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'SEED: The Untold Story' Review: Beauty, Mystery, Danger

All part of the unfolding story of seeds

November 16, 2016, 12:00 am

“The diversity in our seed stock is as endangered as a panda or golden eagle or a polar bear right now,” ethnobotanist/foot soldier/seed bank advocate Gary Paul Nabhan says in SEED: The Untold Story, a new documentary that aims to prove that these kernels of the link between plant and man, these doorways between last year’s death and next year’s life, are altogether beautiful and powerful. They require particular cooperation from their surroundings: freezing, fire, passing through the digestive system of an animal, the right mixture of warmth and water … then they are a bridge; reincarnation.

Get up close with studio lighting of nature’s secret and sacred art that makes up some of the most remarkable footage in the documentary, sometimes in motion—corn tossed into the air or time-lapse footage of the lively sprout bursting from its case; sometimes still and silent—with color combinations and textures that captivate.

Yet mechanized farming and the power of agriculture chemical corporations on global food production could be changing the ending to a cliffhanger about the story of seeds. Or, as goes the vision from directors Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz, grassroots movements of farmers and adventurers, social activists and traditional agriculture preservations will write more chapters in the book.

While the documentary doesn’t dwell on doomsday, the bare facts are panic-inducing: how we’ve reduced 98 percent of the vegetable varieties once cultivated and the existence of an arctic shelter that is built to withstand apocalyptic disaster, for example.

Siegel also produced Queen of the Sun: What Are The Bees Telling Us? and The Real Dirt on Farmer John and presents this third indictment of modern farming and food systems. Looking for more reasons to distrust Monsanto and its ilk? Tune in.

But viewers also find reasons to shrug away at least some despair. Voices of Native people and women take center stage, along with others who are steady advocates. Walk along the cornfields with a Hopi farmer, remembering how to grow and plant the blue corn that arrives with only the Cloud People for irrigation; meet neighbors in Hawaii who passed a law thwarting pesticide tests; hear from a woman in India whose education initiative is working against a plague of suicide and economic disruption brought on by seed patents; follow an American into the Amazon as he’s waist-deep in water to dig out a root he hopes could be a future food source.

Watching this story should send you running for the kohlrabi and kissing your local farmer for his purple potatoes.

Sure, there are far-reaching government policy decisions that are amplifying this problem (and others), but here is one small way one can plant the seeds of dissent—the possibilities are endless.

Several screenings at the Jean Cocteau Cinema include a Q&A with director Siegel afterward. The opening night session on Nov. 16 also includes Emigdio Ballon, agricultural director of Tesuque Pueblo, who helped construct the first seed bank on Native American land just a few miles from the theater.

SEED: The Untold Story
Directed by Siegel and Betz
Jean Cocteau Cinema,
NR, 94 min.


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