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Thread: THE GRAB (Gabriela Cowperthwaite 2022)

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    Jul 2002
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    THE GRAB (Gabriela Cowperthwaite 2022)



    Food, water, and the future: a portrait of brilliant investigative reporting about human selfishness

    The Grab is a documentary about how food and water are the new oil and the incredibly complicated and devious maneuvers under way to gain control of them. Cowperthwaite, who previously made Blackfish, the widely seen 2013 exposure of Sea World and the cruelty to orcas, does this through following CIR journalist Nate Halverson - and secondarily his fellow investigators Mallory Newman and Emnma C. Schwartz, with Halaverson doing most of the talking and appearing on screen. As Peter Debruge put it in one of several major Toronto reviews (his for Variety), the "big picture" here "is so elusive and vast" it's essential to let these investigators' research "drive the shape of the film. He adds it "must have been one hell of a task to structure."

    The complexity of that structure is a sticking point for some, though it is the essence of the game. It is interesting to see that some reviews think Cowperthwite didn't pare things down enough; that this film ought to have focused on one or two human interest stories. But that is just the point: to pin down, scope out, to delineate the complexity, to show a glimpse of just how gnarly and twisted things get when the world acts in self interest instead of collectively. How could one want to sacrifice any detail of Halberson-&-Co.'s brave, dangerous battle with the rich and powerful world villains, Putin chief among them, and us, as they seek more power, more control, more ownership, out of unprecedented levels of fear and ego? We have this sophisticated, well-made film with all its detail, to go back to. Its main point is simple, and comes right away.

    Halberson starts with the purchase in 2013 of Smithfield Foods, the largest ham company, by Chinese interests for $4.7 billion. Looking into this, which means one American ham in four belongs to China now, he learned this purchase was fully funded by the Chinese government. He went on to investigate purchase and control of land and water. Powerful interests he found have been moving in to take advantage of lack of regulation (of water use in US states), lack of documentation of ownership (of ancestral small farms in Zambia). We see American cowboys being hired to work in Russia and learn that country is happy about global warming: it is turning vast areas of tundra into arable land: Russia foresees future control over food production. We already knew (didn't we?) that Ukraine was a major grain producer and that was a main reason for Russia's encroachment. Did we know that the Arab Spring was spurred, or may have been, by food shortages? This film gives us glances at vast forces at work on the planet that we are hot used to thinking about. Yes, it's complicated. And it's endless. But the CIR's Halberson and his cohort are finding connections, one step at a time. After a while, as we watch, it all starts to connect. This is why The Grab can be called a "global thriller." But it should be seen more as a primer.

    As is commonplace nowadays, the issue of world population is left out, and this film ends hopefully, with predictions that, in fact, despite all the fear and scrambling for control, it will be possible to feed everyone. This is overly optimistic: there are always famines, the World Food Program's website reports the planet is "hungrier than ever." And how can this not be related to overpopulation? Those who argue (incredibly) that it's going to be okay for the globe to have nine billion human inhabitants are curiously overlooking the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes chronicled in Elizabeth Kohlbert's 2009 New Yorker article and subsequent 2014 book, The Sixth Extinction. Where humans come, species massively die out, and as the world human population becomes ever more massive, the massive loss of all biodiversity becomes unmistakeable. We should have listened to Peter Beard's rare Charlie Rose interview, which still resonates, 30 years later. Meanwhile, as The Grab brilliantly delineates, humans fight over plots of land, stands of livestock that are unsustainable, and other small, individual selfish interests exemplified by the pursuits of the notorious Erik Prince.

    The situation may be even more complicated than depicted here. We need another documentary about human cooperation that might neutralize the destructive competition and pursuit of narrow self interest chronicled here. Documentaries are often good ways, though, of describing investigative reporting. The Grab is one of the best such descriptions in years.

    The Grab, 102 mins., debuted at TIFF Sept 8, 2022, showing also at Mill Valley, DC (Double Exposure,) Philadelphia, Stockholm, DOC NYC, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and many other festivals, especially in the US. Limited US theatrical release and internet release June 14, 2024, including Opera Plaza, San Francisco. Q&A with Nate Halverson, Brigadier Siachitema, Mallory Newman, and David Ritsher following Friday, June 14 7:00pm San Francisco screening. A Magnolia Pictures release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-07-2024 at 01:24 PM.


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