Reviewer's Note: The Future of Food has been expanded to a 2-Disc Special Edition, so the ratings and summaries in from the original review have been changed accordingly. Enjoy!
"You are what you eat." – Albert Signorella, DDS
Like many of my fellow food shoppers, I'm a label reader. I try not to go overboard with the junk, usually opting for pretzels instead of potato chips, baked instead of fried and skim instead of whole. I've also been trying to watch my sodium intake as well, though buying TV dinners and other frozen food pretty much kills that idea right out of the gate. It's becoming tougher and tougher to eat healthy these days, especially since it's often so much cheaper to just buy the unhealthy stuff. It's a difficult job for the blue collar consumer, but it can be done.
Unfortunately for those who've already mastered the art of healthy food shopping---on the surface, at least--- Deborah Koons' The Future of Food (2004) presents consumers with a whole new set of problems. What else is in your food? Antibiotics? Allergens? Steroids? Those chemicals with the really long names that you can't pronounce? Chances are that there's more in there than you'd think...but it's not often listed in big text on the package. What The Future of Food really preaches against is genetically modified seed, chemical herbicides and other inorganic stuff we're shoveling down every day when we're not paying attention (and, of course, the conglomerates that push 'em). More than anything, it reveals these problems to be extremely long term---meaning that your great-grandchildren will likely see the effects more than you ever will. It's an eye-opener from start to finish, but those who aren't completely sold in the first 30 minutes will likely ignore the rest.
For these reasons, The Future of Food may seem a little one-sided---but there's really no reason it shouldn't be. Essentially, it's in the same camp as films like Bowling for Columbine or Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism: it's scathing and provocative, so it's bound to divide audiences sharply. While The Future of Food may be less of a traditional documentary than what we're used to, Koons---incidentally, the widow of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia---has made an engaging and thought-provoking film that begs to be shared and talked about. It's a documentary that can educate and inform viewers of all ages, though it'll still be a tough film for many to…*ahem*…swallow.
Regardless, the DVD presentation is solid enough to support the main feature quite well. The technical presentation is more than enough for an independent documentary, while the bonus features are highly informative and appropriate. Those who appreciate focused films that tackle hot button issues (no matter what side of the fence you're on) will undoubtedly get something out of it, but The Future of Food works best when passed around and shared. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in a pleasing 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, The Future of Food looks better than most documentaries that find their way to DVD. The older stock footage is in fairly rough shape—purely a source material issue and nothing more---while everything else is relatively bright, sharp and colorful. There are a few hints of edge enhancement here and there, but this is still a very solid visual presentation overall. The audio, presented in a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, is basic but strong enough to get the job done. Dialogue and music come through clean and clear, though no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been offered for the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The basic animated menus (seen above) offer an attractive layout and very smooth navigation. This 88-minute film has been divided into roughly a dozen chapters, while no apparent layer change was detected during playback. The actual packaging is fairly straightforward, as this two-disc release is housed in a double-sided standard keepcase with no inserts included.
The first disc is fairly short and to the point, as only a handful of Trailers and Additional Interviews (which play more like deleted scenes) have been included. The second disc is quite a bit more filling, offering plenty of ways for viewers to put the documentary's advice into practice. Things start off with a series of four Farmer's Portraits (text summaries accompanied by short film excerpts): there's "My Father's Garden" (5:25, full frame, below left), "Troublesome Creek" (4:35, full frame), "Ripe for Change" (4:58, anamorphic widescreen) and "Fields of Plenty" (5:10, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen). Next up is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) text overview which also includes a related short film entitled "The Happy Box" (12:57, non-anamorphic widescreen).
Moving on, there's also a text overview of Farmer's Markets and their benefits, as well as a short how-to about Seed Saving (13:30, full frame, above right). Next up is Bringing Healthy Foods Into Schools, another text overview that includes a short film on student-supported gardens and their benefits (8:35, full frame). There's also a Q&A with Michael Pollan regarding the higher cost of organic food (7:28, full frame), while things wind down with a series of GE-Free Recipes from a variety of contributors (12 total). Closing out the extras are a series of DVD-Rom Weblinks for other ways to take action, though it's worth noting that several URLs are already included with many of the text summaries.
Obviously, these bonus features lean heavily towards the informative rather than the entertaining---so they're a perfect match for the main feature. An optional audio commentary or interview with the director may have been helpful, but it's still a solid lineup of extras otherwise.
Revealing and insightful, The Future of Food is the type of forward-thinking documentary that serves to strongly persuade instead of casually inform. For this reason, the tone of the film may seem much more subjective than most examples of the genre, but it's necessary to get the important points across. Those already familiar with organic food and its benefits may not learn anything new here, but anyone curious about what they're eating---and frankly, that should include everyone---will discover plenty while watching The Future of Food. The 2-disc Special Edition from Cinema Libre offers a strong technical presentation---especially for an independent documentary---while the solid amount of bonus features do an excellent job of supporting the main feature. Overall, it's one of the more well rounded documentary releases of 2005 (thus far) and easily comes Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable desk jockey and art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA (how's that for diversity?). In his free time, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.