A documentary by Micha X. Peled. Unrated. Opens Friday, May 17, at the Vancity Theatre
Bitter Seeds’ quiet, humble approach belies its five-alarm message. The mood is bleak as filmmaker Micha X. Peled travels to India’s cotton-growing region, where genetically modified seeds are destroying a centuries-old agrarian culture.
Small wonder a farmer kills himself every 30 minutes in India, where aggressive sales reps push GM seeds on an illiterate population. Farmers always used to gather seeds from the previous year’s cotton crop, but the new U.S.–engineered variety, owned by the biotech giant Monsanto, have to be bought annually and require expensive pesticides. Peled only begins to connect the dots here: in one short scene, we find out all this cotton goes to garment factories in China.
The film follows 40-year-old Ram Krishna as he borrows money from a moneylender to sow his GM crop. Without irrigation and having only hand-powered plows, he’s at the mercy of nature. Adding to his stress is the fact that his two daughters are at an age where they have to be married off with dowries. Meanwhile, his niece, whose father has killed himself, tries to become a journalist and expose the tragedy of her home region.
Part of the film’s subtle appeal is showing life in this village where tourists never roam: the wagons piled high with cotton, the women in jewel-toned saris, picking the white fluff in the fields. But the most telling moments come in Bitter Seeds’ many closeups of its subjects’ faces. Krishna and his wife’s numb reactions to insect swarms and moneylender demands speak to the sense of hopelessness.
Activist Vandana Shiva sees a future in the world’s push toward organics. But, frustratingly, what really needs to happen is with India’s own government, whether through subsidies, natural-seed handouts, or just barring the invasion of so-called Frankenplants. Then again, as anyone who has seen Food, Inc. knows, North America hasn’t been able to fight off those bitter seeds either.