GMO OMG (2015): A Film Review

To say I was excited for this film would be an understatement. I am a very big fan of Jeremy Seifert’s previous debut film, DIVE! Living off America’s Waste, and was not disappointed by his follow-up.

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GMO OMG has all the resources of the modern, flashy documentary, yet none of the arrogance. Most of us are familiar with food films such as SuperSize Me by Morgan Spurlock, Sicko by Michael Moore, or Fed Up by Stephanie Soechtig. These glossy documentaries weave together expert interviews and real-life experiences of  individuals to synthesize an argument against the corporate powers that be. But, what these films lack (and what makes Seifert so effective in his storytelling) is the question. What is it that we want to know?

Many documentarians jump to the answer, the enraging statistics and shock-and-awe visuals that unravel what the viewer believed to be true. Seifert’s films Dive! and GMO OMG begin and are punctuated by personal curiosities. His lack of experience served him well in Dive! because his curiosity was genuine. In GMO OMG, his perspective is authentic; he is a father raising two children and wants to make sure he is making the best choices for his family.

Seifert searches for answers for his many questions surrounding the true meaning of food labels such as “natural,” “organic,” “wholesome,” “GMO-free” etc. This is a confusion shared by most consumers and is exactly what the food industry is betting on to sell the processed products. On his search, Seifert confronts Monsanto, yet the interaction (and their quick dismissal of the documentarian) is not one of antagonism and theatrics similar to encounters in Michael Moore films. Instead he is polite, patient, and still turned away on the company’s headquarters.

Though he is no expert, his discoveries are validated by the transparency of the documentary and the perspective’s simplicity. He admittedly does not get into the science of GMO’s, but rather targets the political morality behind the issue. This, for some of us in this class, may be a demaret for Mr. Seifert, as many of us are moved by science and detailed understanding. But I personally respect Seifert not treading into territory that he is not an authority on. His appeal is personal and emotional, and though this is limited, it is likely most effective given his chosen audience–the average consumer.

We have all spoken quite a bit on communication tactics within the environmental art and advocacy community. Fighting fire with fire is effective. The rhetorical values in films like Fed Up exude authority and clarity. The viewer leaves feeling as though  the culprits and victims are clearly defined there is no other way to perceive the issue. This has great value, because it cuts through the illusion of debate–another topic we have all delved into since reading Merchants of Doubt–yet we can only emulate the enemy for so long before we disappear into the noise. I’ve seen almost every food related documentary I can get my hands on, and before long, the hyperbolic claims and flashy animations begin to feel so similar to that of food industry advertisements, that the impact is diluted.

This is why films like GMO OMG feel more grounded than those that land an interview with Oprah Winfrey, for example. Documentary as an artform was created with the intention to bring reality and presence to those who are not present. There is a lot to be gained by adding the personal experience and life back into the story we’re trying to tell. Josh Fox does this effectively in Gasland (though I acknowledge this particular film has its own set of controversies)

However, after I’ve spent 500 words raving about the authenticity of Seifert’s sophomore film, one thing did irk me:

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The above image is a bit difficult to read, because it was a screenshot I took from the credit sequence of GMO OMG. It shows the sponsors the filmmakers would like to thank, among which are Chipotle,  and Silk. These two food providers recently became GMO-Free, Silk announcing a few years ago and Chipotle only earlier this month. While these are great gestures–however symbolic–it does make me wonder if GMO-Free is beginning seen now by many companies as lucrative terms to be marketed like “all-natural” and “organic.” So I did a little research.

GMO free food that wants to be labeled officially as such will seek the Non-GMO Project Verification Seal which is awards to foods containing under 1% GMOs. But products without the project’s approval can still use the term GMO-Free. The Non-GMO Project’s website states:

“While you may see other claims regarding GMO status (e.g. “GMO free”), these are really not legally or scientifically defensible, and they are not verified by a third party. The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada.”

On the other side of things, GMO-laden companies like Monsanto have been preparing to defend themselves as filmmakers, reporters, and bloggers (ahem) build momentum against them. Monsanto has a section of its website dedicated to answer consumer questions about GMO product safety. The tactic throughout the article is clear: reiterate the lack of supposed scientific consensus.

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Screenshot from Monsanto’s website (1 of 2)
Screenshot from Monsanto's website (1 of 2)
Screenshot from Monsanto’s website (1 of 2)

More from their campaign:

It’s clear they are prepared for the fight. It seems, especially in the post-An Inconvenient Truthworld, that documentaries may be the sharpest weapons we have on our side. For me, it is comforting to know we have Jeremy Seifert in our arsenal.

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