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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Secrets and Lies of the Corporate Food Industry

By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Small family farms have been struggling for years against the forces of giant agribusiness but their battle for survival keeps escalating. As if the mission of going organic is not difficult enough for farmers, now there’s the distinct possibility that seeds from adjacent farms that use GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will cross-pollinate and contaminate their crops. And to add insult to injury, these farmers can be sued by Monsanto and  the other big seed companies on the grounds that they are using patented seeds without paying for them. It’s a truly Orwellian scenario without recourse since the courts have consistently sided with the corporate giants. And the USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) has failed to provide any real solutions for small farmers except to force them to buy crop insurance.

The worldwide monetization of genetic material has already happened without our knowledge or consent. Today about half of all the land used for crops in the U.S are planted with GMOs – mostly corn, cotton, and soybeans. Mainstream journalism is great at creating false equivalence by giving the opposing corporate point of view. As a result many people are confused about whether there are actual harmful effects from the use of GMO crops.

But new scientific studies are blowing huge holes in Monsanto’s case for the safety of  “Roundup-ready GMOs” (plants that are engineered to be impervious to herbicides). These reports provide evidence that Monsanto’s Roundup causes fatal, chronic kidney disease. Other studies now show that Roundup persists for years before breaking down, contaminating our soil, air, and water. And contrary to years of industry claims, the use of GMOs has only marginally increased crop yields while substantially increasing the use of costly petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

A new U.N. study entitled Wake Up Before It’s Too Late concludes that small-scale, sustainable organic farming is the only viable way to achieve a future for humanity. But when will the FDA and EPA stop supporting agribusiness and start putting public health before corporate profits?

Even if government agencies were to effectively regulate industry, the big process food companies like Pepsi, Kraft, and Nestle spend billions in advertising to greenwash their practices and products – effectively hoodwinking the public. They spend even more to fund the big campaigns to scare the public into voting against state initiatives to require the labeling and identification of GMOs in food products. It’s a rigged game and the biosphere is the loser.

But concerned citizens still can organize and educate others about our compromised food supply and the need to support local farmers. There are some important documentaries coming to the Naro that address some of these grave concerns. GMO OMGshows Wed, March 19 with speakers and discussion. This very personal indie film is from filmmaker Jeremy Seifert who is based in Asheville, N.C. For years he and his family would question the health and safety of engineered crops. He gradually comes to realize that he must make his own personal journey to seek answers. His film takes him to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the headquarters of Monsanto.

For our post-film discussion we initially had some difficulty in finding a local academic researcher willing to speak out on the issues being addressed in the movie. This may have something to do with the fact that university research budgets are so heavily subsidized by corporate funding. But fortunately we now have a knowledgeable teacher and researcher from EVMS, recently retired biochemist Mimi Rosenthal who will speak about her work following the film. We will also hear from Bev Sell of Five Points Community Farm Market and local food activists.

Filmmaker Mark Devries’s brave new film Speciesism is not only an investigation into animal agriculture and the industrial exploitation of factory-farmed animals but also a philosophical inquiry into the very nature of animal consciousness. Mark will be coming to town to attend the screening at the Naro on Wednesday, April 16 to introduce and take questions after his film.

The title of Devries’s film is a term that first appeared in Pete Singer’s groundbreaking book from the seventies, “Animal Liberation”. Singer argued that no justifications exist for considering humans more important than members of other species.  Over the years his thesis has inspired a growing movement of those who love and respect all animals as sentient beings. It’s a self-evident truth that our family pets experience joy, depression, and pain. But are they any different from the animals that live in cages in windowless factory warehouses for their entire truncated lives? These farm animals have no legal rights and are treated as machines in a cruel, inhumane system.

Animal rights activism has mushroomed over the years. But since the passage by Congress in 2006 of The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), activists are in jeopardy of felony charges for aiding or rescuing farm animals. And incredibly, even 
the production of a film like Speciesism or the sole act of screening a film that may hurt the profits of an animal-based business could qualify as a terrorist offense.

But it gets worse. Seven states have enacted “ag-gag” laws that make it unlawful to even photograph the inhumane operations of factory farms or “fur ranches”. Think of the chilling effect on the undercover investigations funded by such animal rights groups as PETA. These draconian laws in “the land of the free” are enough to motivate even those who aren’t politically inclined to understand the need for a new paradigm that excludes corporate money from influencing political power at the state and federal level.

You would think that the subjects of these two films are so profound and essential to our way of life that the corporate press would be scrambling to investigate these stories. And yet there is a vacuum in the media when it comes to the truly important social issues of our day. But this is to be expected when the advertising dollars that big media receives from agribusiness and the fast-food industry runs into billions of dollars.

Until true media democracy breaks out in this country, we will remain an ill-informed, unenlightened, and an unorganized collection of “consumers”. But in the meantime we can join citizen groups like The Organic Consumers Association and connect to true public media like “Democracy Now!” to learn more about the successes of democratic movements in other countries.

Showing in our “Faith In Film” series on Sunday, April 6 is Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of this brilliant and timeless political satire. Director Stanley Kubrick’s plot concerns a paranoid Air Force General who is fearful that the Russians are fluoridating America's drinking water. In an act of pure insanity, he unleashes a B-52 H-Bomb attack on the Soviets, and a frantic President and Joint Chiefs of Staff must somehow find a way to stop it. The great Peter Sellers stars as three signature characters. And in surely their best comic roles, George C. Scott plays General “Buck” Turgidson, Slim Pickens plays Major “King” Kong, and Sterling Hayden plays General Jack D. Ripper. The series is hosted by Scott Hennessy, a cineaste and the pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He will introduce the film and facilitate a discussion afterwards.

