Directed by Sanjay Rawal
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★★★½ review by Alan P on Letterboxd
Short Review: A noble and compelling look at where all your food comes from: the fruits from the exploitation of countless impoverished, struggling farmers here and abroad. The facts and imagery is often sobering.
It also feels like there's this "power to the farmers!!!" message that gets pounded into the viewer. It's far from subtle, and it is rather one-sided, but it is a noble message that I can empathize with.
★★★½ review by ristubasan on Letterboxd
Unapologetically one-sided portrayal of the difficulties faced by agricultural workers in the US. There is some useful history; there are a range of views, some more extreme, some more moderate. Even though it is an obvious extension of the activism, the documentary is interesting and educational, as it sets out to expose a side of American life most people elect to ignore. The most interesting parts get into some questionable analysis of the structure of the food retail industry as a monopsony - I wish they had spent more time there exploring whether this actually makes sense. But I guess I understand them wanting to keep the programming human.
For me, there were two main frustrations: First, the repeated focus on the desire of campaigners to have Publix pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked (for me it led the makers to neglect or underplay some of the more interesting aspects of the campaign, such as the way it only started to succeed when they managed to encourage consumer boycotts, and it led the documentary to be overly focused on one specific situation at the expense of its wider message). Second, the constant music throughout - not the quality of the music but its unremitting presence even while people were being interviewed or the narrator was speaking.
★★★★ review by Ingen on Letterboxd
Every time I watch these types of documentaries, I feel disgusted with myself and all of humankind and want to move to a cabin in the woods where I would be completely self sufficient. Running away is not the answer, though. It never is. As the documentary points out, creative nonviolence is the way to go. I am not a fan of documentaries in general, but this one was particularly well done and hit close to home, focusing mainly on workers on tomato farms in Immokalee, Florida, and their attempt to get better wages from supermarket giant Publix. It also highlighted the plight of workers on grape farms in California and touched on other ethnic minority groups around the world who were used and are used as cheap farm labor. All of the points were explained well and it was interesting from beginning to end, always keeping the focus on the workers themselves.
★★★★ review by Kamran Ahmed on Letterboxd
Fashionable in today’s media are documentaries and interviews about food and nutrition, health and consciousness, corporate and private exploitation, etc. These documentaries tend to say the same things in the same way. We get it, but we are not moved or immediately called to action. Food Chains breaks this cycle. Primarily because of the authenticity and actuality of its subjects—exploited workers, business executives, political activity—Food Chains delivers an important and well-realized message about contemporary forms of slavery and exploitation.
A highly resourceful documentary, Food Chains presents footage culled from old documentaries, news reels, and historical political activities and movements. It uses these sources to contextualize the plot-based hunger strike in Immokalee which inspired the documentary to be made. In Immokalee, a raise in wages of literally one cent per pound of tomatoes is shown to double farm workers’ wages, bringing their salary above the poverty line. Publix, the grocery outlet of concern, remains unwilling to make such a change, as it would affect their prices, a measly few dollars a year per family.
After establishing the hunger strike as its central focus, Food Chains admirably departs from this subject to provide a stronger context. Instead of harping on about wages, it considers slavery in the 1800s, speeches from President Obama from just a few years earlier, and Cinema Verité interviews of primary sources who speak candidly on their first-hand experiences with exploitation and slavery.
Besides all of this, an emotionally stirring musical soundtrack complements the film. There is no repetition as might be expected of a documentary of this sort; the soundtrack is a progressive piece that changes as the films continues. The sounds are not short, repetitive, catchy melodies but actual musical numbers. This music is curated to match the narrative and formal elements of the film; for example, movements in acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment are harmonious with dissolves and other transitional formal elements of the film. All of this is to say that Food Chains is not only an impressive and highly informing documentary, but a highly entertaining one.
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