
N: In the moment I am about to finish a film about Europe and this is also a film without commentary or narration. From the structure it can be compared with Our Daily Bread, but it’s more about where we as a society are standing right now and it also has to do with immigration and deportation.

DT: Is that connected with terrorism, international, or what is the theme connected with?
N: No, its more a bit philosophical about just where our country or Europe in general stands and how superior or inferior we really are or are not.  I wouldn’t even necessarily call it a documentary, but more like an essay.

DT: What’s the name of it?
N: In German it will probably be ABENDLAND in English I think it will just be called Europe.

DT:  Thanks for your time.
N: My pleasure thanks for your interest.

Reviewing this film and speaking to Nikolaus about its making was an honor and I hope you enjoyed.  As always I encourage you to comment with thoughts on the review or film as well as check out the links for preview and purchase.

Thanks for reading!




Sunday, October 24, 2010


I recently was introduced to the film, Standing Army by an Italian friend of mine who works at RAI, an Italian TV network.  He thought it might be something I would have interest in watching being I am an American, a veteran, and a filmmaker, so he gave me his copy to watch.  The film was made by an Italian production crew who were inspired to make the piece after the announcement that the US military had scheduled to build a new base in Vicenza, Italy and continued to do so through popular opposition of local's protesting and outspoken political disinterest from the region.  Starting with the filming of the protest, then taking a tour of Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo, and following this by gathering an in depth list of unclassified statistics and archival footage of the US military, the production team, led by Enrico Parenti & Thomas Fazi worked for 3 years to put together a complete break down of the United States military's current and growing presents in the world, the effect on the countries it resides in, and the probable motives and dangers behinds its growth.  In the end what they came up with is an interesting diagnoses for a problem that I think most Americans are already blindly aware of.

"Standing Army" is an interesting title. The visual idea that I get from this is a military literally standing in uniform waiting for something to happen.  Since in this case the military we are talking about in is the US's military, I find the topic just that much more compelling.  Growing up in the US and thinking that, “our military is the best in the world” as my drill instructor would yell out in boot camp, has been one that I cannot deny saying I have enjoyed with a sense of pride.  But this film puts that ideal in check.  Coming from the viewpoint of a film crew from outside of the US who then go into the US for perspective, by interviewing scholars and authors such as Noam Chompsky, Catherine Lutz, Gore Vidal, and others. Then from there proceed to follow the presents of the US military around the globe.  The film does a good job offering insight on a subject that is difficult to fully conceive while living within the boarders.  

Using field research, archival footage, and expert interviews to depict the US as a form of “empire”, the film works to connect what it sees as the problematic over-sized growth of the US military and the ongoing widely ignored warnings from presidents in the past (Washington & Eisenhower), who tell of the threats posed to a democracy by the over-powering strength of, "the military industrial complex”, a term I first heard in the film, The Fog of War.  The piece continues to develop the idea by working to lay out all the data to diagnose the symptoms of our overgrown military pointing to terrorism and the wars outside of the US as gross indicators of the problems we are creating for ourselves.  In addition it goes on to connect the ever-growing relationship between the interest of the world's oil contractors and the visible locations of growth in recent years by the US military.  It is a connection that seems to have been pointed out so much in recent history that it has become little more than a resounding gong in the ears of voters preferring the local news over reality TV.  

Highlighting the dysfunction of the overgrown military system with its ability to seemingly go where it wants when it wants and the damage that it creates on the countries and cultures in its path is painfully unattractive to watch, but none the less shamefully unshocking as we have bigger problems ringing in our ears from Abu Garab and Guantanamo Bay.  Most painful however maybe the more obvious fact that our military has for a long time now been being used for something more than, “standing ready to protect its country in time of need".  Instead as this and other films of its like suggest, it has started to become a complex organization that aims for economic stability through war and does this by playing out its pawns and chips where it sees fit.

