The main course choices provided at the Berlinale were documentary films that examined methods of raising livestock around the world. Are animals worthy of human treatment or are we simply providing sustenance?
At the Fork
John Papola, USA
John Papola is an enthusiastic carnivore. His wife Lisa Versaci, however, is vegetarian. Lisa convinces John to find out how his barbecued ribs ended up on his plate. They set out together on a tour of farming communities in the United States for an open look at how cows, pigs and chickens are raised. John is not an animal activist. He is interested in documenting how the agriculture business operates today after the hundreds of thousands of small decisions that were taken over hundreds of years to produce more with less. Together they visit farms, meet lots of animals, and talk to the farmers.
Along the way, a pig farmer opens his industrial farm to cameras because he wants people to know how pork is produced. He pens the pigs to easily feed and artificially inseminate them, while also protecting them from disease. He talks about increases in numbers by these methods. Many pigs are shown unable to stand. Many are foaming at the mouth. Their eyes are clouded. But the farmer realizes that people are more aware and interested in how their food is produced now. He is willing to change his methods if people demand it, if they want to pay more for a different system. He feels that man does have dominion over the animals, but that dominion does not mean complete domination. He is experimenting with giving his pigs space for freedom of movement. In contrast, a woman takes in pigs and provides a retirement farm so that they can live freely. Another pig farmer lets his stock roam around.
John and Lisa also visit a dairy farm where cows are milked by machines while standing on a large turning wheel. At another industrial cattle farm, hundreds of cattle stand in the dirt, penned outdoors in the hot sun where they are fed pellets and are occasionally doused by a water truck which drives by with a power sprayer. A chicken farmer who has thousands of chickens in a barn thinks people should know that how their food is labeled can be misleading. Chickens bred to produce large white breast meat are so malformed they cannot stand up. These types of images are contrasted with cows and pigs and chickens that roam fields of deep green grass. Another pig farmer and her family tear up when it is time to take their pigs to slaughter. A veterinarian, who designs low stress methods for slaughtering animals, believes that we should be able to eat meat, but in the process she feels, “We gotta give animals a good life, a life worth living.” Beautiful cinematography, this documentary provides much food for thought. (MNW)
Look & See: A Potrait of Wendell Berry
Laura Dunn. USA
Wendell Berry is poet, writer, farmer, academic and environmental activist. Born in 1934, after finishing his education and living in California, Europe and New York, he returned in 1965 to his childhood home state of Kentucky with his wife Tanya. Here in Henry County is where his and Tanya’s families had been farmers for many generations. From these roots, Wendell continued his writing and teaching and took up farming. Over the years, he captured the changes in landscapes and values of rural America as small farms failed and industrial agriculture took hold. Wendell did not want to be on camera for this documentary, since he is a writer, not a filmmaker. So his epic story is told through his own writings, photographs, and interviews. His daughter Mary features prominently. Their farm, Lanes Landing Farm, is filmed through the seasons as the story meanders through fields and the ideology of farming. A poetic tribute to small farmers and perhaps a rallying cry to save them.