Directors Shelly Lee Davies and Or Shlomi are new to filmmaking. In an after-screening Q&A they revealed that this endeavour was one which they carried out largely alone and with what appeared to be little past experience; suffice it to say that it did show. Although the content of this film speaks volumes, the editing and camerawork left something to be desired, especially when compared to The Cove, An Inconvenient Truth, Fahrenheit 911, or in fact many of the eye-opening “docufilms” which have so thrillingly educated us in the past.
This film is not a blockbuster; it is not an artistically shot, hard hitting, exposé of scandalous issues, unfairly hidden from the deserving public; PLANEAT is a genuine educative experience. In the Q&A the directors suggest that it was not their intention to make a blockbuster, they make their impact in a different, more subtle way. PLANEAT doesn’t thrill and excite by exposing the seedy realities of the workings of the meat industry. They shock by simply reassessing what we all “sort of” knew anyway. I’ll bet a lot of people know that a meat based diet is more environmentally damaging than plant based alternatives, but how many know that eating a diet based on chicken is more eco-savvy than vegetarianism? This film informs you of the science behind the everyday, common titbit of dietary knowledge that so many live by.
They shock by simply reassessing what we all “sort of” knew anyway
The message of vegetarianism is a frequently repeated one that gets pushed at you from NHS pamphlets and school health classes, and always feels repetitive and dry. One of the things that PLANEAT manages to achieve is a more positive outlook on the topic of vegetarianism that avoids the guilt-tripping red-paint-throwing tactics of some organisations, and goes further than the old “vegetables are good for you” routine. The regular sunny cutaways to different vegetarian and vegan chefs and bakers whipping up impressive-looking plant-based meals in their restaurant kitchens could probably tempt even the most devout carnivores, and it casts a different light to counter the commonly-held view of vegetables as rabbit food.
It is, however, just one small section of a very broad problem of colliding interests, cultures and industries. Davis and Shlomi stress this point in the Q&A, making it clear that the argument of health and environment is by no means the final word in the problems of Western diet and disease. An issue that isn’t covered in this documentary, and is probably one of interest, is the fact that a lot of the foods promoted in it are pretty expensive. In one interview, they film a restaurant owner demonstrating how to make a meat-free roast and soup, chopping a squash on his marble kitchen counter or browsing for fresh ingredients in Whole Foods. The issue of processed foods is only really ever seen as a bad choice made by nameless heart disease sufferers, not as a product of convenience and culture. When they film Professor Gidon Eshel strolling through a sustainable organic farm, they don’t really take into account that not everyone can go down to the wholesome village market and buy seasonal lettuces grown down the road.
Throughout the film, the personal lives of the three key figures are gently dipped into; enough to make you associate with them and yet not so much that the spotlight is taken from the science. Small sections filmed within Dr Esselstyn’s home, showing the idiosyncratic little relationship he shares with his frankly wonderfully eccentric wife, provide some of my favorite moments, giving a lightness and humor to an already very good natured documentary. It is this affable approach that sets PLANEAT apart from the blockbuster documentaries, and presents the science in such as way that is intended to shape your lifestyle, rather than force one big change.
They don’t really take into account that not everyone can go down to the wholesome village market and buy seasonal lettuces grown down the road
In keeping with the documentary’s more personal, choice-based message, it ties in with a quite extensive website that links you to the different organisations supporting the film (WWF, Meat-Free Mondays etc.) and gives some of the recipes featured. In a move that really reflects the film’s demographic, the closing titles encourage the audience to now go and log on with their phones to sign up for email updates and recipes - cue mobile phone inferiority complexes, though still a nice touch. The website also includes links to the scientists interviewed throughout the film, allowing you to look further at their work – another nice touch for a documentary that looks at fostering personal changes rather than a blanket approach to Western consumption.
The annual Screen Green! festival has presented some very thought-provoking documentaries that may not get all that much widespread attention, but do certainly hold some relevance to what goes on here at Imperial. This festival provides a platform for films that may otherwise have difficulty getting seen or publicised, and has put on another varied and insightful programme of quality documentaries from all over Europe.
PLANEAT is out now on limited release, with selected screenings at the Marble Arch Ritz and Odeon Wembley. See http://www.planeat.tv for more information.