Author: Mel Priestley
In anticipation of the Edmonton Food Council’s upcoming screening of SEED: The Untold Story, we had a conversation with the film’s co-directors, Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel. (For more details and to register for this free film screening in celebration of World Food Day 2016, click on this link.)
SEED is the third installment in filmmaker Taggart Siegel’s trilogy of food documentaries. The series began with The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005), which explored the challenges faced by small family farmers and the rise of the Community Supported Agriculture model. Siegel’s second film, Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? (2010) examined honeybees and the spread of colony collapse disorder.
Though Siegel didn’t realize it at the time, both films shared a common element: seeds. Shortly after they finished working on Queen of the Sun, Betz dropped an article on Siegel’s desk about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The article mentioned the staggering statistic that we’ve lost up to 94 percent of the vegetable seed varieties that were available in 1903, which prompted the duo to start working on SEED.
“I think that was a big wake-up call for us to make a film that would raise awareness about the loss of seed diversity – the reasons that we’ve lost so much and the movement of people that are actively working to preserve what we have and revitalize a future that has incredible seed diversity once again,” Betz says.
Seed savers feature prominently in the film, from small farmers who fell in love with collecting seeds to members of Indigenous cultures who have been saving seeds for the past 8000 years. One of the filmmakers’ biggest tasks was getting the audience to feel the same same passion and intensity for something that they probably don’t think about very much.
“We had to have people look at seeds in a very different way,” Siegel says. “The seed keepers that we met are absolutely smitten by seeds. [It’s] like going into a jewellery store or a candy store; there are just these beautiful colours and they have so much history behind them and there’s so much energy and passion behind it.”
The film also explores some of the social and political aspects of seeds. The filmmakers tried to find a delicate balance between the different sides of the seed saving issue, which led them to highlight the personal stories of individual seed savers – rather than interviews with the heads of large seed banks or agricultural companies.
“We took a route that was much more about: who are the people that you’ve never heard of, that are holding our planet together – in a way – on a shoestring, by keeping these seeds in their attic; they’re kind of these underdog heroes,” Betz says. “For us, the compelling story was that they are very much every day people that are totally extraordinary, that are doing all of this seed saving, and let’s tell their story and their fears and their inspiration.
“I think our film is really for people in the margins, people that may be environmentally concerned but had no idea the ramifications of the seed issue,” he continues. “We made a film that we wanted to be very personally affecting, because we feel it’s not just a big academic issue – it’s a personal issue.”
Watch the SEED trailer: