Film reviews: Just Eat It and Racing Extinction

A film festival with only two screenings stretches the definition of the noun, but the two excellent movies shown at the Oxford Green Film Festival held at the Ultimate Picture Palace in May 2016 were infinitely preferable to watching four or five mediocre ones.

First up was Just Eat It (2014), a documentary about food waste made by a film making couple in Vancouver. To illustrate the issue they lived on nothing but supermarket discards and any reduced bargains for 6 months. This involves ‘dumpster diving’ to retrieve foodstuffs that are perfectly edible but are approaching (or just past) their sell-by date. One of the most arresting images shows a huge skip filled to the brim with tubs of hummus. Shockingly, the sell-by date is 3.5 weeks ahead but they take only take a tiny portion of these because they don’t have enough space in their fridge. In fact, throughout the 6 months they build up large stocks of non-perishable items including a vast supply of chocolate. By the end of the experiment they have rescued a staggering $20,000 worth of food, but only spent $200 on the end of day bargains. The global impact of food waste was also examined, pinpointed by the estimate that one-third of all the world’s food is currently being thrown away. Key problems involve overproduction, the demand for ‘perfect fruit & veg’, confusion over sell-by and best-by dates, and a collective mind set that wasting food is OK. Several contributors highlight the fact that meat and diary production is incredibly profligate. One interviewee stated: “The water required to produce a single hamburger is equal to having a shower for 90 minutes.” Just Eat It is a very professional documentary, the photography is excellent and it’s very tightly edited with a running time of just 74 minutes. Appropriately, there is very little wastage in this absorbing and thought provoking film.

The second film was Racing Extinction (2015; 94 minutes), an ambitious project that took 5 years to complete. Was it worth it? Absolutely, this is an outstanding and visually stunning piece of work. The message is clear – we are racing towards the next major extinction. I didn’t know (shame on me) that five major extinctions have already occurred in the planet’s history. The best known is the demise of the dinosaurs, but more species are becoming extinct today than at any time since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. Racing Extinction predicts that unless drastic action is taken half of the world’s species will have disappeared within the next 100 years. Unsurprisingly, human activity and interference is the main driver of all this, but fundamental changes in our behaviour can make a huge difference. As in Just Eat It the importance of changing your diet (to either reduce or stop eating meat) was highlighted as a very positive step. Ultimately, it’s the film’s extraordinary photography that stays with you. One of the contributors states that “photography is a weapon, and one powerful image translates into a common language”. Using a special filter the explosion of CO2 (like a huge dust cloud) from all types of vehicles (cars, aeroplanes, &c) reveals a hidden world of pollution. Ironically, the filmmakers acknowledge that all of their flights and car journeys throughout the course of shooting the documentary only added to the problem.

Paul Freestone

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