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Friday
May262017

THE GATEWAY BUG: THE JOHANNA B. KELLY INTERVIEW

Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, may be the ecological ‘get out of jail’ card the planet needs. So say the band of cricket-munching, fly-swallowing, moth-chewing experts featured in The Gateway Bug, the fascinating and wildly entertaining advocacy documentary to screen at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July. Alongside collaborator Cameron Marshad (“The grasshopper tacos are incredible”), director Johanna B. Kelly hopes their film will be at the forefront of a new era of environmentally sustainable food consumption in western culture. “By the time I’m a grandma, we’re going to be looking at a very different food landscape,” the Melbourne-born filmmaker tells SCREEN-SPACE from her New York residence…

SCREEN-SPACE: What first impressed you that alternative food sourcing and specifically a bug-based diet would fill a feature documentary?

KELLY: I first heard about entomophagy over brunch when one of our main characters, marine biologist Tyler Isaac, was explaining the overfishing problem. We are fishing wild fish to feed farmed fish and he explained how illogical that was and how insects could perform that function, using far less resources. The same can be applied to human consumption. That’s when I was also introduced to the edible insect consumer products already on the market. He shared the UN warning from 2013 that food production must increase 70% by 2050 but warned that's impossible, referencing a now very famous paper that entomophagy was a viable alternative option. We discussed how 50% of grain is fed to livestock and that feeding livestock insects could reduce greenhouse emissions immensely; how insects release far less ammonia and methane than pigs and cattle; and, how they take up less space and water. They have twice the protein of beef, more calcium than milk, all 9 essential amino acids and more iron than spinach. A global shift to an ento/plant-based diet would reduce mortality 10% and cut up to 70% of Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050. By the end of brunch, we were in total agreement that a doc must be made to share all of this. (Pictured, top; from l-r, Cameron Marshad and Johanna B. Kelly).

SCREEN-SPACE: I like the stylised way in which you present your arguments, including the use of animation, on-screen text and archival content. How was the tone of the film decided upon?

KELLY: We started simplistically, researching interview subjects, conducting interviews and building our story. As the editing, scripting and story building progressed, we realized that animations would help visualize some of the more complex arguments presented. We began to feel that talking heads were boring and information about how our environment got to it’s current state could be shared using footage from 50 years ago; it’s fascinating to see that the exact issues we face now were raised as concerns back then. As a cinephile, I couldn’t resist trawling through months of archival to prove that actually none of this is new news. I adore Adam Curtis (Bitter Lake, 2015; Hypernormalisation, 2016) and his masterful weaving of archival footage to describe current affairs so that probably influenced my style for sure.

SCREEN-SPACE: You were blessed with some fascinating personalities. Do you believe these are the men and women who can lead the charge for food industry reform? What personality traits bind them and their chosen paths?

KELLY: These personalities were part of what drove us to create the feature. Given Tyler’s brunch spiel had inspired us to make the film and that we met Sonny and Kevin early on, we knew we had some great stories with them alone. The personality traits that bind them are an honest desire for acquiring the knowledge necessary to help solve the major crisis we currently face. This takes bravery and fearlessness, so I do think they will all make a difference. But the point of the film is that all of us possess an element of that desire to do good in the world and help heal the past to protect our future. I’m an optimist; I believe that armed with knowledge, people behave in altruistic ways. After watching our film, our audiences can become empowered to make those changes to their lifestyles, which in turn influences others to make those changes. I sincerely hope that these characters are the starting point for a revolution of empowered armchair activists to change the world through their own diets and habits. The onus doesn’t necessarily rest entirely on those characters to achieve that personally but on all of us to heed their call. (Pictured, above; model Terese Pagh with a cricket-based protein bar, The Gateway Bug)

SCREEN-SPACE: Were you conscious of not just 'preaching to the converted', of not allowing entomophagy to appear to be a 'hipster trend'?

KELLY: We were mindful to retain as much journalistic integrity as possible. It was critical to us that our film come across in the form we discovered it, by letting individuals share their stories and enlightening the audience that way. It was one of the primary reasons we avoided narration or VO. And entomophagy isn’t a hipster trend; over 2 billion people worldwide practice it. It’s more of a cultural shift that the West may or may not be ready for. Irrespective, there is no reason we can’t consider shifting animal diets and the way we respect food and food waste. The idea is to start with what can work and move on from there. A great analogy is sushi. 80s’ yuppies being exotic made it big in the West but in Japan it was just regular food. So it’s not such a stretch to see a similar progressive shift towards insect eating in our society.

SCREEN-SPACE: Since filming finished, there is a new administration with a more regressive, pro-'big business' agenda that will only strengthen the traditional industrial agricultural sector. What does the future hold for alternative sector start-ups and entrepreneurs such as those in your film?

KELLY: I worry that more critical to the success of these industries is the new administration’s regressive attitude on climate change. Attitudes impact policy, which in turn affects subsidies and investment. All of these companies rely on a common understanding of current scientific opinion to ensure progress is made and awareness maintained. I remain optimistic that global attitudes towards science being real and common sense surrounding what we can see with our own eyes will prevail ultimately. Flint, Michigan isn’t getting clean water any time soon. To quote Alanis Obomsawin, “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Our dream is that it doesn’t have to come to that for individuals to start changing habits. (Pictured, above; ground cricket powder)

SCREEN-SPACE: You never turn the camera on yourself so; the big question is - what bugs have you eaten?

KELLY: Ah, a great time to point out that people with shellfish allergies should not eat insects! Having experienced anaphylaxis twice now, I have avoided them to preserve my life. Cameron however adores them. He frequently noshes on dry roasted crickets at his desk and enjoys the protein bars. He says his favourite insect product he’s tasted is the black soldier fly larvae you see Dave Gracer try at the end of the film at the Eating Insects Detroit conference. Although not a product being sold on the market to consumers currently, apparently it tastes like curry butter and he talked about it for months after we’d left so he certainly sold me on it!

THE GATEWAY BUG screens at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 16. Ticket and session details via the event's official website.

'The Gateway Bug' Trailer - A documentary feature film about feeding humanity in an uncertain age from Cameron Marshad on Vimeo.

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