GMO OMG! The Story Behind the MovieSeptember 8, 2013 • By Marty Kassowitz
Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert could not be happier about the timing of the release of his new documentary, provocatively entitled GMO OMG. Due in large part to media coverage of California’s GMO labeling Proposition 37 earlier this year, suddenly people who have never heard of GMOs are talking, demanding labeling and taking action.
“I’ve had people in the film industry say to me, ‘Wow, you really had your finger on the pulse, getting a film on such a perfect topic to come out at such a perfect time,’” Seifert told Organic Connections. “They said, ‘That’s amazing! How did you do that?’ The answer is I would never be able to do that, or I would never think about that for making a film. I simply did what was in my heart to do. And it just so happens that as we were filming, all this other wakefulness began springing up around the United States.”
In the Beginning
This public consciousness is a far cry from the scene when Seifert began working on the film back in 2011. Not only were most Americans unaware of the GMO issue, but it wasn’t being paid much mind by Seifert himself. “I probably first heard of GMOs when I went to see Food, Inc.,” he recalled. “But there was so much else in Food, Inc. that focused on the whole broken system that the GMO thing didn’t stand out to me or didn’t stick with me.
“So years go by and I’m busy doing other things, making the film Dive and raising children. Then this tiny little article came out about Haiti and the peasant movement; people were marching the streets saying they were going to burn these donated seeds from Monsanto. That was really the first time I stopped and said, ‘Wait a minute, what is going on? They’re going to burn seeds; why would they do that?’ That’s when I began delving into the issue and at the same time thought that there was some kind of film to be made there.”
Seifert picked up his cameras and flew to Haiti, documenting the dramatic reaction of the peasant farmers to Monsanto’s donation of seeds following the violent 2010 earthquake there.
Connection to a World Movement
If the American public were so unaware of the GMO issue, how was it that poor peasant farmers in Haiti knew about it? “I had that question too,” Seifert said. “I was like, ‘How do these people know more than we know? They’re rural farmers out in the country; most of them don’t even have electricity, yet they seem more in tune than we are on this issue.’”
It turned out they had an inside line. “They learned about this through the amazing leadership of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, founder of the Peasant Movement of Papay,” Seifert explained. “Chavannes and all the members are associated with La Vía Campesina, the international peasant movement. La Vía Campesina is in many different countries and very in tune with what is going on in the world, specifically with the injustices of multinational corporations.
“One of the worst perpetrators of injustice would be Monsanto, along with other biotech giants like Syngenta and DuPont. It’s such a personal and intimate threat, not only financially, but to the land, to the air, to the water and to the food—the most intimate interaction we have with the world around us. When that gets taken over and the culture associated with food is removed because their seeds are replaced with these foreign seeds, they become essentially enslaved to these companies. It touches so many areas of life and culture that it’s a very important issue to the entire movement.”
Seifert was able to film the protest and interview Jean-Baptiste—a dramatic segment in GMO OMG. But then he returned to the vastly different scene in the US.
A Deafening Silence
Following Haiti, Seifert came back to the United States and began filming “street-level” opinion about the GMO issue. Almost no one knew about it at all. “In the world there was already this wakefulness, which is why the peasants of Papay marched in the streets 10,000 strong,” Seifert said. “But in the US there was a deafening silence around the issue.”
Seifert loaded up his cameras and his family and headed across the country. In between capturing instances of unabashed ignorance of the GMO issue on the part of fast-food giants and those who were selling GMO products, he filmed interviews with activists who had been fighting the fight since the 1990s. He visited passionate seed savers preserving fruit and vegetable varieties that would be otherwise lost in the tide of monoculture. And perhaps some of the most engaging footage involves conversations with conventional farmers using the very methods the film is exposing.
“I actually found them to be beautiful people,” Seifert said. “I can’t speak for all of them, but by and large the farmers I talked with who are growing this food and are part of a very negative system are amazing salt-of-the-earth people. At the end of the day I don’t blame them, because they got caught up in what was pushed on them and the propaganda machine. Really a lot of them are just trying to survive, make a living and provide for their families.”
Off camera, after the segments were completed, Seifert showed some of these farmers evidence from a Rodale study documenting that organic farming can meet—or in many cases exceed—yields produced through GMO methods. He discovered people trapped between a rock and hard place. “When I asked them if they would transition to organic farming or be open to it, they all said, ‘Yeah, I definitely would be interested in that. But in the three-year period it takes to transition to organic I would never make it. I would go under.’ Unfortunately we don’t have the system and a Farm Bill that supports the transition from chemical toxic farming to regenerative organic farming. That is so twisted upside down, and it’s something we really need to address.”
Washington and Beyond
Seifert visited our nation’s capital and spoke with US Representative Dennis Kucinich, who has at times been a lone voice in congressional protest of GMOs. He also made a dramatic visit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, where seeds from thousands of varieties are safely preserved against disaster. And throughout, there is the constant grounding human touch of his family, especially his son Finn, who is a fierce seed-saving enthusiast.
There are still many people who aren’t aware of GMOs and their very real threat to biodiversity, the environment and our health (just poll your neighbors). Yet a shift in consciousness is now taking place and Seifert has deliberately couched his documentary to assist it. “There’s still a general sort of ignorance among average people,” Seifert said. “But I really do see that changing right now. And it’s a very humble hope for the film that it can be a part of that shift in consciousness and help to shake people awake as to what’s going on.” The film is made in such a way that it can be easily assimilated by someone who knows nothing at all about GMOs.
For that reason, Seifert is aiming for a broad theatrical release of GMO OMG. “We’re putting it out there at a great cost to ourselves to hopefully make it grow in a way that it will reach the general public,” Seifert said. “We could have easily just gone to DVD or Netflix, and I think all the people in the movement and who care about this issue would see the film and would find it and watch it. But we really want to reach people who don’t know and don’t care.”
So round up your friends and associates and go see GMO OMG! Let’s get the word spread far and wide.