Our Daily Bread (2005)
23rd September 2008
When you pick up your chicken or cheese sandwich, do you ever consider where the contents came from and how much you depend on something in order to survive and grow fat and be unhealthy? Well, welcome our world of industrial food production and high-tech farming. To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks into the places where food is produced in Germany and Austria. With monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds, a cool and industrial environment leaves little space for individualism and its unwavering goal of the mass production of food for an exponentially increasing number of hungry mouths.
People, animals, crops and machines all play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society's standard of living - a standard that many other countries desperately aspire, and to which the current price increases of our staple foods is a consequence of. There is no voiceover or music, just the sound and rhythms of conveyor belts, machinery and animals. The stunning visuals which range from absorbing and lovely to horrifying speak for themselves as indictments of the industry and its cruelty to both land and animals.
Ordinarily, we'd refuse to review "pre-release" material where the disc is a version that wouldn't be available commercially to the consumer. However, even though the version reviewed here has a rather large time code at the bottom of the screen, the film itself is far too compelling to ignore. Given that this is not the final product the image quality reviewed here may not be the finished article (although I'd be surprised if this was the case), and since Our Daily Bread is filmed with numerous hand held cameras of varying quality in some rather intense and exposed areas, the image quality, although fairly grainy at times, is more than satisfactory - after all, this is no Hollywood blockbuster.
The 192 Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is nothing special, but then again, what else would you be expecting from a documentary film such as this? Whilst you can discard your expensive surround system for the duration, there's still plenty of animal and machinery noises to be heard. In fact, turn it up too loud and your neighbours will probably think you've turned your house into a farm.
As this is a preview disc it's hard to know whether the commercial version of the disc will launch straight into the programme as it does here. But, with no menu whatsoever, subtitles (it hardly needs them!) or any extras, when it comes to the value of the package it falls rather flat on its face. Still, don't let that put you off exploring this title further.
As soon as the film started I was reminded of the remarkable images from Godfrey Reggio's superb series of films Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. Needless to say, the images here are just as compelling and, whilst Reggio opted to accompany his images with music, Our Daily Bread leaves the music to the clunking sounds of machinery and the grunts, chirps and squeals of animals (some of them distressing). Let's just say that this film is not for the squeamish or, possibly, vegetarians (although, if you're planning on becoming a vegetarian then this film could well be the catalyst you need to help push you over the edge.
Whilst there's no doubting the ultimate efficiency of man's desire to produce food, some of the images are rather amusing. From the poor men trying to encourage a bull to mate and the unfortunate (probably trainee!) chap trying to capture some semen from a rather aroused bull in a jar, there's no escaping the need for man's interaction in some of the more undesirable activities. However, the "funniest" image was of a conveyor belt full of chirping baby chicks being thrown about and fired out of tubes in a manner that can only be described as being like firing tennis balls out of a launcher. I'm not sure quite what all of this madness was trying to achieve, but I guess a machine was trying to weigh and grade the chicks prior to them being sent off to the hen houses.
Whilst picking a tomato in massive greenhouses, or using machinery to manically shake an olive tree, is not the most appealing of careers, there's always that tricky area of meat production (how some of the staff can sleep at night without suffering nightmares is beyond me!). At the beginning, we see cute little piglets and those ping-pong chicks, but they are ultimately destined for our dining table and we see it all in graphic detail - and it's not a pretty sight.
Our now fully grown chickens are sucked up by giant vacuum cleaners and fed into crates for their final journey, pigs arrive by train and then wander into the processing factory before being dispatched, their chests cut open and their innards spilling out to be collected by another machine, salmon are collected and gutted in an amazingly efficient production line whilst, saving the "best" for last, we see cattle dispatched with a bolt to the head before being hung up and gutted (if you ever wanted to know how much blood there is in a cow then now's your chance to find out!). It's certainly not family viewing, and the images are not for the faint hearted - but, as I said at the beginning of the review, if you ever wanted to know where your food came from then Our Daily Bread is not scared in giving you the answers.
Ordinarily, I would be very disappointed by any disc that didn't provide any extras. However, in the case of Our Daily Bread, its images speak more than any featurette or trailer could ever provide. The reviews in the press and film magazines were full of praise (and shock!) plus it walked away with handfuls of awards from numerous international film festivals, so whilst it may not be a worthwhile for multiple views (unless you're a bit of a sadist!) it is recommended rental material. However, just make sure little Johnny is tucked up in bed.