re/ documentary : “A Compelling Necessity”


Richard Moore


Thanks for your patience during our list migrations and wanderings. 
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Since these postings are being mirrored on google, I will no longer 
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talk to the author of some message, I can arrange it.

The migration has taken a lot of my time. Also my daughter is 
visiting from California, so I'm way behind in my correspondence. I'm 
in the middle of conversations with several of you about the 
documentary, and I promise I'll get back to you all soon.

As a result of these conversations, all of which are appreciated, the 
documentary has evolved considerably.  The basic theme remains the 
same: using food production and hunger as a lens through which to 
understand the sustainability crisis generally. Here's a latest 
version of the synopsis...

The first half of the documentary will delve into the depths of the 
problem. We'll begin by "showing the abyss", as regards the depletion 
and misuse of our global food-production resources, the scope of 
famine today, and the even-larger scope of the emerging "peak food" 
crisis. Then we'll  look at "why it's that way". This will lead us 
into the IMF, privatization, neoliberalism, global finance, NGO & aid 
efforts, etc. The "big point" that I want to get across here -- by 
showing it not by saying it -- is that the sustainability crisis is 
both systemic & urgent: it cannot be fixed without making fundamental 
shifts in how our societies operate; and it must be fixed.

The second half of the documentary will be about climbing back up 
from the depths of the abyss, as we look for solutions. In our search 
for solutions we won't be looking at theories, ideologies, or policy 
proposals. Rather, we'll be looking at real-world examples of 
sustainable food practices. We'll start by looking at examples in the 
North, such as commercial organic producers, eco-villages, and the 
like. We'll examine the economic viability of such operations, and 
the systemic forces that prevent such models from achieving 'critical 

We'll then turn our attention to the South, and look at places like 
Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil (MZLN, participatory budgets). 
We'll find here examples of systemic shifts toward sustainability, 
and we'll see that these shifts involve synergy and cooperation 
between national priorities on the one hand, and local initiatives on 
the other. We'll see that they involve non-neoliberal economic 
models, a production-oriented perspective regarding land use and land 
ownership, and a strong role for grassroots participation in decision 
making. In this process, we'll spend considerable time listening to 
people at the grassroots, sharing their own experiences.

This kind of material will present difficulties for some audiences, 
particularly in the USA. As much as possible, I'm trying to minimize 
those difficulties by framing the investigation in scientific terms. 
We're objectively investigating the following question...
        "As we examine examples of 'best practice re/ food 
sustainability', what societal and economic organizing principles 
seem to be most supportive / enabling ?"

It is the dialog  group, however, that will play the most important 
role in helping audiences deal with the challenges of these Southern 
perspectives. We'll be seeking to include sufficient diversity in the 
group so that most people in the audience will be able to identify 
with the dialog process, to feel their concerns are being 
more-or-less expressed.

Admittedly, there is a great deal of 'design' going on here. But in a 
very real sense, the whole thing (except for the narration, which is 
added later) is entirely unscripted. It could almost be billed as 
'reality video'. There are places I want to see, people I want to 
interview, and questions I want to ask, but I don't know what they're 
going to say, or where that might lead. The filming could take 
unscheduled turns. I think certain facts and themes will emerge, but 
I could be surprised. The filming & interviewing are a voyage of 
discovery, and the audience and the dialog group are passengers.

Even more unscripted, and more 'reality-like', is the dialog group. 
There is no predicting what might develop there. We're mixing a lot 
of very powerful ingredients together, in a process that is able to 
release latent energy and creative synergy. We're giving the process 
every chance to develop to its full potential, by allocating plenty 
of time, and by providing conditions as close to ideal as we can. The 
process is known for enabling groups to come up with 'breakthrough 
solutions' to 'impossible problems', so who knows? The dramatic 
conclusion of the combined film is likely to catch us all by surprise.

At one level, the viewer  is having an experience 'about 
sustainability', and what is learned and internalized at that level 
will presumably be enhanced and enriched by the participation of the 
dialog group.

At another level, the viewer is having an experience of dialog, to 
the extent he or she identifies with what happens in the group. Rosa 
and I both are hoping that we'll be able to present this material in 
such a way that people are able to 'feel' what it is like for a group 
to enter a space of open collaboration, and for conflicts to 
transform into see that this is about ordinary people 
'just like us', and that it is about empowerment, about We the 
People. (Rosa would of course use different words here, but our 
sentiments seem to be in general harmony.)

