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Of Chicken Coops and Oscar Luncheons: The Story of Food, Inc.

Of Chicken Coops and Oscar Luncheons: The Story of Food, Inc.

Articles - Moviemaking

Days after we filmed at Carole Morison’s chicken farm in Pocomoke, Maryland, our production van was still swarming with flies attracted by all the chicken poop we had tracked in on our shoes. Sitting inside a ballroom at a Beverly Hills hotel with 120 other Oscar nominees, Carole’s farm seemed very far away. But it’s because people like Carole Morison were willing to participate in Food, Inc. that I was sitting at that luncheon at all. Carole let us into her life and, unlike many people we asked, she let us inside her farming operation. She knew that going on camera could be risky for her, but she was ready to speak out. She told a powerful story about losing her independence as a farmer, about raising animals in a way that felt wrong to her but that seemed to be her only option. Today, Carole is no longer farming, and her future is uncertain.

Food, Inc. was the most challenging and most rewarding documentary I’ve ever produced. Director Robert Kenner started with a simple idea: To tell the story of how our food gets to the table, from different points of view. We approached many of the large food companies and asked them to participate in the film, but most said no. Some wanted a promise that the film would be positive, others were just not interested in engaging at all. We quickly realized that this lack of transparency was key to this story, but it presented a moviemaking challenge. We felt it was important for the audience to know about the resistance we encountered, but we did not want to turn the cameras on ourselves and become part of the film. Ultimately, we decided to use simple text on screen to state when a company had chosen not to participate. We also structured the film to reflect the discovery process we went through. We built to the revelation that this is a story not just about food, but really about power and influence. It’s about threats to free speech and the free dissemination of information about what we put in our bodies every day. And it’s a story that impacts us all.

To me, making documentaries is the best job in the world. I love what I do, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to do it. People entrust you with their stories, and you try your best to do them justice. Sometimes you fail, and it feels terrible. But when you do succeed, the film can bring attention and opportunity to your subjects that they couldn’t have had otherwise. Many of the people in Food, Inc. have told us that we did right by them, and that is truly rewarding. We also know now that the film has had an impact, from being featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to being screened by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The Oscar nomination is the ultimate icing on the cake, and it means that Food, Inc.’s message will hopefully spread further. On March 7, the evening of the Oscar telecast, I’m going to be thinking about all of the people who participated in this film, who shared their stories, their knowledge and their vision. The film would not exist without them.

Elise Pearlstein is the writer-producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc.. For more info on the film, visit www.foodincmovie.com.

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