'Bugs': Tribeca Review

BUGS - H 2016
Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
A thought-provoking doc for adventurous foodies and environmentalists alike.

The "greatest restaurant in the world" is behind a globetrotting investigation into making food from insects.

Making the case that a plate full of maggots or thumb-sized grubs might someday be mouthwatering instead of revolting, Andreas Johnsen's Bugs begins with a widely accepted prediction — that, given a mushrooming global population and limited resources, humanity will soon need to get much more of its protein from insects — and follows those who hope to keep that from being a dystopian vision. Focusing on the efforts of one team pairing a researcher with a haute cuisine chef, the doc travels the world to places where insects are already part of people's diets and asks how local knowledge might inform future meals. The invigorating film represents just the tip of the iceberg — or, in this case, of the anthill — on the subject, but it should play well at fests and serve as a useful entry point for foodies and eco-conscious moviegoers.

Chef Ben Reade and food-science researcher Josh Evans are sent on this mission by the Nordic Food Lab, which was launched by the founders of Copenhagen's world-famous restaurant Noma. Their quest is to seek out "deliciousness" wherever it may be found, but these two are equally concerned with questions of sustainability and economic justice. As they jaunt from Kenya to Mexico to Italy and beyond, both seem willing to eat just about anything.

As the young men hang out with urban chefs and rural peasants, Johnsen declines to identify the people whose wisdom Reade and Evans seek. (He also tells us next to nothing about his protagonists' personal history or qualifications.) The film focuses on in-the-moment investigation, which here might mean spending an afternoon digging with shovels into a man-sized termite hill, looking for the giant, writhing termite queen, a delicacy. Or squeezing funky honey out of stingless bees in Uganda.

Viewers trained by wild-man food TV shows should quickly get beyond (or fight through) their revulsion, and may well find themselves wishing they could taste some of the wriggly treats these men find. But the film moves beyond food porn as the researchers start asking questions about how these foodstuffs could come to play a larger part in our diets. Reade in particular, steeped in locavore ethics, is suspicious of those who see dollar signs in a bucket of crickets; he worries about training people to love eating bugs just so Monsanto or other industrofood giants can have one more product to sell.

The film's quietly jazzy score helps carry us along on this line of thinking, as the researchers start to understand just how thorny their subject is getting. The film ends on a note few will expect, but is almost sure to leave viewers curious to know more.


Production companies: Rosforth, Danish Documentary

Director-Director of photography: Andreas Johnsen

Screenwriter: Andreas Johnsen

Producer: Sigrid Jonsson Dyekjær Pga

Executive producers: Andreas Johnsen, Sigrid Jonsson Dyekjær Pga, Eva Mulvad, Mikala Krogh, Pernille Rose Grønkjær

Editor: Menno Boerema

Composer: Spacelab, Mikkel Hess, Nikolaj Hess, Anders Ac Christensen

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)

Sales: Autolook


73 minutes