Director Jeremy Seifert’s agriculture documentary “GMO OMG” follows Seifert (director of the 2010 short “Dive!”), who in
the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake decided to explore why the
people of Haiti burned 475 tons of seeds donated by the agricultural
corporation Monsanto. The film’s focus then shifts to an investigation
of the use of Genetically Modified Organisms within the food industry
and how these uses affect our daily lives. Below the filmmaker shares an intimate scene from his film. Submarine Deluxe released the film in New York September 13, Los Angeles September 20, and Seattle September 27.
This scene comes over halfway through the film. We’ve already trekked across the country talking to farmers and been to Washington DC to figure out what’s really going on with the false promises of industrial agribusiness’ GMOs. After allowing my children to go trick-or-treating with their friends–struggling with the unknown health risks but also wanting them to have cultural/traditional experiences–I sit my boys down to tell them daddy is leaving yet again, this time for the small island of Svalbard, Norway. I love how intimate it is and how real it is, too, because I hadn’t yet told them I was going to the seed vault or what it was. Only Rod Hassler (cinematographer) is in the room filming, and they were so used to him being around that it was just like a normal bedtime routine and story time. And as I tell them about it, the dreamy images of the vault come in over my voice, as if I’m really taking them there.
Seeds are something that most of has have forgotten about or maybe never even thought about in the first place. We are so removed from seeds and soil, the sources of life. Before I began work on the film, our oldest son, Finn, had begun collecting seeds. We thought it was three-year-old phase, but years later with two boxes of seeds, a collection of seed magazines, and around $230 saved up for his future farm, we started paying attention to his appreciation and fascination with seeds. As I made the film, the more I studied GMOs and big ag, the more I was drawn to seeds and biodiversity. The loss of small family farms with the take over of giant companies exactly parallels the loss of nearly 90% of our crop varieties in this country. Loss of biodiversity of farmers saving and sharing seeds amounted to the loss of biodiversity of our food. Consolidation and centralization bordering on monopoly churned out massive quantity, monocropping, higher yield at any cost, profit. Corporate mindset versus ecological farming.
The Svalbard seed vault helps us acknowledge seeds in a new way. That’s why it’s important. On the real ground level of preserving biodiversity and feeding ourselves sustainably, it is not the only answer by any means. The more necessary and urgent way forward is “in situ” seed saving, which means the saving, planting and sharing of seeds in the place they have developed and are feeding people. The vault is “ex situ,” or out of the situation where the seeds should be grown and saved, but it is another form of preservation that is also vitally important. Seed banks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and the Philippines have been lost in war and from floods and fire and neglect. All the unique varieties and traits held within those tiny seeds are gone. The vault in icy Norway is a back up copy of crop varieties from around the world….just in case. And maybe even more important than that, for many of us, it has helped us appreciate the fact that the plight of seeds is one of the most important environmental issues of our time.
Everything we shot in Svalbard was ice cold! Thank you Patagonia for the donation of jackets to keep us warm. We didn’t quite know what to expect for the vault, but I knew we wanted some wide angles for those tunnels, so we brought a beautiful 14mm Canon lens on the trip. I remember having Rod set up at the far end of the first tunnel with the 14mm, and he just started giggling. He said something like, “Well, this is definitely a choice.” We both loved it and just let the camera sit there while Cary Fowler walked down the icy corridor. And Dan McCoy (sound) had this fantastic boom mic he had just ordered from Denmark, and recorded all the drips and whirrs and hollow sighs of those tunnels to add a feeling only good sound can bring. We all especially loved the booming echo of the penultimate door that opens into what Cary called “the cathedral,” just before the final double doors into the actual seed room.
In Norway, Rod and I spent many nights doing time lapse photography of the stars, and everyone in Svalbard warned us that we needed a gun for polar bear protection. I really didn’t want to rent or buy a gun, so we just huddled together in the icy darkness listening to the camera shutter open for 15-second intervals, straining our ears between the clicks for polar bear feet crunching the snow. People had recently been killed by polar bears in the same area we were in, so it was actually quite intense doing those occasional sweeps of the dark landscape behind us with our headlamps, certain that a polar bear would be there.
When Cary opens the final door, I didn’t think it was powerful enough to see boxes on shelves, which really do represent the seeds of the world but don’t look like much. In Haiti we established that seeds were as numerous and diverse as stars and, like stars, should be shared by all. So it came as a natural editing choice to have the seed vault door open up to the starry vault of heaven.
In the background Arvo Part’s haunting rendition of “Magnificat” is heard but not understood because of the Latin:
“He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and the meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.”