Docurama // 2009 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 7th, 2012
New thinking about what we're eating.
When documentaries verge into the political, they very often become divisive. At their very best, they can have the power to change minds or, at least, make a viewer think about an issue. More often, though, once a film takes a side, it's all over. Those who oppose will boo and his at its lack of balance, those who approve will defend its merits, and nobody gets anywhere. Director Ana Sofia Joanes no doubt makes a political statement with Fresh, but her documentary is done in such an even-handed, reasonable way that I have a hard time thinking audiences of any cloth could argue with her message.
The issue is food, where it comes from and how we get it. For many, it's an easy question of heading to the supermarket and checking out what's on sale, but not everybody has those options. The world's population is growing and whether the issue is meeting the caloric needs of the international market or the increasingly common urban food deserts, where it's far easier to find a Red Bull than an apple, there is a lot of uncertainty as to how we can not only feed everybody, but feed them in a long term way.
Instead of outwardly blaming corporations, government subsidies, or lobbyists, like many similar documentaries do, Fresh looks at how individuals can take part in changing the culture of farming and food distribution. Whether it's Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer who manages the output of his property by adhering more closely to the natural symbiosis of plants and animals, or Will Allen, the Milwaukee-based organizer who teaches his community to compost and grow food on the available urban land, the people that Joanes profiles are about change and sustainability. Her arguments make the prospect sound almost too easy, but where many documentaries just complain about an issue without offering answers, Fresh is full of them. Some are bigger than others, but each is achievable and, as a whole, they allow for a modicum of hope for the solution to the growing problem of food availability.
Fresh is basically just a series of talking heads mixed around footage of the people working on their projects. It's not the most innovative documentary, and much of what Joanes discusses can be found in other films on the same topic, but she makes her case in such a succinct, level-headed, and fact-based manner that her approach is really hard to argue with. I can see representatives of Cargill and Monsanto disagreeing with the idea of ending monoculture and promoting local farming, but everybody else should have a pretty easy time with this film.
Fresh receives a mediocre, bare-bones release from Documrama. The image and sound are very average, with a cheap looking transfer and simple stereo mix. It looks and sounds kind of cheap and, while this isn't the kind of movie that necessarily benefits from technical superiority, it's a lower quality release than I'm used to from the label. It's certainly watchable and gets the point across, but a nicer transfer and some extras would have been welcome.
There are a fair number of worthwhile food documentaries that have emerged recently and, unfortunately, Fresh doesn't break any ground in the area. It is so succinct and reasonable in its approach to change, though, that I'd probably recommend it as a starting point over more detailed production and it's definitely worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site