Is Film The Next Frontier for Environmental Advocacy?

Filmmakers Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein at Earth Day Texas
Filmmakers Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein at the Environmental Media Association and Earth Day Texas “Celebrities for Change” Gala.”

Is film the next frontier for environmental advocacy? Filmmakers Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones seem to think so. The couple’s recently released film, “Consumed,” sheds light on the complex world of genetically modified food and its negative effects on our health and environment.

In a world where we increasingly look to documentaries to tell us what to think and feel when it comes to environmental issues, “Consumed” takes the form of a dramatic thriller. The fictional story is anchored by a single, working-class mother on a hunt to uncover the cause of her son’s mysterious illness.

Interwoven are the stories of an organic farmer, the CEO of a fictional biotechnology corporation (which feels eerily similar to Monsanto), two scientists on the verge of a major discovery, and an ex-cop caught in the middle of it all.

The film, which was recently screened at Earth Day Texas, is a great example of a movement toward environmental edutainment: compelling content that is meant to educate and entertain an audience about issues related to the environment. The festival’s film series also featured “Gardeners of Eden” by Kristen Davis, “Rooted in Peace” directed by Greg Reitman, “Kombit the Cooperative” presented by Timberland, and “How to Let Go of the World” and “Love all The Things Climate Can’t Change” by Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox.

“Consumed” focuses on the hot-button issue of GMOs and the fight to make the FDA label food that has been genetically modified in some way. “We’re just not sure how GMOs will impact our health because of the lack of independent research,” Zoe Lister-Jones explained. “We don’t know what [GMOs] will do to us. So, until we know, until we have time to conduct more studies, we want people to have a choice. Food should be labeled. Period.”

Zoe Lister-Jones, who is best known for her role as Fawn Moscato, Schmitt’s quirky councilwoman girlfriend on “New Girl,” now co-stars in the CBS sitcom “Life in Pieces.” “Consumed” was a passion project that she and her husband, Daryl Wein, produced primarily by raising money through family and friends.

The film was inspired by an article the couple read about how farmers were being bullied by a large corporation (cough! Monsanto) into using GMO seeds to produce crops. “As we started to dig deeper, we learned that the issue was so vast in scope,” Lister-Jones said. “We couldn’t let it go.”

The movie opens with a montage of scenes showing farmers being harassed and coerced into using genetically modified seeds. First, we meet Hal Westbrook, a small town farmer played by Danny Glover. He is working on his farm and feeding his goats when lights appear in the distance. A car is approaching, and it all feels very ominous.

Cut to the next scene: We find the CEO of Clonestra, our fictional bio-tech company, speaking to a small group of farmers in India. “In addition to donating seeds to your village,” he says, “you will each receive a voucher which will allow you to buy more seeds and fertilizer at a discounted cost. After many years of research, we have produced seeds which are able to withstand stress from viruses, bacteria, adverse weather and soil conditions.”

The conversation is cut short by a mob of angry protestors who we assume are chanting something along the lines of “no GMOs” in their native language. In the next scene we see the CEO, our antagonist, in an interview.

“I like to be on the ground close to the people,” he says. “Like what you did in sub-Saharan Africa?” asks the interviewer. “Going over there, seeing the climate issues and the drought made me believe that corporations have to do a better job at putting people’s interests first,” he responds. These words could not be more ironic.

Critics have long accused Monsanto, Clonestra’s real-world twin, of monopolizing the seed market under the guise of eliminating world hunger. To that point, Lister-Jones believes that we are being severely misinformed.

Earth Day Texas 2016, at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas.
The Earth Day Texas “Celebrities for Change” Gala  2016, at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas.

“It’s a common misconception that GMOs play a role in ending world hunger. There is more than enough food to go around without GMOs,” she said. “The real problem is food sovereignty. We need to teach people how to farm better instead of being dependent on big companies and chemicals. It becomes a problem when farmers can no longer recycle seeds each season but are forced to buy seeds and chemical fertilizers from a larger corporation.”

Not only can GMO production be harmful to our health, but it is also extremely harmful to the environment, the filmmakers asserted. “There’s a huge difference in the soil of an organic farm versus a GMO farm,” Wein explained. “This also has a direct correlation with climate change. Being forced to use stronger and stronger chemicals is depleting the ozone layer at faster rates.”

“A healthy environment is based a great deal on bio-diversity” he added. “What would the world look like with only twelve genetically modified crops? If one crop is diseased, that could lead to worldwide famine.”

Consumed is just one example of many for how actors are harnessing the power of celebrity and the media to spread awareness about environmental issues. And, the couple did receive their fair share of trolling, “Keep making movies and leave the science to us” they were told.

However, despite the setbacks, the couple is still on a mission to tell this important story. “We wanted to shed light on the issue and spark a conversation,” Wein said. “If they are so proud of their GMOs, why do they want to keep everybody in the dark?”

Photo Credit: All images ©2016 Jason Kindig, used with permission

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Joi Sears

Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.

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