For the most part our daily interactions with fruit come in some of the most unusually unappealing ways for something as sensual looking. Nothing looks particularly flattering under the fluorescent supermarket lights or in a random fruit bowl or on a platter stripped of all its skin and nuance and chopped up into bit sized pieces that have sat around for hours browning under the weight of oxygen and time. It’s not all that shocking that we don’t really eat as much fruit as we probably should, as our societal love of convenience and abundance gave up on things like uniqueness and quality ages ago.
In Canadian documentarian Yung Chang’s latest work The Fruit Hunters (his second feature this year following China Heavyweight) the beauty and seductive nature of all things sweet and tart from the treetops takes centre stage in an effort to get us to take them seriously. It’s such an invigorated and informed opinion piece without ever resorting to didactic sermonizing or stooping to modern day food pornography. It’s staggering to think about the fruit and wild vegetables we leave to rot unused or undonated within our own cities and towns, but Chang reminds us of the world outside our own for an exciting and mouthwatering look at exotic and strange varieties of fruit from around the world and the people who seek them out and protect them.
From the forests and markets of Borneo, to researchers trying to save the only mass produced variety of banana in the world from extinction, to a group of dedicated fruit hunters who scour the world for new tastes and who can often bid at private auctions upwards of $600 for a small basket of mangoes, to Hollywood actor Bill Pullman’s enthusiastic and heartfelt efforts to purchase a tract of land for a community orchard, Chang takes us on a whirlwind look at just a few examples of how the effect of fruit remains wide reaching and varied. He includes personal stories and historical recreations that remind the viewer exactly how much we are tied to the food we have all around us that we can all take for granted.
There’s a definite, personal point of view that Chang establishes right from the outset and throughout his voiceover, but it’s not a very hard sentiment to get behind. It’s pretty undeniable and not very controversial to say that society’s demands for near uniformity in our food has led to a yeoman like search for a single sustainable crop to be mass produced, but the allure of the exotic as show here is undeniable. Chang proves the perfect director for the task since there’s few working documentarians with as firm a grasp over the visual nature of the cinematic medium as he commands. His eye leads to one pretty much hanging on every word that comes from the mouths of his subjects, and while any documentary can use some trimming for matters of relevancy, the viewer knows they are watching something special. It’s a simple film about a subject that’s more complex than people like to think about, and it’s something truly special.