There is an unfortunate and large discrepancy between the 
transformative potential of dialog, on the one hand, and society's 
general appreciation of that potential on the other. Most of the 
'dialog people' I know seem to agree that an appreciation of dialog 
generally requires experiencing it directly, in favorable 
circumstances. The result is a propagation bottleneck 
re/appreciation. The film can be seen as an attempt to project to a 
mass  audience a vicarious experience of dialog, one that is 
sufficiently engaging so that it might be able to awaken an 
'appreciation of the potential of dialog' in a reasonable percentage 
of the audience. And when I say 'appreciation', I mean at a visceral 
level, at a feeling level.

I'm tempted to say that the 'dialog  experience' is the more 
important aspect of the film. No amount of 'problem & solution 
understanding' ever changes anything on its own, as knowledge. The 
'dialog experience' is about how We ordinary people may able to play 
a role in changing things. How many films have much really useful to 
say about that?

At the same time, the 'sustainability level' of the film is strong in 
its own right, as documentary, and that strength provides important 
fuel to the dialog process, by highlighting problems that are, 
objectively speaking, of utmost urgency and concern to all of the 
dialog participants, and to the audience.

So I suppose the two levels of the film are like yin and yang, each 
contributing a necessary form of energy, as they interact.


I've come to the conclusion that I need to direct the film, if it's 
going to become what I envision. That's a bigger challenge than the 
book was, at many levels, but the book-writing experience taught some 
useful lessons, and also provided the basic research for the film. 
What I seem to have a skill for, when I'm in good form, is making 
things very clear, even complex things. I may not always succeed, but 
I do get lots of positive feedback in that regard. The question is 
whether I can transfer that skill into the film  domain. Does the 
synopsis support optimism in that regard?

Without making a program of it, and almost by serendipity, I've been 
doing a lot of research into filmmaking and film generally over the 
past several years. I know a lot of local filmmakers, and some 
serious film buffs, and have learned a lot about what can be done 
with the medium and the available technology. From a production point 
of view, the documentary will be very routine. It's basically filming 
informal conversations, in camera-friendly venues, and getting field 
footage of tractors or fisheries or whatever. One can assemble a film 
crew that can be relied upon to do a very good job on this kind of 

What I know, as director, is what quest I want to pursue, and what 
kind of places and people are likely to provide clues and answers for 
that quest. What I don't know in terms of people and places, I need 
to research, because no one else has quite the same research 
criteria. So I'll come up with a list, and some initial contact work, 
and I think I can do a good job of that...the same kind of research 
tasks as with writing the book. Then there needs to be a production / 
logistics manager, to setup the filming itinerary and make the 
necessary arrangements.

What I also know, as director, is what questions  I want to explore 
with the people we interview, and I'll only know at the time how I 
want to follow up on things as the conversation develops. This kind 
of exploratory conversation is very similar to my writing process, as 
you may have figured out.

There is one tiny problem with this scenario...the  fact that I have 
no filmmaking or directing experience. That is particularly 
embarrassing given the ambitious nature  of the proposed project. Any 
funding proposal that combines an ambitious film with a novice 
director would seem to be destined  quite promptly for the dust bin, 
no matter how appealing the concept might be.

There seems to be only one remedy, one way forward to the dragon's 
lair. I need to direct a pilot sequence, one that is good enough to 
serve both as an effective 'director's portfolio', and as a 
'convincing pilot' for the documentary concept. If I can do that, the 
project may have a chance. If I can't do that, then I probably 
couldn't handle the bigger project anyway.

I don't see any reason why I couldn't focus a pilot locally, here in 
Ireland, and more specifically in Wexford County. We've got debt 
bubbles, over-dependence on the construction and housing sectors, 
alarming failures in social services, farmers going out of business, 
cartel food processing, fishing fleets suffering, invasions of 
foreign chains, etc. I can do some preliminary research and some 
preliminary (non filmed) interviews and identify a focus for a pilot, 
one that doesn't involve too much travel. All  the problems  seem  to 
manifest here in the local Wexford area, even in just the town and 
its outskirts.

Fortunately, I have  some friends here who could do a very good job 
with the filming and the editing / mixing, who have access to the 
necessary equipment -- and they've expressed interest in undertaking 
the project on a volunteer basis. The ingredients seem to be on hand 
to move forward.

that's the picture as of now,


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