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Eating up "Our Daily Bread"

Posted at 3:42 PM on March 22, 2007 by Euan Kerr

There is tremendous power in quiet, a fact Nikolaus Geyrhalter uses to great effect in his documentary "Our Daily Bread." His subject is food, or more specifically the way large European companies meet the huge demands of the continent's dinner tables. While there are still places which fulfill the stereotypes of the family farm, modern consumer demand has spawned modern ways of producing food, methods the consumer rarely sees.

Not only does Geyrhalter present his images gathered inside industrial farms and food processing facilities without commentary, he also keeps the soundtrack to a low background rumble of well oiled machines, distant voices, and the occasional sound of farm animals.

This allows audience members a great deal of freedom to simply watch and draw whatever conclusions they may. This film could make you a vegetarian, or it could convince you of the wonders of modern food technology. Maybe both.

"Our Daily Bread" is at times mesmerizing, others shocking. From a huge egg incubator hatching thousands of chicks at a time, through huge hydroponic tomato farms and a salt mine, to the grisly efficiency of hog, beef and chicken processing plants Geyrhalter captures starkly beautiful images.

The section with the chick sorting machine is one you are unlikely to forget. Nor are the looks of quiet boredom on the faces of the workers in the slaughterhouse. One bloodflecked figure (it's hard to tell if it's a man or a woman) watching freshly killed pig carcasses swing by on an elevated conveyor belt, leans in occasionally to deliver a quick flick of a blade to the jugular of any porker which may still be alive.

Geyrhalter also inserts pauses in the action by training the camera on the people working in the factories as they sit and eat. They are ordinary everyday people who keep the astonishing system quietly humming along, and they complete the circle with every movement of their jaws.

"Our Daily Bread" gets four screenings at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis this weekend. (It will also scheduled to be screened in May at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota.)

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