Reprinted from Veer magazine 3/15/14.

The Sundance to Norfolk Film Connection
by Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

The Sundance Film Festival has just ended with the winners announced and the movie deals now done. This year there were over 6000 films that were submitted to the festival. Programmers had to whittle that huge number down to a final 120 or so titles that competed in the festival.

Over the next few months those fortunate films that were able to find theatrical distribution will be marketed and promoted in theaters. They will receive media coverage and recognition before they find a second life on the web, DVDs, and VOD (video on demand). But the vast majority of the movies made last year will not find any kind of viewing audience; there’s just way too many of them competing in a large and fragmented electronic marketplace.

The evolution of video technology over the years has decreased the costs and complexity of film production. The process has been democratized and now most anyone can make a movie. But at the same time there’s less demand to view them; our lives are saturated with media. An hour and a half of solid, focused viewing time is just too much to ask of most of us – especially if it requires sitting quietly in the dark at a public viewing.

The irony of the present situation is not lost on programmers. Janet Pierson is the director of The South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. She states, “The impulse to make a film has far outrun the impulse to go out and watch in a theater.”

But at the end of each year there is a mad dash to the theaters by the public when the studios release their highest quality movies for adults and cast their most bankable stars. They spend a fortune to promote a handful of films to audiences and the critics. And if their films receive any of the coveted award nominations, they spend even more in their pursuit of votes from Academy members.

The annual movie award ceremonies start in January with The Golden Globes and finish on March 2nd with the Academy Awards. Except for the smaller art films nominated for Independent Spirit Awards, about a dozen or so films monopolize all the attention. Scores of deserving foreign and independent films receive far too little press and exposure, and so they are lost in the mainstream media frenzy.

There were over 900 films that were released theatrically last year in NYC and were reviewed in The New York Times. Many of these films received a limited commercial showing only because the film producers bought out the theater. This was primarily done for the necessary promotion provided by the Times coverage. At the same time that indie films open in NYC theaters, they are also made available online through video on demand. Needless to say it’s not a very healthy or rational business model for the future of movie exhibition. And the critics at the Times are being run ragged trying to review too many inferior movies.

More than ever the film viewer needs a trusted and knowledgeable source to filter through hundreds of available titles in order to find deserving movies. This service is provided in the larger markets by art cinemas, film festivals, and the few remaining video stores left standing. These organizations provide the opportunity for person to person dialogue with an experienced staff that can educate and inform.

These curatorial services are provided locally by the staff of Naro Cinema and Naro Video. The personal relationships that develop on Colley Ave are nurtured by the exchange of information, narratives, and stories. We can only hope that this experience of real community will trump the perceived convenience that may be gained by the solitary act of downloading and viewing movies.

Film Events scheduled over the next month

THE 2014 OSCAR NOMINATED LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS The program includes all five nominated shorts: Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland), Helium (Denmark), Just Before Losing Everything (France), That Wasn’t Me (Spain), The Voorman Problem (UK). Shows Tuesday, Feb 18.

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? From Michel Gondry, the innovative director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep, comes this unique animated documentary on the life of the extraordinary MIT professor, philosopher, linguist, anti-war activist and political firebrand Noam Chomsky. Shows Wed, Feb 19 with speakers and discussion.

THE 2014 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORT FILMS The program includes all five nominated short films: Feral (USA), Get A Horse! (USA), Mr. Hublot (France), Possesiosn (Japan), and Room on the Broom (UK). Plus a few surprises. Shows Tuesday, Feb 25.

GOD LOVES UGANDA A powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to infuse African culture with values imported from America's Christian Right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting sexual immorality and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow biblical law against homosexuality. (83 mins) Shows Wednesday, Feb 26 with speakers and discussion.

THE PAST Following his Oscar win for A Separation set in Iran, writer/director Asghar Farhadi returns with this dramatic mystery. After a four year separation and at his estranged French wife Marie's (Bérénice Bejo, The Artist) request, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa, Leila) returns to Paris from Tehran in order to finalize their divorce procedure so she can marry her new boyfriend. Opens Friday, Feb 28.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN  Ralph Fiennes (who also directs) shines as the most famous writer of his day, novelist Charles Dickens, who had a secret affair with 18-year-old actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones, Like Crazy). Dickens was 45 and at the top of his fame when he met the beautiful young actress, performing in a troupe with her sisters, and was immediately struck. Her pragmatic mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) encouraged Nelly to welcome the interest of such a famous man, even if she can never become his wife. Opens Friday, March 2.

THE GREAT BEAUTY  An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, thisdazzling, lyrical and surreal dramatic comedy, is a modern day La Dolce Vita. The magnetic Toni Servillo (Il Divo) plays dapper journalist Jep Gambardella, slick and soulful, who has seduced his way through Rome’s lavish night life for decades, but when his 65th birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life. Opens Friday, March 7.

Faith In Film presents WHALE RIDER This 2002 drama film is directed by Niki Caro and based on the novel of the same name by Witi Ihimaera. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a 12-year-old Maori girl who wants to become the chief of the tribe. The evening is hosted by Scott Hennessy. Shows Sunday, March 9.

TIM’S VERMEER Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor and the visionary behind the desktop video revolution, attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") manage to paint so photo-realistically some150 years before the invention of photography? The epic research project Jenison embarks on to test his theory is as extraordinary as what he discovers. Opens Wednesday, March 12.

THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign language Film. Elise owns a tattoo shop and Didier plays a mean banjo in a bluegrass band (yes, American roots music is big in Europe). An intensely moving portrait of a relationship from beginning to end, propelled by a soundtrack of foot-stomping bluegrass. Date to be announced.

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