The Cinematography Podcast Episode 204: Food and Country
The documentary Food and Country, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance film festival, takes a close look at the broken food system in the United States through the lens of the COVID pandemic, as restaurants closed and both workers and farmers struggled.
Both director Laura Gabbert and producer/chef/food writer Ruth Reichl grew concerned about their friends and colleagues in the restaurant business during the shutdown. Laura wanted to do a short piece about how restaurants and workers were being affected, so she connected with Ruth through a mutual friend. Ruth began checking in over Zoom with people she knew, originally just as research. Ruth followed her own curiosity as she spoke with dozens of people across the country. As a seasoned chef and food writer, Ruth is good at getting people to open up, and people felt safe talking to her. The shutdown also made people feel very isolated and vulnerable, so over time, they were able to record incredibly intimate conversations. Laura began to see a more comprehensive documentary taking shape: the pandemic was only exacerbating the problems that already exist in the American food system. They began widening the scope of the film, and when it was safe to travel again, Laura and cinematographer Martina Radwan went out to shoot and interview farmers, ranchers and restaurant owners in the field. The documentary team had to watch hundreds of hours of Zoom video, which also informed what they would shoot as they traveled across the country.
Cinematographer Martina Radwan kept everything naturally lit, and they shot most of the interviews outside due to the pandemic. She chose to use mainly wide shots and close ups, shooting open vistas and landscapes of the farms. It helped create more energy in the film and alleviated the monotony of the closeups from the Zoom videos. She shot with Canon cameras and lenses, because she liked how the camera renders contrast and color especially for exteriors. Martina enjoyed learning about the food system and getting a behind the scenes look at where our food comes from.
As someone who has been writing and thinking about food for fifty years, Ruth thought the pandemic would finally be the turning point in the American food system. If farmers and restaurants were going to fail, people would finally realize, as they were forced to stay home and cook, how important food is to everyone. She hopes that people are awakened to the fact that we need to raise enough food to feed ourselves in this country, without relying on huge international agribusiness. The pandemic did change some things about the food system, and certainly raised awareness about working conditions and pay for restaurant workers, ranchers and farmers.
Food and Country is seeking distribution.
Find Laura Gabbert Instagram: @lauragabbertfilms
Find Ruth Reichl Instagram: @ruth.reichl
Find Martina Radwan
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