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Gateway’s Documentary Week kicks off with critical look at food industry

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Movies are often a go-to escape for audiences, but filmmakers in Columbus this week are hoping their documentaries can bring social change.

Thursday marks the beginning of the 6th Columbus Documentary Week, an event celebrated at Gateway Film Center biannually. A total of 22 documentaries are set to be shown from Thursday to Dec. 11 which a range of categories.

Documentary Week came about from a simple reason. 

“There are so many great documentaries being made,” said Johnny DiLoretto, spokesman of Gateway Film Center. “Over the years people have grown in their interest in nonfiction … so you see that reflected in the movie making now.”

Everything from “The Immortalists,” a film about scientists who seek the cure of old age, to “Happy Valley,” which covers the Penn State scandal, will be shown during documentary week. DiLoretto said “Citizenfour,” a film about Edward Snowden leaking information detailing NSA surveillance, is a must-see, as well as “Food Chains.” 

“Food Chains” is set to have its Ohio premiere Thursday at 8 p.m. at The Gateway. It is described as “an exposé of brutal exploitation of farm works and the grocery complex’s complicity in the crimes,” in the film center’s promotional brochure. 

Tickets are $10 for general public and $6.50 for students and seniors. Proceeds will go to benefit the Ohio chapter of the Campaign for Fair Food, a program that works with growers and large corporations that buy produce to ensure fair pay and good working conditions for farm laborers. The Campaign for Fair Food is an initiative put together by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and both the CIW and Fair Food are highlighted in the film. 

After the showing, there is slated to be a talkback with the director of the film, Sanjay Rawal, as well as representatives from the Campaign for Fair Food.  

Rawal said he has an personal connection to the subject matter of the film. 

“This story is particularly dear to me because my dad is a tomato scientist, and when I learned about the exploitation of farm workers, and in particular, tomato workers, I was shocked that I hadn’t heard of it before. I have a real emotional connection to the industry and the issues,” he said. 

Rawal said he hopes that after viewing the film, audience members will take their interest in the food they eat more deeply. 

“There’s so much interest in food these days. Everybody takes photos of their meals, and we watch cooking shows and things like that. We want to know where the food was grown, how it was prepared. The next question that we need to ask is: Did the person that picked that food, that milked that cow, that prepared it in the kitchen … did they earn a living wage?” he said. 

The talkback will also give the audience a chance to ask Rawal questions, which he said he encourages. 

“Movements don’t begin with answers, they begin with questions,” he said. 

Henry Peller, a fourth-year at OSU in agriculture and political economy, is involved in the student organization Student/Farmworker Alliance, as well as Ohio Fair Foods. Peller will also be a part of the talkback following the film.

Peller expressed how important becoming active in social issues, like the one addressed in “Food Chains,” is for college students. 

“Young people like ourselves have an enormous amount of energy and time, and for this reason, student activism is critical if we want to make progress on the issues that we learn about,” he said. “In any type of social justice campaign, college students have to answer the call.”

Both Peller and Rawal expressed their criticism of Wendy’s, one big company that has not yet signed on to the Fair Food Agreement.  

“The very injustices that we are trying to amend are everywhere,” Peller said.

The SFA is organizing a protest for noon Friday at the Wendy’s at 9th Avenue and High Street. The group has also organized protests at Wendy’s headquarters located in Dublin.

In a Wednesday email to The Lantern, a Wendy’s spokesperson defended the company’s food buying practices.

“The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been requesting that we sign the Fair Food Agreement and single out tomato harvesters in Florida and pay them an additional fee. These workers are not employees of Wendy’s, and we do not believe it is appropriate for us to compensate individuals that work for other employers,” the spokesperson said, adding that “it is important to note that all the tomato suppliers that we may use in Florida already adhere to the Fair Food Agreement.”

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