Docurama Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | May 13, 2013
Director: Yung Chang
Welcome to Bill Pullman’s backyard orchard of exotic fruit! That’s right, smack dab in the middle of Hollywood, Pullman is growing a collection of trees that bare fruit unlike anything most of us have ever tasted. Rebelling against industrialized monoculture, Pullman and other “fruit hunters” are leading a movement to open the world’s eyes to a magical Wonka Land of fruit species, all the while saving these long forgotten varieties from extinction.
Just because practically every grocery store around the world only sells Cavendish bananas does not mean that is the only banana that exists; it just means that the Cavendish is the only variety of banana that is grown, harvested and transported for mass consumption. The theory is that corporate agricultural entities researched and developed certain varieties of fruits that could withstand worldwide distribution; but what will happen if, for instance, the Cavendish banana is exposed to a disease that renders it extinct? Well, if all goes as planned, the passionately fruit-obsessed adventurers, horticulturalists and scientists showcased in Yung Chang’s The Fruit Hunters are here to save us from the horrors of monoculture by promoting biodiversity.
These fruity harbingers of biodiversity want to return our Earth to the Garden of Eden, even if it is just a few acres at a time. As some fruit hunters focus on traveling the world to discover and protect long-forgotten ancient varieties of fruits, horticulturalists promote the communal significance of backyard gardens and public green spaces; the latter also stress the possibility of sustainability, by giving communities the ability to subsist off of an acre or two of land as long as they can ward off the ever encroaching development of real estate.
Surprisingly, Chang’s documentary never really touches upon the importance of fruit in the human diet. Most nutritionists and dietitians agree that fruit is one of the healthiest foods that humans can consume; but ingesting a wide variety of fruits, each containing a different array of vitamins and minerals, is even better for us. The researchers and collectors in The Fruit Hunters seem almost selfish — sometimes even borderline gluttonous — in their endeavors, as they seem to consume exotic fruit solely to enjoy the taste or because they want to eat something that is incredibly rare. Sure, the enjoyment of the food that we eat is very important, but there are much more practical reasons to include a wide variety of these strange fruits into our diets. In other words, The Fruit Hunters is more in the vein of a foodie documentary, than one about dietary concerns.
Inspired by Adam Leith Gollner’s non-fiction book The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Obsession, Commerce and Adventure, Chang is forthright in his motivations for making this film. Chang is a self-professed lover of fruit, one who is especially interested in diversity. Though Chang repeatedly admits the dangers of obsession (sometimes by way of woefully out-of-place recreations — this documentary’s biggest fault), he is clearly very helplessly infatuated with fruit and he wants all of us to enjoy the same addiction. The camera’s microscopic representation of fruit is tantalizingly sexual, practically pornographic, as if imagined by Georgia O’Keeffe. Lusciously lensed by Mark Ó’Fearghail, The Fruit Hunters is poised to open its audiences’ eyes to the strange, under-known fruit varieties of our world.