Chuck Jaffee: Films that ‘grow’ on you |

Chuck Jaffee: Films that ‘grow’ on you

Chuck Jaffee
“Wasted!” is a documentary about food waste and the changes that can be made so people waste less. The film also shows audiences how some companies turn waste into energy.
Submitted photo to Prospector |

(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a four-week series of Prospector reviews leading up to the 16th Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Jan. 11-15, 2018.)

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

There’s a beer called “Toast.” The documentary “Wasted!” quips, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread.” People throw away tons of bread: old bread, undesired crusts. About one slice of bread goes into each bottle of “Toast” beer. Bonus: food waste from the brewing process gets channeled to hungry pigs.

At a Yoplait yogurt factory, two thirds of the food inputs end up in the waste stream, except, no. A closed system loop diverts what would be waste into energy that fuels the factory. Tons of cost productive foodstuff helps reconceive energy usage.

Someone cooks you a dish. “Mmm, delicious you say.” How, culturally, can we transform the psychological “yuck” factor of finding out you just ate cauliflower stems or beef tongue or pork uterus? Tons of edible food gets thrown out.

Changing behavior is tricky whether it’s individuals or a grand scale. The concept, however, is quite straightforward. Instead of wasting 40 percent (FORTY PERCENT!) of all food produced, feed hungry people or at least feed animals. Don’t send food to landfills. Channel food into energy production or to the wonders of compost. Don’t send food to landfills, which not incidentally produces menacing methane.

Doing something about food waste fits in people’s brains easier than shutting down the fossil fuel industry. The film “Wasted!” spends most of its screen time sweeping through myriad, existing ways we can waste way less.

Anthony Bourdain narrates “Wasted!” with appearances by several other celebrity chefs. Bourdain says he’s “old school.” Use everything. Abhor waste. Enjoy the smug satisfaction of caring to do the right thing.

Kokota: The Islet of Hope

Kokota Island, about a mile and a half long and a half mile wide, lies off the coast of Tanzania (east Africa). Who cares?

Of course, the 400 people who live on Kokota care. Maybe the rest of the world should care, not only for the ways these poverty-stricken people are saving themselves, but for the example they are setting.

Water shortages, less frequent but more torrential rains, deforestation, soil turned to dust. With modest help and modest goals, residents of Kokota become able to live on more than a quart or two of fresh water per day.

Can’t harvest rainwater off grass roofed houses? Build a metal roofed schoolhouse. (Bonus, they get water AND a schoolhouse). Dig a water tank in the solid rock (by hand, no power tools). Such a successful self-help call to action energized the people, seeded a culture willing to be educated, to embrace change.

Charging motorcycle batteries at the school’s solar panel provides light without spending precious money on dirty kerosene. Charge cell phones, too. Cook on simple stoves that use half as much fuel. Plant trees. Plant trees. Plant trees until half the island has “agroforest.” The trees not only restore soil and cooling shade. Agroforest doubles as a healthier space for grazing and growing crops.

In a thirty-minute documentary “Kokota: The Islet of Hope” makes an encouraging practical, tactical impression. These are practical, tactical, existing examples we can learn from, replicate, and expand upon. Attach to this eyelet of hope.

Mary Janes: Women of Weed

Director Windy Borman, on screen, admits to being a virgin. In her documentary “Mary Janes: Women of Weed,” Borman admits that she has never done marijuana. What she has done is leverage the look-at-me-look-at-me topic of weed into a primer on gender equality with a flavorful mix of environmental sustainability and social justice.

Borman gets down to business … women’s business. That is, intersperse a studied sweep of reasons why cannabis should be legal, but emphasize a far less familiar story. In the legalized cannabis industry, 36 percent of the top leadership are women. Compared with 22 percent in business generally and 12 percent in the financial sector, this is the first billion-dollar industry on the leading edge of “you go girl.”

The “Women of Weed” in this film range from venture capital types to chefs, from science types to retailers, from getting high types to getting medicine to getting real. Women can and are flourishing in an accelerating business realm that isn’t entrenched in institutionalized gender roadblocks.

Women can and are shaping a world of business that is new enough to be shaped well. That includes setting up a whole industry where features like pesticides and other non-organic components are bad for business. That includes setting up an industry that isn’t complicit in marginalizing and punishing people of color.

The reporting works as congenial exploration. “Mary Janes: Women of Weed” especially works as a record and a roadmap of progress that needs to happen and is happening.

wetheuncivilized: a Life Story

Pete questioned the sanity of his “successful” city life. Lily Rose was searching for something deeper in life. They met. They married. In a home on wheels, they went looking for home. Pregnancy happened. It suited their seeking, but now raising a child would shape their context.

As long as they were out seeking, Lily Rose and Pete decided to make a film. With no film experience, they did quite well presenting their exploration of back-to-basics around Britain, including a wealth of expression from guru types and other philosophically-minded folks. Brace yourself. Lots of people seem to be, you know, hippies. Worse, they seem to be activists.

The documentary “wetheuncivilised” spends most of its time on the “deep caring” of a necessarily cooperative lifestyle — interconnected with nature. It spends the right amount of time slapping around “civilized” notions such as human beings compelled to work for people who wield too much ownership. It puts in perspective what it costs to have more stuff, and what it saves to embrace grief.

Besides showing people growing their own food and using human-scale technology, people come together for fun and sharing and learning. Kids play with dew drops on a leaf. A guy walks in the woods, notices leaves plugging up a little stream. He frees up the flow, then frees up other flows. There’s lots to do in life, maybe more so when you’re closer to it. Lily Rose and Pete have a baby.

You’ll like the exploration that “wetheuncivilised” shares.

Suzy and the Simple Man

Without giving anything away about the most dramatic arc of the documentary “Suzy and the Simple Man,” here’s some insight into the Simple Man. Jon and Suzy Muir are a loving husband and wife team. Suzy, the more complicated one, faces a crossroads. Jon supports whichever path she takes. She checks his silence, then asks for his perspective. Jon says, “I just have no idea.”

This substantive, environmental film sidesteps issue-y tone portraying a committed couple in sync with each other about their intentionally low carbon-footprint lifestyle. They decided to be organic farmers in Southeastern Australia – off the grid. It’s just the two of them with help-when-each-other-needs-it kind of neighbors.

They grow fruits and vegetables. They grow chickens and sheep and goats. They compost. They do something about too many earwigs. They save a sick sheep. They kill a sheep because that’s how you do, if you’re going to be a meat eater.

They eye nearby kangaroos … and sunsets … and a wildfire that’s closer than they’d like. They fix the pump, assemble a solar panel, power a honey centrifuge by pedaling a bicycle. They win a ribbon at the fleece and flower show.

Suzy and Jon aren’t plain rural folks. They haven’t left behind their history of adventurous treks together: backpacking, kayaking, climbing. Jon goes away sometimes, leading floating treks to put some money in their lifestyle. Suzy lends her caring and knowledge to the local school.

You’ll like spending time with “Suzy and the Simple Man.”

Chuck Jaffee of Grass Valley likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at

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