In conversation with ASFF, director Christopher Quinn discusses Eating Animals, an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book about the industrial system of factory farming,
ASFF: What has drawn you towards documentary over narrative fiction?
CQ: I’ve always loved film and cinema, and I always had these well laid plans to make fiction, but non-fiction crept in and took over. I like the autonomy of documentary. You can go off and make what you want. It’s never easy and they are often made on a low budget, but there’s something that appeals to me with making factual work – although I would love to make narrative films at some point.
ASFF: How did the source material and Natalie Portman’s role as producer inform the work?
CQ: When Natalie and Jonathan asked if I was interested in turning Eating Animals into a film, I hadn’t read the book. My initial thought was, “do we need another food documentary?” But then the book compelled me, because it was a non-traditional structure that didn’t immediately translate or adapt into a film. It was a real moment of: “we can make something.”
The idea was not to make a direct translation of the book, which would have been hard because it’s a survey. I like to go into non-fiction films with the idea of holding very closely to individuals and seeing the larger impression of the world through the eyes of a handful of people, or one person. Natalie and Jonathan seemed to be into that and there were zero restrictions in terms of what I did creatively.
ASFF: What personally compelled you to take on this project?
CQ: Natalie, Jonathan and I were all having kids, and were wrapped up in the idea of “what are we leaving behind for our children? What are we feeding them now?”
ASFF: What did you discover whilst making the film?
CQ: I spent the better part of a year going to meet individuals in the US. It ended up being more of a film about systems that are completely out of whack. What I grasped from the book, then from my own experiences, was that our current global food system is doomed to fail. That intrigued me. Factory farms are heavily subsidised and so that cheap chicken sandwiches or hamburgers from fast food outlets are really underwritten by taxpayer dollars.
Jonathan and I were trying to find somebody who could put a number on what that chicken sandwich costs: the heavy subsidies, the environmental impact and the health care that go into producing cheap meat – those are all impossible to see. Then you have this 99 cent chicken sandwich that’s providing food for everyone. The world right now has these systems that really capitalise for a few. Never in the history of mankind have we caused so much suffering – social, human or animal. The argument can be made that we need to completely redo the systems that are at work.
Eating Animals is released in the UK on 7 June. Find out more here.