September 20, 2021
For any budding movie producer, having a famous relative in the game provides a massive boost, as Ludo and Otto Brockway found out this week with the release of their vegan doomsday flick ‘Eating Our Way To Extinction’.
Sister-in-law Kate Winslet, who provides the narration for their project, injected some all-important Hollywood star power by turning up at the movie’s premiere in London’s West End last week and even welled up with tears for authenticity’s sake in a brief speech explaining how proud she was of the brothers’ desire to change the world.
As well as launching with a ‘glitzy’ showbiz night, packed out with reality stars and Z-listers with names like Montana, Kady, Shanae and Julius, the doc has also won the endorsement of Winslet’s ‘Titanic’ co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, who described it as “the film future generations will be wishing everyone watched today”. Otto Brockway’s former squeeze, Princess Eugenie, must have had other plans.
But the excitement soon faded when I headed for the first night of general release at a small indy cinema in a particularly gritty corner of London’s East End. The adoring crowds of the premiere had dwindled to a paying audience of just 12 people, including me. Unlike the red carpet premiere, no one appeared to have come from ‘Love Island’.
Winslet, a vegetarian, had clearly called in the favours for the stepbrothers of her vegan husband Edward Abel Smith in support of the launch of their trans-global polemic against agribusiness and aquaculture farming, which unsurprisingly segues into vegan cheerleading.
The message is well-intentioned, really, but it all seems kinda clunky. Calling on Sir Richard Branson as a talking head in support of any cause is a bad call. Why use him here? Well, the short answer is because he is the uncle of the two filmmakers – his sister’s their mum. They probably didn’t even consider that Uncle Richard’s airlines and rockets are hardly eco-friendly, yet here we have a billionaire telling us how to forgo fish and meat while he lounges on his private island in the Caribbean plotting his next space trip and “experimenting” with vegetarianism.
And then there’s the contribution from megabucks oddball Tony Robbins, the American self-help guru and firewalking devotee who follows a strict plant-based diet and is, frankly, a little too intense and vegan-gelical for my appetite.
There was also a prolonged sequence of faceless, totally ripped torsos that was like creepy vegan porn, supposedly to show that by switching to a plant based diet, you too could become an elite athlete. Of course, it would also require hours, days and months of relentless training, a single-minded focus, self-sacrifice and a not inconsiderable amount of luck. But that just makes it all seem a little too unattainable for the purpose intended here. Best just stick to the plant diet message.
The Brockway brothers did have some little gems hidden among the vegan compost. There was the all-too-brief encounter with a menacing masked hoodlum who explained that his job was to persuade reluctant Brazilians to abandon their farms, villages and homes, so that agribusiness could clear their land to feed cattle. If they didn’t agree to play ball, they could be shot and dumped in a ditch and the filmmakers duly supplied the shocking images to support this claim.
This story could have been an entire film in its own right, but in the Brockways’ earnest haste to build the argument, the scenes skipped by and were soon forgotten.
As was the interview with the Scottish aquaculture farm worker, whose job it was to clear the bottom of the salmon cages of what he described as ‘pink mush’. This was all that remained of the diseased, tick-ridden fish that didn’t make it to the second round of survival of the species.
The undersea filming of the scabby, misshapen salmon, like piscine extras in ‘The Walking Dead’, was enough to put anyone off eating farmed fish again. Which was the point. Because the Brockways didn’t just tackle the usual suspects – red meat eaters – in their bid to change the way we eat, they also went for the holier-than-thou fence sitters that describe themselves as pescatarians in urging us all to think more carefully about what’s on our plates.
They showed that not only are the hormones, disease and rancid fish which are clogging up aquaculture farms spilling over into the wider environment – entering the food chain of all living sea creatures from plankton to humpback whales – but that commercial fishing is itself proving massively damaging.
I was startled to hear that 80 percent of the microplastics floating in the ocean, and even forming the massive Pacific garbage dump, have come from degraded fishing equipment. Discarded fishing nets made from plastic twine turn into trillions of micro particles that are eaten by fish and seafood which are subsequently eaten by us. And here I’ve been blaming Coca-Cola for all that plastic waste. Oops!
If you’re planning to go see ‘Eating Our Way To Extinction’, let me just warn you that it’s nothing like David Attenbourgh’s ‘Planet Earth’ series, or even those popular Netflix offerings like ‘Rotten’, ‘Seaspiracy’ or ‘Kiss the Ground’.
It’s certainly in that genre, but so keen are the Brockways to express their sense of urgency that they use all the usual enviro-disaster visual gimmicks – rainforests being chopped down, drone shots of vast cattle farms, dead animals in the food chain – supported by a cast of scientists and celebrities, that it ultimately seems like a cut and paste project put together by a couple of well-connected dudes with environmental consciences and a taste for quinoa.
The pity for the brothers is that people seem more interested in the fact that Kate Winslet is a relative – by marriage – and is credited as an executive producer of their work than in discussing the value or the urgency of the message they are trying to convey.
As the film draws to a close, narrator Winslet’s final words of warning are, “The clock is ticking and time is running out.” I guessed she was talking about the urgent need to switch to a plant-based diet if we want to save the planet, but she might well have been calling time on the attempt from her brothers-in-law to make people sit up and take notice.
They have a mountain to climb. Based on the evidence as I made my way home past the countless pizza, kebab, chicken and burger shops on a single East End high street, no one seemed to be paying much attention. Despite Uncle Richard’s efforts and Kate Winslet’s encouragement.