Friday, October 07, 2011

'Farmageddon' is a well-intentioned, but under developed documentary

“Farmageddon” is a documentary that sheds light on an unseen issue: the government's persecution of small family dairy farms. The problem is writer/producer/director Kristin Canty doesn't really have much to say about the subject other than it is bad.
Canty, whose intentions are clearly noble, decided to make “Farmageddon” after discovering raw milk was able to cure her son's allergies. In talking to local farmers she discovered much of their troubles and wanted to share their stories.
As a first time filmmaker, Canty deserves credit for putting together a film that looks professional. This doesn't look like something slapped together over the weekend. It is clear a lot of time, care and effort was put into the film and it does show.
The first 30 minutes of the film are compelling as Canty shows some disturbing imagery of farms being raided at gun point. Farmers share anecdotes that are shocking. One family had imported sheep to start a dairy farm, but the USDA went after them, eventually killing the sheep out of fear of the spread of mad cow disease, which there is no proof of sheep carrying. Other families had milk and yogurt and supposedly contaminated feed confiscated.
This would be a good subject for a 15 to 30 minute news segment on such programs as “Dateline” or “60 Minutes.” As a film, the material is stretched too thin and is repetitive. We are shown more farms given the same cruel inexplicable treatment and hear more tearful stories that certainly carry emotional weight, but we are never given answers or context.
Canty and the numerous family she interviewed want to know why both national and state governments are picking on the little guys over safety and healthy regulation instead of going after big commercial farms.
The conclusion that Canty comes to is that agribusiness must have the government in its back pocket. It isn't a huge leap to make and it is quite possibly the case, but Canty provides zero evidence to back up this assertion.
Canty only talks to the owners of small farms. There was no apparent attempt to talk to owners of larger farms. She does state that she tried to contact government officials to give the other side of the story, but was only able to get a couple to go on camera. Out of frustration she says, “People from the government don't really want to talk for some reason, which bums me out.” In that moment, despite the slick look of the film, you know you're in the hands of an amateur.
For the 85-minute run time, you mostly only hear one side of the story and sometimes her subjects make dubious statements. Kevin Brown, author of “The Liberation Diet,” states “Real food like butter, like real milk, like eggs have been made the devil in the world of food to the point where people are afraid to eat real food and unfortunately the result of that is 72 percent of the country is obese or overweight. Heart disease, cancer rates and diabetes rates are at all-time highs, and every year it is getting worse.”
That is just faulty logic. Would there be less obesity if people only ate “real” butter, eggs and milk? It is possible, but once again the film is dealing with ideas that are unsupported and Canty never seeks out the facts to support her claims. The inclusion of material like this does a disservice to her primary subject: the owners of these small farms.
Canty does provides interesting information about why milk pasteurization became standard practice and Dr. David Acheson, food policy consultant and former FDA/USDA administrator, offers some insight into why there are strict regulations on milk. No one ever explains or even attempts to justify the extreme behavior against small farms.
By the conclusion of the film in which Canty blatantly states, “I made this film to be a cautionary tale for consumers,” it is apparent that you've watched the visual equivalent of a school report. Is it a report worth seeing? A qualified yes. Seeing the way these farmers are treated is shocking, and the film is worth a look if only for that footage.

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