July 13, 2012

Science and Environment


Raising the Volume on the Quiet Green Revolution

Edwin Stepp

Over the past decade, documentary filmmakers have been analyzing the modern industrial food-supply chain with a vengeance. Films like Food Inc, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me and Farmageddon have opened the eyes of consumers around the world to the shocking truths about how food is produced in the modern world. Since then, scores of films looking at various aspects of the state of agriculture, modern diets and society’s disconnectedness from nature have been produced and many more are slated. Audience appetites for learning more about natural and sustainable food production don’t seem to be waning. 

But audiences have not been content with staying on the couch and idly acknowledging that our food supply is in big trouble. All around the globe there is evidence that a green revolution is sweeping through cities, and it doesn’t seem to matter how rich or poor their average citizens are, or how little access they have to arable land. 

Now a new film goes on a journey to some unexpected places in search of the interesting characters that are most active in this burgeoning trend.  

Italian filmmakers Michele Millara and Alessandro Rossi are hard at work finishing their latest collaboration titled God Save the Green, a documentary that takes the viewer to Morocco, Brazil, Germany, Kenya and—of course—Italy, to relate the stories of a diverse cross section of people who are taking control of their food supply even in the face of challenges arising from some of the most difficult and adverse conditions. 

In Morocco we meet Abdellah, an elderly man who, despite water shortages, little access to good soil and pressures from nearby landowners, has toiled away on a small plot of land to produce enough food for his own large family and also for many of his friends and neighbors who otherwise would not have enough to eat. 

In a densely populated Brazilian city, we meet Arelete, a woman who is successfully growing vegetables hydroponically in discarded plastic soda pop bottles since she has virtually no access to open fields. 

Other characters practice guerrilla gardening across small, unused plots of land in Berlin. The word plots, here, is used with great liberality considering that many of these spaces are no more than a few meters square. The creativity of gardeners in urban spaces is proving almost boundless as community gardens pop up in vacated lots, substantial amounts of food are grown in containers parked stories high in apartment buildings and tiny bits of land in public parks are planted with edibles. 

The film is beautifully shot and captures the faces, surroundings and everyday lives of these interesting characters as they struggle in the soil. The stories are punctuated with extreme close ups of plant and insect life, a symbolic thread which points the viewer to where the success of this quiet revolution resides. It highlights the need to think small in how food is produced rather than succumbing to the profit-driven “bigger is better” mentality that has dominated the modern global food-supply chain. The slow and thoughtful pace of the film is also symbolic. Like a tomato ripening on a vine or the potato resting just below the topsoil, these stories cannot be rushed to their completion. They unfold artfully and profoundly in a natural and organic rhythm, as does the soundtrack that was composed for the film.   

God Save the Green leaves the viewer with no excuse to be a pacifist in the revolution taking place in food production. The creativity demonstrated by each of its characters as they work to find ways to participate is inspiring and invites all of us to change from couch potato to potato farmer.