It isn’t all kicks and giggles however and the film does have its weaknesses.  The main being its lack of contrast to its subject which pushes its message toward echos of propaganda.  Speaking from the point of view of its expert interviews, the film rests heavily on the perspective that the US military is, “the 800 pound gorilla in the room” and it does little to offer input from professionals who oppose this concept.  Using select clips from a public speech given by Hillary Clinton to serve its point  and manipulating the coloration on a clip of Barak Obama, to make him seem cold and distant.  The film seems to be comfortable manipulating powerful individuals as it pleases, without offering interviews from the members of the political systems it attacks.  Furthering on the point even the music scored from the opening credits pings with an audio streak of paranoia and while these factors do a good job of maintaining my interest, it weakens the point the film works to make by leaning to hard to one side.  

Even with this in hand however one cannot help but note how the US military seems horribly insensitive and uncaring when watching the ramblings of Edward Luttwak ( Consultant to the office of the Secretary of Defense) as he spews uneducated angry rhetoric towards people who are getting in the way of the military's interest.  In addition one must recognize that facts are facts and you cannot miss the validity of some of the claims of the US military's interest toward "empire" when listening to author William Blum as he rolls through a list of recent wars and the bases that were born out of them.  By the end the message is clear and one cannot help but better understand the feelings of having another country's military existing willfully within the boarders of ones country's land and more to that the US military, more often than not, is the one who is doing it.

On a side note, Standing Army has gotten recognition in parts of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.  It still does not have distribution in the US yet, but you can see the trailer below and go to the Standing Army link and click to buy a copy for yourself.  It's a good film, professionally done, and of value for those wishing to better understand what is happening with the US military influence on the world.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed, and comment & join for future reviews. 


*Special note: On Wednesday, Oct 15th I was able to interview the director of the film Enrico Parenti and have posted the file here for your listening: QUICKTIME LINK INTERVIEW





Saturday, September 25, 2010

With Jean-du-Sud Around the World A Film by Yves Gelinas

The film was given as a gift from a friend of mine Dan Wasserman, which was appropriate as the two of us spent near three months on a small boat in 2006. Upon my first viewing of the film I instantly fell in love with the piece both because of its accuracy and portrayal of traveling the seas, and for its well designed editorial pace and poetically written script. Since then I have watch it numerous times both in memory of my own trip and because of my enjoyment of watching this strange little man and his in-depth perspective of what it is like to take on such a task.

Jean-du-Sud is the name of the little craft that Yves Gelinas, the filmmaker and solo voyager, travels on around the world. Written into the piece as the main character Jean becomes the true hero of the journey as she works her way around the world carrying young Yves with her as a companion. Over the several months of traveling and challenges that arise the two form a formidable bond that I think for someone who has never done a trip like this may think a little strange (something like Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away), but accurate none the less.

The two of them start out on the downward slop of the Atlantic finding themselves enjoying the simplicity and pleasures of sailing in a calm season and a small ocean. Eating hand-made bread, enjoying the warmth of the equatorial climates, and chatting with a short wave radio friend from Nova Scotia, all make sailing the globe seem blissful and easy, however the notion that sailing the globe is something that can be taken lightly is always a mistake. Several months into the trip the two find themselves cut off from their outside contacts. Battling with depression, exhaustion, and lost of motivation they loose there focus, broach the boat, and end up demasted and broken with nothing but a jerry-rig and a patch up job of what the mast used to be to bring them onto shore and end the trip. Seemingly done with the voyage Yves returns home broken hearted, but his will is strong and he returns to his love Jean some months later to finish what they started and rebuilds, repairs, and returns successfully to the sea and their voyage together.

Seeing this cute this little man in his funny sea born outfits with at times no outfit at all, is entertaining and in some ways enlightening. Watching as he crafts and cast a beautiful kite into the air, with camera attached and seeing it fly high overhead looking down on the craft and man below is a highlight. Feeling his struggle as he misses his children while at sea for the holidays is insightful. And watching as he dips into depression, is broken by the sea, and recovers to finish the trip, is inspiring. When you think about it, its not many times in life that one can take a trip like this. But if you have, want to, or would like to know what it is like, this little film would be a good place to start.

Hope you enjoy write me if you see or have seen I would love to hear your thoughts.


Trailer (EN): With Jean-du-Sud Around the World from TheSailingChannelTV on Vimeo.