First We Eat
Canada, 101 min.)
Dir. Suzanne Crocker
Program: To Serve & Protect
A force of nature blocks access to the general store in a remote area of the Yukon and it looks like things won’t open up for a long time. Some people would just find a boat, head to the airport and leave town. But filmmaker Suzanne Crocker has a better idea. She convinces her family, including her three teenagers, to eat locally for a full year and decides to put the project, including their familial struggles under the lens. The result is an absorbing documentary about resourcefulness under pressure and a women’s determination to finish what she starts.
Crocker is motivated at first by necessity. Stores have to restock every three to five days and if the goods can’t get in, store shelves are empty. As winter sets in, fear of hunger becomes a major factor, but she also hopes that her change in diet might improve her health, especially her high blood pressure condition for which she’s taking medication.
As she visits local farmers, the dairy furthest north in the western hemisphere, the beekeeper, and the hunters to get her food, the film turns into a love letter to her community and to the locals’ ingenuity.
It’s also a lovely portrait of family trying to cope. Her teenagers, all of them engaging, are at first appreciative that it’s actually possible to get sweet syrup from birch trees and they are impressed with what their mother is capable of putting on the table under adverse circumstances. But they do get crabby as their desire for salt, sugar and wheat deepens. This can create some amusing sequences, as when a pie is described as tasting like cardboard dipped in lemon or, when Crocker manages to produce salt out of a salt lake, it looks like mud – not appealing. By midwinter, the clan is eating moose nose and lynx, holding their noses all the way.
Two major themes emerge from the project, one more alluded to than faced head on. The first concerns Crocker’s role as a mother. To what extent is she doing all this less for her children than for herself? She really wants them to know the provenance of what they consume and to eat mindfully, but is she imposing too much on the brood? Crocker asks this question directly to the camera.
Also obvious, but not addressed specifically, is the fact that eating locally in remote areas–and just about anywhere in this country, until meat replacements are perfected and properly distributed–requires the consumption of animals. Warning: vegetarians may find graphic scenes featuring the preparation and ingestion of flesh hard to take.
This is an extremely well-crafted documentary. It’s gorgeously shot, showing spectacular detail in nature as the seasons turn, and the narrative is packed with tension as we wait to see whether this family will get through the year eating only what’s grown, hunted and gathered hyper-locally.
This isn’t the first doc to broach this topic but it’s one of the best executed.
First We Eat screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.