Hunched and methodical, wearing a surgical mask to avoid breathing in feathers (but herself already antibiotic-resistant, she says, simply from years of exposure to the drugged birds), Morison trudges through the house picking up dead birds. Only when she emerges into the bright sun, throws the chickens into a tractor, and takes off her mask do we notice how beautiful she was and could still be.
Photo Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Kenner uses subversively bouncy, cartoony graphics in supersaturated color to illustrate points and provide statistics and timelines. The intermittent shots of seductive, sterile supermarkets are almost menacingly vivid (the credits sequence, in which the creators appear on packaged-food labels, is especially clever). The graphics are fun to watch, as in a series of flipping business cards showing the revolving door between Monsanto and government in which lawyers and executives (people you've never heard of, like Clarence Thomas and Donald Rumsfeld, former CEO of Searle, which was absorbed by Monsanto) become officials and regulators in positions to look out for the interests of their previous employer.
They draw a sharp contrast with the grainy color videos of reality, sometimes taken with concealed cameras. We follow, for instance, Eduardo Pena, a union organizer we in Tar Heel, North Carolina, to a late-night trailer park roundup of illegal immigrant workers who kill and cut and pack pork in the largest slaughterhouse in the world. Pena tells the camera that the immigration police have been tipped off by officials from Smithfield, the giant that long ago ripped through the poor and vulnerable local work force to staff its plant (Smithfield was one of several dozen companies that refused to speak to or cooperate with Kenner--a main reason the film took so long to make). Hiring illegal immigrants, Pena says, gives Smithfiled free rein to force the immigrants to work under its own brutal conditions--and lets it easily afford to sacrifice a small quota of them to immigration officials, like a tithe.
The freshness of the speakers Kenner chooses lets them make familiar, polemical points free of cant. Troy Roush, the unprepossessing vice president of the American Corn Growers Association, matter-of-factly describes a system gone mad, in which growers can afford only to use patented seeds, are harshly penalized for trying to follow the centuries-old practice of cleaning and saving seeds for next season, and must plant vast monocrop farms with only the corn that will bring them government subsidies, effectively wiping out biodiversity.
In the central and most powerful story, Moe Parr, one of the few remaining "seed cleaners" who travel from farm to farm with machinery developed in the nineteenth century, tries to defend himself against charges by Monsanto that he is encouraging farmers to break the patent law simply by helping them save seeds. Monsanto, he learns, has subpoenaed every check he has written for the past several years. Parr stays up nights trying to understand how much data it has collected on his customers and how he can possibly avoid betraying them, even if he and they have done no wrong. They are more than customers. They are his longtime friends, from families that together faced the same economic and weather problems for generations.