Review: That Sugar Film
Directed by Damon Gameau
Run time: 97 minutes
Every now and then you see a documentary that blows your mind, with such incredible narrative or facts that you can’t help telling your friends. Sitting at the dinner table disgusting everyone with the tale of a 17 year-old from Kentucky so addicted to Mountain Dew that all his teeth had to be removed, I realised That Sugar Film is one such documentary.
The premise borrows heavily from Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me. Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau eliminated refined sugar from his diet three years prior. The impending arrival of his first child inspires him to thoroughly investigate the prevalence and impact of sugar in the human diet by making himself the guinea-pig of his own experiment.
While the most horrifying segment by far is the section on Mountain Dew in Kentucky, don’t let the fact you are probably consuming less sugar than the individuals showcased make you feel you are safe. Gameau’s team has calculated the average person consumes about 40 teaspoons of sugar a day (of all kinds, not just sucrose), and so this is the number he uses for his experiment. The scariest part? Gameau achieves this figure without consuming “junk food” – he obtains 40 teaspoons of sugar per day in perceived “healthy” foods such as yoghurt, muesli bars, cereal and sauces. The effects, monitored by “The Sugar Squad” of doctors and nutritionists, are enormous. By the end of two months, Gameau has not only put on weight, but also developed fatty liver disease (the good news is this disappears once he goes back to his regular diet).
This documentary succeeds on multiple levels. Firstly: the message hammers home. The attempted teeth extraction of the Kentucky teenager is horrible to watch, and the only really gruesome part of the film. Gameau also spends a day calculating how much sugar is in his food and replacing it with actual sugar, covering his chicken in the crunchy white stuff rather than teriyaki sauce and substituting a strawberry and yoghurt ‘health bar’ with sugar cubes sandwiched between water crackers. It’s cringe-worthy viewing, which is exactly the effect it should be having. Gameau also raises important points about fructose, overlooked as a problem in the usual debates about sugar. Our diets, he both tells and shows us, need to change.
Secondly: Gameau goes to where it matters. Of course he must visit the notorious US of A, but he also visits the Aboriginal community of Amata in the South Australian outback. Here, in 2007 the 360 inhabitants consumed 40,000 litres of soft drink. The locals have tried to take control of their health by lowering sugar consumption, removing Coco-Cola from their stores. However, with funding for their Mai Wiru (Good Food) program cut, the town is struggling to cope with the spiralling rates of diabetes and kidney problems. Sugar has a devastating effect on Aboriginal communities: Gameau informs us Coco-Cola claimed in 2008 that the Northern Territory was the highest-selling region per capita in the world. This is where help is needed most.
Finally: this is a fascinating documentary that is also entertaining! Facts and experts are jazzed up by becoming talking heads on food packaging or cartoon superheroes (i.e. The Sugar Squad consisting of Professor Blood, The Celtic Food Queen, The Crusader and Check Upz), and there are many fun celebrity appearances including Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry and Isabel Lucas. The film has plenty of colour, music and humour, and Gameau himself is intelligent, funny and very likeable. Younger viewers are sure to be entertained by the original music clip finale, whilst older viewers can appreciate the touching family story subtly woven throughout the film with scenes featuring Gameau’s girlfriend and, later, newborn. Three imperative aspects are thus brought together with polish: this film is interesting, important, and engaging. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
– Alice Walker
That Sugar Film is screening nationally throughout March. For more information head to www.thatsugarfilm.com/