One of the more lovely documentary features I've had the pleasure to view in the last few years, "The Fruit Hunters" is, quite simply, delicious. While certainly not as intense or dramatized as Travel Channel's "Dangerous Grounds" (where La Colombe Coffee owner Todd Carmichael searches remote and often dangerous areas for the most perfect coffee beans), "Fruit Hunters" is a bit similar in subject.
The documentary, which is "inspired by" Adam Gollner's book, is directed by Yung Chang and co-written by Chang and Mark Slutsky. The film focuses on the broad topic of people obsessed with creating their own "Garden Of Eden" - finding their own pure bliss within reach: the delight of exotic fruits that deliver hints of specific flavors, like a fine wine (or really good chocolate - I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it difficult to go back to your standard Hershey bar after having a really insanely good piece of single-source chocolate.)
I don't have a difficult time understanding their obsession. I've enjoyed farmers markets all my life, but after moving near a particularly great one, it reminded me what an awakening of the senses incredible produce is. There's nothing like the pure, tart pop of a fresh, farm-grown tomato or the delightful bite of an onion that was probably pulled out only shortly before or the crisp, delightful and delicate taste of a fresh peach. There's nothing like farm-to-table produce - it's hard to go back to grocery store produce once the Winter rolls in and outdoor markets end for the year.
"The Fruit Hunters" follows various adventurers everywhere from rougher terrains to Hollywood, doing an excellent job weaving in history and other educational tidbits. He wasn't part of the book the film is inspired by, but Pullman makes for an enjoyable main figure in the film - the actor is highly passionate about eating healthy and exotic fruits, pushing for a community garden/co-op in his community.
It's surprising that there has not been more push across the country for community gardens or pushing to grow local farmer's markets - which are often a surprisingly reasonable way to get healthy foods. The documentary doesn't really get into GMO foods - not too long ago I tried a "Kumato", a blend of tomato and kumquat - it was a rather enjoyable blend of the two and I was interested in where it came from: the Kumato is a patented creation of Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural company.
You watch people in "Fruit Hunters" go through orchards, jungles and elsewhere in the search of rare fruit and it illustrates the fact that there are incredible flavors that aren't at your local produce and that incredible blends of flavors are absolutely out there in nature, not just being created.
Looking at the Wikipedia page for the Kumato offers remarkable detail into the level of protection and standards that Syngenta uses in regards to its patented seed: "Syngenta has stated that they will never make Kumato seeds available to the general public as the Kumato tomato is grown under a concept known as a club variety, whereby Syngenta sells seeds only to licensed growers that go through a rigorous selection process, and participation is by invitation only. Syngenta maintains ownership of the variety throughout the entire value chain from breeding to marketing; selected growers must agree to follow specified cultivation protocols and pays fees for licenses per acre of greenhouse, costs of the seeds, and royalties based on the volume of tomatoes produced. Typically, Syngenta licenses only one large vertically integrated greenhouse producer per country that has well established relationships with grocery chains." (link
) GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods have become such a hot topic, I'd love to see a documentary that really explores the issue in a balanced way.
"Fruit Hunters" is, like a great piece of fruit, refreshing - it's a smooth, mellow documentary that follows the quest of the true believers and it's a a feast for the senses. I only wish that many of these exotic delights were more commonly available, as the cinematography and frequently gorgeous colors made the "stars" of the film look positively mouth-watering.
VIDEO: "Fruit Hunters" is presented beautifully on this DVD edition, with image quality that appears crisp and clear throughout the proceedings, showing off the different textures and detail of each of the fruits, as well as some of the beautiful surroundings the fruits are found in. The colors are also lovely, appearing well-saturated and vibrant throughout the film.
SOUND: The 2.0 soundtrack is pretty much standard documentary fare.
EXTRAS: I'm really a little surprised, given Docurama's history, that there's nothing more than a trailer here. A commentary, featurettes or other materials could have provided further insights into the produce industry.
Final Thoughts: A rich, mellow look at some incredible exotic fruits and the people who lust after them, "Fruit Hunters" is a juicy delight. The DVD is thin on extras, but offers very good audio/video. Highly recommended for foodies.