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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review: Terra Madre (Mother Earth)


Ermanno Olmi / Italy

The meeting of thousands of farmers from all over the world, organized by the Slow Food Movement, was the impulse for the Italian director Ermanno Olmi to make the documentary Terra Madre (Mother Earth) which had its world premiere in the Berlinale Special programme. The film is loosely structured around the two gigantic events called “Terra Madre” of 2006 and 2008. More than 7,000 cooks, farmers, shepherds, fishermen and others from 153 countries gathered to celebrate a worldwide movement away from globalization and destructive corporate farming.

A 15-year old high school student from Massachusetts takes to the podium talking about the idea of establishing a student-run organic vegetable garden that he had initiated on school grounds. Now they are supplying lettuce, cherry tomatoes, carrots and beans to complement the lunches served in the school cafeteria. The attending crowd cheers enthusiastically when he promises that his generation will “reunite mankind with the earth.”

The documentary is interspersed with clips of various local ethnic performances given during the two events. It’s like watching a huge bazaar. One gets overwhelmed by the hodgepodge of information, images, mixture of languages, music and food displays. Olmi’s crew filmed around locations, e.g., Italy, India and the United States. At Dehradun, in the north of India, a small group of women is busy with the rice harvest. Their aim is preserving the local seeds that have been used from generation to generation, rescuing them from gene manipulation.

Scenes from the newly inaugurated Svalbard Global Seed Vault were made available from a video by the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The International Seed Bank has been established on an island north of Norway. Deep inside the frozen earth more than four million seed samples, collected by dedicated scientists worldwide, are stored and protected for future generations.

The crew’s last trip was to Quarto d’Altino in the Veneto region, Italy, to watch an elderly peasant working (lasting nearly 15 minutes). He meticulously tends his orchard throughout the year until he contently holds the ripe fruit in his hands. This poetic account is in stark contrast to the first part of the documentary. It made me shift restlessly in my seat. The first part of the documentary will be of interest to Slow Food organizations and for educational screenings at high schools but may have little appeal for the general movie goer outside this field.

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