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GMO OMG: Film Review

GMO OMG Film Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Smarmy doc exemplifies some of the worst trends in advocacy film.

Opens

Friday, Sept. 13 (Submarine Deluxe)

Director

Jeremy Seifert

Jeremy Seifert dumbs down the debate over genetically modified organisms.

Insufferably certain of its own charm and a lot less interested in educating viewers than it purports to be (or simply very bad at doing so), Jeremy Seifert's GMO OMG offers an introduction to genetically modified food that is only slightly more thoughtful than the movie's title. Though its superficiality and facile humor may appeal to some doc audiences in a specialized theatrical run, those who take the subject seriously should hope its commercial exposure is brief, not poisoning the well for a film that can do things right.

One presumes that Seifert was not as blank-slate ignorant of genetically modified organisms as he claims to have been at the start of production. (A man-on-street montage of "huh?" responses depicts a nation that has similarly avoided the widespread warnings of environmentalists, foodies and small-farm advocates.) The conceit sets up the persona Seifert will wear throughout -- a faux-naif questioner who evidently watched Roger & Me and promptly forgot the parts in which Michael Moore's background justified his decision to tell the tale. It also enables him to use the most hackneyed device in contemporary doc filmmaking: "I decided to see...," says any numbskull who throws his camera into a car and drives cross-country "in search of answers."

This time around, we have not only the filmmaker but his family: The couple's three young kids -- especially mopheaded six-year-old Finn, who loves playing with seeds -- are the stated source of Seifert's anxiety over the wholesomeness and genetic purity of any food he buys. (This might be the spot to note that Seifert's only other film, Dive!, was a celebration of finding edible food in garbage dumpsters.)

Those kids become props in Dad's dumbing down of this issue. He dresses them in gas masks to run through cornfields he describes as containing more pesticide than food; he makes decorated goggles and tells them to use their new x-ray toys to hunt for modified food.

As plenty of us know, such crops are widespread to the point of threatening the survival of non-engineered species. But GMO OMG is so busy slapping scary stats onscreen that it barely mentions the legitimate gripes people have with the crops. Seifert goes to Haiti, but would rather gather songs and pretty pictures than let peasant-movement leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste explain just how Monsanto's post-earthquake gift of seeds was "a gift to kill you -- to destroy who you are." Talk (incredibly brief) of seed patenting doesn't come until much later; the only real mention of the science involved in making these plants is a bit of animation near the start that boils down to "it's real complicated, dude, so just remember these two terms."

Seifert does select interviewees -- from Baptiste to conventional seed dealer Don Grimes to staffers at the organic-promoting Rodale Institute -- who surely would offer enlightenment if they were interviewed by someone more serious. And he hops a flight to Norway's Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a bastion of biodiversity in a political environment less beholden to the lobbyists of agrigiants like Monsanto.

The film is better at following the politics of GMO food labeling than the science, but by the time this topic comes up it will have alienated most of the environmentalists in the room. With work like this passing for democratic discourse, one can almost sympathize with the conventional seed dealers who roll their eyes at anyone objecting to their industry's "progress."

Production Company: Compeller Pictures

Director-Screenwriter: Jeremy Seifert

Producer: Josh Kunau

Executive producers: Elizabeth Kucinich, Jill Latiano Howerton, Josh Kunau

Director of photography: Rod Hassler

Music: Jubilee Singers, Cameron Fraser

Editor: Terry Yates

No rating, 83 minutes