Docurama Films and New Video present a documentary about the local food movement. The film is by Robert Bates and Brian Kimmel, and was narrated by Bebe Neuwirth.
A standard definition program, 16x9 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital stereo sound. The run time is about 67 minutes, and the main menu comes up fairly promptly after a brief FBI warning, a New Video splash, and a Docurama trailer. The feature is not subtitled, and there is no indication for the presence of Line-21 Closed Captioning. The packaging is a standard DVD case. Retail price for this title is $29.95, and has a USA street date of March 29, 2011.
The Feature — ••••
Slow Food is a term that means more than just “not fast food,” but often seems to be a catch-all of locally grown from small, non-industrial, low-impact, and ‘green’ farms. There are, of course, a lot of specific sub-definitions in that whole string of adjectives; the one that seems most ‘fuzzy’ to me is locally grown. Is that 30-miles? 100? It is not clear. And while the farmers and other members of this movement practice and celebrate ‘organic’ farming techniques, they cringe away from the use of the term as the government definitions allowed by that label can violate the spirit of the movement. After all, an industrial organic farm using ‘organic labeled’ pesticides still qualifies, while many of the farmers interviewed for this feature are using strategic planning and Integrated Pest Management. The documentary spends a lot of time discussing issues with a variety of people, from local farmers, to chefs that specialize in the use of local produce, in Oregon, Ohio, and New York — including farmer’s markets in down-town Manhattan, of all places.
The film starts with the basic premise that the American food system is ‘broken.’ Since World War II, the American food system evolved from what was a vast network of relatively small farms, to both centralizing into a small number of mega-farms, often subscribing to the philosophy of “better living through chemistry.” Particularly since, after the end of World War II, the conversion for a munitions plant to a fertilizer plant was dead easy. And this rapidly advanced to the modern era of ‘convenient food’ often designed to be eaten on the fly direct from the wrapper. Beyond that statement of the condition of food, they do not attempt to otherwise prove their point.
Instead, they look to the Local Food movement, how it got started, spread, and is still growing and expanding. And while they obviously are in favor of this movement, they also freely admit that the existing local food movement could not feed the country at this time. There is also consideration between the interaction of the economy, transportation, housing, and the fact that for many people, it is much easier to plant houses than it is to plant beans.
And for me, perhaps one of the most significant bits that has left me curious about what might be available in my area, is the Community Supported Agriculture Farm. In addition to farmers markets in various towns, CSA Farms also sell ‘shares,’ where-by a resident buys “a share.” As the farm then harvests crops through the year, share-holders get (generally) weekly deliveries or boxes for pick-up of the farm’s produce. On a quick glance, several of the CSA farms in my area often anticipate anywhere from half to three quarters of a year of production. Fruits. Vegetables. Eggs. Cheese. Maybe even meats, depending on the farm or farm-cooperative. And not shipped, as one interview-subject put it, “4000 miles between the sex toys and the flip-flops.”
I was pleased to find that while the documentary is decidedly biased, it does admit that there are problems, and it did not come off as strident or ‘preachy.’ Is it perhaps making their case in the most positive way they could? Very likely. But not offensively.
And if you’re like me, you’ll also look into the CSA Farms that might be in your areas. It certainly sounds interesting.
The Picture — 0/5
The picture is a standard definition, wide-screen (16x9) picture. The picture is not noise free; especially in the darker portions of the images. Given the amount of color-snow, I wonder if it was shot in, for example, DV (a 4:1:1 format) and then run through some fairly extensive color grading, stretching beyond the limits of the format’s color resolution.
The picture also shows significant MPEG-II macro-blocking and mosquito noise. This is not terribly obvious on a laptop screen, but once blown up, and worse, paused, it’s not just there, it is pretty obvious.
Worse still, it appears to have been photographed and edited in 24fps video (actually, 23.976fps.). And then converted to 30fps video (again, actually 29.97fps.) I myself have been burnt by this before; in Final Cut Pro, it is very easy to have the frame rate conversion be done by fourth-frame-repeat, rather than the much less visible 3:2 pull-down. Sadly, it has happened here, too, and it is painful.
Projected on a big screen, the end result is, fundamentally, unacceptable.
And, just to add insult to injury, the disc has been mastered in such a way that there is no running time or time-seek.
The Sound — •••
The sound is unexceptional. The interview recordings and narration are clean, intelligible, and fairly free of major defects. Recordings include a hint of ambience, but still primarily monaural. Music expands out into the stereo world.
There are three extra programs on the disc. The interesting thing for me was to note that while often-times, they share footage with the main feature, these do not suffer the frame-rate issues that the main feature suffers.
• an Extended Interview with Alice Waters — the chef of Chez Panisse, more detailed answers to some fundamental interview questions. (Most of the content appears in the film somewhere, in abbreviated form.) About six minutes.
• Slow Food versus Fast Food — Gary Paul Nabhan gives a one-minute discussion on the difference between Slow and Fast food.
• 4 Seasonal Stories — four 3 to 5 minute featurettes, sort of expansions of concepts otherwise covered in the film. Can be selected to “play all.”
In The End
I am not a full-time video professional. And every one of the errors I have seen on this disc, I have committed. Yet, each time, I also caught them before the finished product went out the door. The lesson I learned from this sort of thing is to never trust the “program out” of the editing package. Compress it. Master it. And look at a burned copy of the DVD on a set-top player!
I wish I could recommend this; it is a fascinating insight into a whole world of food that I had been — realistically — blind to. Thus, with reservations, I will say that the content is good and interesting, and might be good for a classroom setting, where no one will get close to the image.
But the things they did to this poor disc.
Given the suggested retail price, this disc can not be recommended, except as an expensive demonstration of how wrong things can go.