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Upset stomachs at the Berlinale

Published on February 13, 2009

Berlin -- The hot topic this week at the Berlin Film Festival is food, but not all of the films are making viewers rush out to the nearest eatery after the screenings.

This year’s Berlinale features no less than three documentaries on food. One, described as a "civilized horror movie" by film industry bible Variety, is Robert Kenner’s "Food Inc." — a no-holds-barred exposé of a highly mechanized industry.

The film presents food in a light very different from the packaging images displayed on supermarket shelves.

In scenes that would not look out of place in Charlie Chaplin’s "Modern Times," Kenner shows chickens that never see light and the processes that mince goes through before ending up as hamburgers.

"The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating, because if you knew, you might not want to eat it," says Eric Schlosser in the film, author of the hard-hitting book "Fast Food Nation." "You look at the labels and you see farmer this, farmer that. It’s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history."

And these firms, Kenner alleges, infiltrate the regulatory agencies that are supposed to police them and so increase the risk that what we eat endangers our health.

The documentary, enthusiastically received at the Berlinale, which runs until February 15, is focused on the United States. But Kenner said that the not-so-mouth-watering practices it uncovers are omnipresent.

"At many levels, this is really a film about the entire world," he said. "We wanted to suggest that people can do something, that we are part of the solution. We have to vote with our fork, three times a day."

The film "Terra Madre," meanwhile, gives eaters some hope.

Made by Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi, the documentary is about a meeting in the Italian city of Turin last October of more than 6,000 farmers, shepherds, fishers and cooks from over 130 countries.

The get-together was organized by the "Slow Food" movement, which believes that what we eat should be produced cleanly and traded fairly — and that food and those who produce it should be a focal point of our lives once more.

In a film not shy about being slow, the 77-year-old director shows the people at the congress up close — from shots of the faces of Bolivian activists to the wrinkled hands of an old Italian man tending his aubergines,.

Another Berlinale gastronomic offering is "Nos enfants nous accuseront" ("That Should Not Be — Our Children Will Accuse Us") by French director Jean Paul Jaud.

Released in France last month, Jaud’s film is a plea for food to be grown organically. He began making it after discovering he had cancer — something he blames on agricultural chemicals.

Arnaud Bouvier/AFP/Expatica