Wednesday, 23 July 2014

GMO OMG - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Annoying, 1-sided personal doc about the GMO controversy misses boat.

Is it possible to take a documentary
seriously that incorporates the moronic
social networking acronym OMG in its title?
Yes. If the movie is actually good.
This one isn't.
GMO OMG (2013) *
Dir. Jeremy Seifert

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I sincerely believe everyone should see this film - not because it's any good, but because it's important for audiences to experience how egregiously an independently produced, but one-sided, misguided and all-over-the-map propaganda picture like GMO OMG can be just as dangerous to progressive thought and exploration of issues that affect all of us, as propaganda on the flip side from heavily-financed-and-approved corporate/political interests can be.

Let it be said, though, that these days, I have a fairly strong bias of acceptance when it comes to films dealing with environmental concerns. Firstly, I've always been against corporate culture, ideology and bureaucracy. I believe it's downright evil. Secondly, I've also been extremely skeptical about any political process and feel it's usually little more than legal organized crime devoted primarily to nest-feathering of the most blatant and petty kind. Thirdly, and most importantly, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I came late in life to caring about our world in any green sense, but frankly, to use the well-worn, but perfectly reasonable expression: better late than never.

I've become especially committed to animal rights and hugely aware (and mindful) of both energy and environmental issues. To the latter, I've gone so far as to live completely off the grid, grow my own consumable food product (including free-range animal product of the egg variety) and rescuing animals from torture and inhumane slaughter. When I encounter films dealing with any of the aforementioned, I prick up my ears, sharpen my eyes and drink in the myriad of cinematic perspectives on such issues. That said, I demand the films be good - aesthetically and by extension, ideologically. GMO OMG is neither.

Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert is just your regular garden-variety Dad who became alarmed when he discovered just how much food he and his family consumed was derived from genetic modification. He chose to become a bargain basement Michael Moore and explore the world of GMOs by making a film about it. Fair enough, but what he's wrought is not only poor filmmaking, but does little more than preach to the (ignorant) converted. Even worse is that it places a valuable tool in the hands of scumbag corporations like Monsanto which employs vicious strong-arm tactics to foist their product upon food producers and consumers.

At the beginning of the film, Seifert professes to know very little about GMOs until hearing about them, so he first engages in what will be his uncompromising approach to investigative journalism as he asks ordinary Americans in the street what they think about eating GMOs. Well shucks, it turns out that the folks he approaches known nothing about GMOs and frankly, have never even heard of them. What this proves is the ignorance of the American people, or at least, the ignorance of the American people he approaches in his random fashion.

What the film ignores, is that many Canadians are well aware of GMOs (and proudly) since Canadian scientists at the University of Manitoba in the 70s first developed the exquisite and healthy Canola Oil (modified Rapeseed) which has become one of the biggest crops in North America. Yes, corporate scumbags in the 90s began adding herbicide resistant properties to the seed, but the only real threat here has been of the patent copyright variety. The only mention of Canola in Seifert's film appears to be in one of the many slick animated charts which look and sound like they're providing solid information, but are, in fact, delivering a whole lot of nothing.

Seifert includes images of Haitians burning GMO seed donated to them from Monsanto. Fair enough, the people of Haiti wish to grow their own natural variety of seeds and have bought into the anti-GMO lobby, but there's no investigation as to the corporate ramifications of rejecting Monsanto's donation and a whole lot of negative information about the dangers of not using "natural" products. Last I heard, human beings were "natural" and while some have used their considerable natural brain power to genetically/chemically treat a lot of things that are generally considered bad for you (Big Tobacco, anyone?), the film never makes any attempt (save for getting nowhere with Monsanto) to explore what the positives might be with respect to GMOs.

He interviews a variety of farmers about GMOs - some agin, others for and yet many on the fencepost. His line of questions are just plain scattered. At one point, and seemingly by default, he engages in a decent enough conversation with one farmer, then interrupts the flow, fumbles for a stupid question (which most of them appear to be throughout the film) and idiotically asks the gentleman if he's a God-fearin' church-goer and how this affects his use of seeds that might well be seen (moronically) as playing God. This is a dumb question on a number of levels, but mostly because it's a cheap (and clumsy) attempt to play into Right Wing Christian morality with respect to GMOs and, of course, the fact that many thinking people don't believe or are rightly skeptical of the notion of God within the context of what's been seeded (so to speak) by organized crime, oops, I mean, religion.

And let us, for a moment, get back to the Monsanto issue. The real problem here is that they are forcing farmers to use their product in a manner in which the corporation decides, at prices the corporation sets and then engages in endless legal harassment (the right of all God-Given Corporate assholes) of those rejecting them on a number of levels. Seifert touches on this, but he's more interested in getting Monsanto and its ilk to discuss and/or release their own scientific findings with respect to the safety and production issues of their seed. This is fair enough, but all we get here is the fact that Seifert's getting the runaround on the telephone (Duh! No surprises here, really) and when he physically enters Monsanto, all we hear is an audio recording of his conversation at the front desk wherein he is told to leave. The cameras remain outside until he returns to express his frustration.

