Editor’s note: Chuck Jaffee, of Nevada City, continues his years of writing a series of reviews for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Find his other movie, film festival, and related reviews at www.startlets.com.
This set of reviews basks in a bunch of the films in the festival. The film festival is held in historic Nevada City, which feels so right as the home for this brouhaha. Besides all the film venues, there’s music, parties, art shows, wine strolls, workshops, and maybe the best thing, lots of filmmakers adding to the vibrancy of the festival.
Marking its run into double digits, this 10th annual event, once again, shows its community heart and global soul. The commitment to awareness raising and activism, to adventure and fun … it’s palpable. The quality and variety shines. Take advantage of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, January 13, 14, and 15.
On the set of the film “The Horse Whisperer,” Buck Brannaman said to Robert Redford, “If this movie thing doesn’t work out for you, I think you could make a living doing this.” Redford may be good with horses and good at making films, but it’s the title subject of the documentary “Buck” that’s the real horse whisperer.
In 20 minutes, Buck gentled his horse through a tender scene with Scarlett Johansson. The equine actor cast in the role couldn’t pull it off in eight hours.
Redford said he could tell that Buck was the real deal almost as soon as he met him. What makes this man and the movie “Buck” so appealing is his tone as much as his capability with horses.
A fellow horseman said, “I’ve never actually seen him whisper to a horse,” but in every clinic Buck gives for 40 weeks per year, everyone sees him being firm but gentle. He disciplines but encourages. In remarkably little time he translates his mastery into a “soft feel.”
Buck uses a tag line familiar from “The Horse Whisperer”: Asked if he helps people with horse problems, the reply, “I help horses with people problems.” The film, “Buck,” puts just the right amount of emphasis on his childhood. His abusive father beat him and his brother for years until a coach at school and a sheriff found out and stopped it.
This born-to-be cowboy knows he learned from his past. He made choices. He’s been sharing those choices for decades, and you don’t need to be a horse person to feel uplifted by the opportunity to spend 90 minutes watching “Buck.”
With or without a fiscal crisis miring the California State Park system, these natural and historic places deserve the kind of attention paid in the documentary “California Forever.”
It starts with an old timey re-creation of discovering giant sequoias and the Yosemite Valley. In a sense, trees trump 3000 foot high granite walls. Two and three hundred foot tall plants inspire us with the fact of their living spirit. They connect us to people and events in the distant past. They connect us to California’s growth.
People like Frederick Law Olmsted (Sr. and Jr., each in his time) foresaw the clear cutting of old growth forests, the trashing of spectacular attractions and compelling wilderness. They recognized that even protected areas must be managed. They knew hundreds of visitors would someday be millions of visitors.
Because of the vision of many such heroes, about 600 miles of California’s 1200 miles of coastline is protected (300 miles, state; 300 federal). How easily the access could have been constricted by manifest commercial destiny.
Because of the committed rallying of a wide range of people, more than 250 special places in California have been preserved. These include massive tracts of unfathomable desert charm and a necessary remembrance of decimated indigenous populations. These embrace undeniable wonders and modest strongholds. They invigorate human spirit with a counterpoint to fettered lives. These represent, perhaps, democracy at its finest. “Access to natural wonders,” Olmsted said, “should not be the exclusive domain of the wealthy.
“California Forever” does well summarizing centuries of history and millions of square miles. Not quite up to the standard set by Ken Burns, this documentary leverages the Burns style commendably. This visit, this reminder, is an image-rich trip to the movies. Whether it plants a seed or stirs activism, it is an important spirit to keep in mind.
Shira and Yoav Potash treated themselves to a modest restaurant meal the day before the experiment started. What they spent amounted to half their food budget for the following seven days.
The experiment in the film “Food Stamped”: to eat healthy for one week, spending only food stamps. Their allocated amount was $49 for two people. They didn’t skip a meal. That’s $1.20 per person per meal – and no snacks.
A US Congressman, who also experienced this challenge, said, “I don’t want to see any more lentils as long as I live.” Shira and Yoav ate a fairly varied, interesting diet for their week. They exercised a great deal of planning and effort, including food preparation time. They also had access and awareness that people who need food stamps typically don’t.
This cute couple also knew it would end after seven days. Shira is a nutritionist and teacher. Yoav is a cooperative husband as long as he could be a wise guy all week. They also supplemented their diet by finding some free samples and adding one taste of dumpster diving.
Influence lurks in an affluent country where one of eight people is eligible for food stamps. We (taxpayers) subsidize big companies to make big profits producing and selling sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup) and fat (especially hydrogenated).
The cheapest, most accessible and most heavily marketed foods are the least nutritious. Fruits and vegetables cost more in large part because these foods are not on corporate welfare and have nowhere near the advertising budget.
Watch “Food Stamped” because Shira and Yoav are an informative, interesting and engaging couple. Watch “Food Stamped” because there was not a single dessert budgeted for the entire week (although Shira brought her hubbie a few brownie pieces, free samples from the supermarket).
—————— Q and A with the filmmakers and “stars” of “Food Stamped” ————–
Chuck Jaffee: If you had to pick one thing from all you covered in “Food Stamped,” what would that one thing be?
Yoav Potash: Do you mean one thing we ate? Enough with the lentils already.
Shira Potash: Well, that leaves me to focus on issues. The Farm Bill connects to food insecurity and the obesity epidemic, so perhaps that would be the issue. But also we felt examples of hope in the community. My favorite scenes are people in a low-income area [Watts] embracing fresh, healthy food in a way that I think surprises people.
Yoav Potash: That was more than one thing.
CJ: You delivered a fairly sober, heavy topic with a sense of adventure and fun, not to mention that one of the two of you is quite a wise guy. How important and how difficult was it to establish the right tone for the film?
SP: What do you mean ONE of us is funny?
YP: He must be talking about you.
SP: Definitely. But we both agreed that it was crucial that the film be educational but entertaining as well. So many documentaries turn people off because they sort of lecture the audience.
YP: Right, we knew that if we could approach our audience in a more down to earth way and get people to laugh, then we could engage them more.
SP: So we were just trying to be ourselves, and yeah, for Yoav, that means being a goofball, cooking in his bathrobe, and cracking jokes.
CJ: You lived, eating healthy, on a meager food-stamp-only diet, but you only had to do it for a week. On balance, how much of your experience about food and culture was a daunting eye opener and how much held inspiration for you?
SP: I was inspired to do this to prove to my cooking classes that it was possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget. With all of my nutrition and cooking know-how and our access to affordable healthy food (and the fact that we don’t have children), in some ways it was more challenging than I expected. But the daunting part is really what people have to go through who don’t have those advantages.
YP: [Like, there are] people who don’t have a car and who live in an area where the nearest grocery store is ten miles away.
CJ: What was the hardest thing about getting through that disciplined week?
YP: Definitely the hardest thing was getting into stupid fights about things like who was eating more peanut butter.
SP: You were eating more peanut butter!
YP: I know I was, but in a normal week we don’t have to fight about it.
SP: Well, there you go. The hardest thing was making sure my husband didn’t eat everything … which was an extension of having to plan and ration all of our meals.
CJ: One of the reasons the film works, is that you are a cute, loving couple. Did making “Food Stamped” make you cuter and more loving?
SP: Aw, thanks. We were newlyweds when we made it. It’s nice for us to have that reflection back from our audiences.
YP: I think we were just trying to have some fun along the way. But now when our friends are over for dinner, and they help us out in the kitchen, they say “Hey, I feel like I’m in FOOD STAMPED.”
– Chuck Jaffee