Deborah Koons Garcia's densely informative documentary The Future Of Food is only 88 minutes long, but it might go down best if served up with an intermission somewhere in the middle to give viewers a chance to catch their collective breath and digest what they've just learned. In an age of lively infotainment docs by the likes of Morgan Spurlock, Michael Moore, and Errol Morris, Garcia's far-more-info-than-tainment style seems a little staid, but Future Of Food's clear, intelligent journalism and rich cinematography help take the edges off the immense brick of data Garcia lobs through the window of America's biotech industry.
Beginning with the issue of patenting life forms, both genetically engineered and naturally occurring, The Future Of Food sets out on an ambitious agenda to convey as much information as possible on as many linked topics as possible: the consequences of shrinking food biodiversity, the potential dangers of genetically engineered food, corporate consolidation of farming, biotech firms' legal attack on independent farmers in the States and abroad, designer crops' impact on wildlife and the soil, and much more. Garcia steers clear of hyperbole and histrionics, lining up a slate of sober, moderate professionals who calmly discuss the history and future of genetically modified crops, fertilizers, and insecticides as a legal and professional issue, not a doomsday threat. The only emotion comes from some of the farmers she interviews, who explain with tears or bleak despair how they were sued for copyright infringement after poison-resistant strains of canola—possibly cross-pollinated from neighbor farms, possibly from seed blown into their fields from trucks—turned up on their land, and judges fined them, ruling that it was their responsibility to somehow fence out unwanted genes, not agricultural companies' responsibility to contain their copyrighted life forms.
A number of similarly alarming surprises crop up throughout the film, as Garcia examines pro-corporate agricultural laws and their impact on consumers calling for accurate labeling, or scientists concerned with the potential environmental impact of genetically engineered life. Her linear filmic essay pairs a book-on-tape-style soundtrack, full of tight, effective explanations and revelations, with a shifting set of brightly colorful images of plants, animals, people, and labs, all moving along briskly enough to lull the eyes and the mind into a state of hypnotic relaxation so her message can sink in. Not that she's out to force any conversions. While no one will mistake her film for corporate apologism or a pro-industry love letter, she seems far more intent on that most remarkable and adult goal: giving viewers the information they need to make up their own minds.