Bud, if you really want to be Michael Moore, why aren't you in there with your cameras and worse yet, why are you giving up so easily? Afraid of getting arrested? That's commitment for you.

Okay, so Monsanto doesn't want to reveal any of this info and is being sneaky about it. The fact remains that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. of A. has its own guidelines with respect to GMOs and has not only given them an okay, but seeing as it's based upon what Seifert and many others charge is a potentially low level of scientific investigation, where are the raft of scientists not employed by Monsanto and/or the FDA who agree with this? Where are all the politicians and bureaucrats who do agree? Why do we only meet one anti-GMO politician who wants greater openness with respect to the whole issue? Aren't there more? If not, why not? Seifert even whines about the legality of patenting seeds. How, he wonders, can life be owned by a corporation? Hey Bud, try taking a Business 101 course sometime.

While Seifert dredges up one scientist in Europe who's come up with some fairly damning evidence against GMOs, were there no others who could agree with him? And what about those scientists who refuted the findings? What do they have to say about it? Specifically, that is. Could they be right? Who says so? Why? Beats me. The film sheds no light on this.

Aside from what feels like a whole lot of personal home movie footage in the movie, Seifert engages in a series of conversations, photo-ops and experiments (strictly for the cameras) with his own kids. One of the little shavers always looks especially terrified - not, I suspect, by truly understanding the ramifications of GMOs, but by his potentially crazy Dad making him do a bunch of stuff that seems a whole lot scarier (to me, anyway) than any of the doom and gloom Seifert espouses.

One jaw-droppingly stupid and seemingly unnecessary "experiment" is when Seifert talks about how kids used to be able to run free and wild through corn rows, but that nowadays, because of genetic modification, the corn is full of potentially poisonous pesticides hard-wired into its DNA, making it dangerous to do so. What does the filmmaker do? He adorns his kidlets with heavy-duty, scary-looking body suits and gas masks, then forces them into the cornfields for the edification of the cameras. The suits are heavy and hot and once they're doffed, he and the children are drenched with sweat and out of breath. One of the kids is upset and crying.

Perhaps this isn't child abuse to the precise letter of the law, but it sure damn well feels like it. This and other such sequences with the kids seem so creepy, I almost think that if the film were directed and produced by someone other than Seifert, it might have, Sherman's March-style, turned into being about something altogether different from what it started to be about: that is, a documentary about a committed, well-intentioned Dad who goes in search of answers to his concerns about GMOs, then morphs into a documentary about a committed, well-intentioned Dad with a bunch of half-baked ideas who runs around trying to prove them and puts his kids through hell in order to do so.

I might have actually enjoyed that movie instead of having to infer it from the available footage in this one. Watching Seifert's kids gaze longingly out the window on a hot summer day as an ice cream truck rings its bell and seeing that they can't run out and grab a yummy cone because Dad tells them it has GMOs in it, has got to be seen to be believed.

There are many outright laughable items in this movie, but one of the biggest for me is that it would have you believe everything is genetically modified. There is, however, such a thing as ages-old breeding: all natural and all part of the long-accepted practice of shaping our agricultural product, uh, naturally. Seifert takes us to the famous Norwegian underground storage facility where every known seed to man (including those of the ancient variety), but all this does is make thinking viewers realize even more than man has been selectively modifying seeds since the beginning of time - doing it genetically does not necessarily mean it's a bad thing.

On a separate note, the movie is jam-packed with a whack of slanted, sentimental montage sequences meant to bolster Seifert's thesis (whatever it ultimately is, anyway) and using some of the most sickeningly twee original music I've ever had the displeasure to suffer through, I was more compelled to upchuck than be moved by the "sad truth". The tunes are warbled by a group called The Jubilee Singers. If, God forbid, you actually like the music, I'm sure it's available on the film's website along with other paraphernalia related to the film. It's strictly of the Kumbaya, My Lord variety, but if you're into it, knock yourself out.

Here's what I think you need to do. See this movie. However, see it at the myriad of independent cinemas that are playing the film across North America - you'll at least be putting money in their pockets. God knows, they deserve it. If you miss it on a big screen, though, skip it. No need putting money in the pockets of anyone else associated with this dreadful and, in its own way, dangerous, ill-informed propaganda.

GMO OMG opens for a limited run at Toronto's first-rate independent cinema, The Royal, on July 25, 2014. It's also playing in a variety of independent theatrical and non-theatrical venues across North America.

Here are some genuinely GREAT documentaries dealing with a variety of environmental issues (and/or just plain great documentaries) that you can buy at Amazon via accessing the various links below directly, and in so doing, assisting with the maintenance of The Film Corner.