Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
Errol Morris film – Vernon, Florida
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
A major hurdle in releasing this film was finding a company that would be able to provide me with the legal protection I needed to release a story that condemns such a powerful and litigious corporation such as Monsanto. I knew that without the backing of a high profile company or individual that it would be unwise for me to release this film. Having heard the horror stories about intimidation tactics used by Monsanto against Michael White I did not want to take any chances releasing the film on my own.
Only when Neil Young attached his name and put his company, Shaky Pictures, behind releasing the film did I know for certain that the film would be seen.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
I would like audiences to consider not only the health concerns surrounding GMO’s or genetically engineered foods but also the effect that companies like Monsanto and their seed patents have on the global food supply and how they are fundamentally changing the foundations of farming.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
DARK Act / Food Labeling
Glyphosate’s (RoundUp – Monsanto’s herbicide) link to Cancer – research done by World Health Organization (WHO)
Corporate Interest and Politics – how they influence one another
Power of large corporations to strong-arm farmers
Danger of Seed patents and patenting living organisms
EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) using Monsanto funded studies to prove herbicide safe for humans
Monsanto’s claims that Michael White (the subject of this film) is lying
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
Michael is still under surveillance by whom he purports to be Monsanto. He has not reopened his seed cleaning business but continues to advocate for and farm with conventional seeds.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
People can get involved by visiting Justlabelit.org and/or reaching out to their Senators to ask that they vote to make GMO labeling mandatory by voting against the DARK (Denying Americans the Right-to-Know) Act.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
People can contact their Senators through this link – http://www.justlabelit.org/action-center/take-action-congress/
What motivated you to make this film?
I wanted to explore the issue of genetically engineered foods (genetically modified organisms / GMO’s) through the point of view of the farmer. As opposed to focusing on the issues surrounding the safety of ingesting genetically engineered foods, which many films already do so well, I wanted to shed light on how seed patents and heavy handed investigations by companies such as Monsanto have fundamentally changed the foundations of farming on a global scale.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
The only “special” technique I try to achieve on every film is to establish trust with my subjects, the cornerstone to great storytelling. Michael White recounting his distressing experience earnestly and with heartfelt emotion is ultimately what resonates with the viewer and creates a sobering expose of one farmer’s experience fighting Monsanto. I couldn’t have achieved this without having Michael’s full trust.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
In a way this film found me.
I first met Michael White while filming some b-roll for an unrelated feature documentary that I’m filming in Alabama. I was capturing landscape shots of an old barn with a field in the background when a white pickup truck barreled on to the property and headed straight for me. Out jumped Michael White, a grey haired farmer who I could immediately tell was upset and not joking around. A second guy, shorter than Michael and missing a hand, stood behind him with a sinister look that worried me.
In his thick southern drawl, Michael declared this his property and made clear that I was trespassing. He immediately began asking questions. Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? Handing him my identification I explained to him that I was from Canada and in the area filming a documentary about a historical basketball game. With his associate keeping a close eye on me, Michael took my ID back to his truck and made a few phone calls. He came back with a final question, do you work for Monsanto?
This intrigued me and after proving that I had no allegiances to the company Michael instructed me to follow him back to his house. I did so, hesitantly. When we arrived, sensing my uneasiness, Michael assured me that it was safe to enter his home. Here, he told me his heartbreaking story.
When I returned to Alabama the following year to continue production on my feature I set aside a few days to film with Michael. I had no set idea as to what the film would become and let Michael determine the tone of the piece, which he did through his candid and emotional telling of his story.
I returned to LA and over the course of post production read that Neil Young, also Canadian born, was preparing to release his 36th studio album, The Monsanto Years. On a whim and not really expecting a reply, I sent an email to Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson’s youngest son, who was playing on Neil’s record. Micah had passed the short along to Neil who now wanted to discuss the project with me. Before I knew it, Neil Young was on the phone and we were planning how best to release the short. It was an extremely serendipitous and surreal experience.
In addition to his ability to get the film seen, having Neil Young and his company Shakey Pictures on board provided the necessary legal safeguards to release a film that denounces arguably the world’s most litigious corporation. Also, he was able to call in a favor from the very talented producer and Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Lanois who’s music, mostly from the album BellaDonna, is featured throughout the film.
Neil Young decided to release the film on July 23, the day the Accurate Food Labeling Act more accurately known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act was up for vote in the House of Representatives.
Through Neil’s facebook page we have received close to 4.5 million views and the response to the film was so overwhelming it compelled Monsanto to release an official statement the following day condemning the film and its subject, Michael White. The fact that Monsanto felt the need to rebut the statements made by Michael White in the documentary, to me, was proof of its overwhelming success.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
Canon 5D MKIII
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
From day one to the last day in post the story told in the film remained relatively the same. It was Day 1 or production that I came as the biggest surprise. Having only met Michael once before (while trespassing on his land) I was unsure how open he was going to be on camera and if I would be able to make him comfortable talking in front of the lens. Surprisingly, Michael was more emotional and heartfelt than I could have ever imagined.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
The most rewarding part of making this film was helping Michael White share his story. He was in a legal battle against Monsanto for years and was on the verge of bankruptcy when he was forced to settle out of court. After we released the film Michael said that if his story can help people understand the corrupt system Monsanto has created then his fight, one that nearly killed him, was worthwhile.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Make films about topics you are passionate about. Don’t get bogged down in too many intricate facts or details as you will potentially alienate your viewer. Make sure you present the issue in a way that makes the viewer want to take action and find out more details after watching the film. If possible, have the emotion of your subjects drive the film forward. In doing so you will capture the attention and hearts of people that may have not been previously interested or concerned about your film’s subject matter.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
Traveling to new places, meeting new people and creating a piece that resonates with people long after the film is over. Hopefully fueling a lasting dialog about the films subject.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
Batteries. Because you can never have enough.
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