Most movie producers would be thrilled to land a nationwide fast-food tie-in. The agribusiness exposé "Food, Inc." is going the organic route, promoting the film on the foil lids of 10 million cups of Stonyfield Farm yogurt.
The film is from Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media and Minneapolis-based River Road Entertainment, the same partners who produced Al Gore's Oscar-winning film on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth."
At a time when movies aimed at grown-ups are struggling at the box office, releasing a manifesto on our nation's food supply might seem like a risky proposition. River Road's Bill Pohlad, who financed the "Prairie Home Companion" movie, Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" and Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," doesn't fret about demographics or projected returns. He simply makes movies he'd like to see and hopes that a crowd will follow.
"And so far, since we haven't been burned yet," he said, "I can still stick to that story.
"I've just got blinders on," he said. "I just try to stay optimistic, and so far, the business we're doing hasn't been affected by the recession. Our films did pretty well last year. So there wasn't really an impact on us. I don't consider that we're a barometer of the industry as a whole. "
It can be tricky funding a film critical of corporate farming while living in an agricultural center like Minnesota, Pohlad said.
"I'm good friends with the guy at [advertising agency] BBDO who runs the Hormel account, and we kidded about it. Monsanto takes some pretty hard shots, which I can't disagree with," he said.
"It is what it is and it's probably going to have reverberations with some of those companies. I just keep my blinders on and develop the film into what it needs to be without being swayed by fears about market conditions or worries about what people might think. We're not going out to be outrageous or make anybody look bad; we're going out to tell a story about where the world is and where our culture is now on food."
"We didn't think, 'This is going to be huge,'" he said with characteristic lack of bombast. "We had done 'Chicago 10' [an animated re-creation of the 1968 Chicago riots] just before that and nothing happened. So we did 'Food, Inc.' just because we believed in it." The film's early runs in New York and Los Angeles were well received, he noted, "and it'll be interesting to see how that now translates into people going into the theaters and seeing it.
"This may be an illusion, but I believe we're going for a real high level of content. I believe that there'll always be a market for really high-end, substantive content."
In the movie world, maybe 99-cent burgers and organic yogurt can exist side by side.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186