The film’s opening moments – the shadow cast by a mother and daughter crunching down a chilly dirt road in Nova Scotia – are the first steps taken in what would become a ten-year journey for filmmaker, Aube Giroux, and her mother, Jali.
This bittersweet, multi-award-winning documentary is an exposé of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our food system, but it is also so much more. And it’s the more that will have audiences putting down that popcorn, with a sidelong glance, and reaching for a hand to hold, or at the very least, a tissue. (Sorry, no details. To illustrate, would be to spoil this thing of beauty for the uninitiated.)
Giroux’s mother believed that with every bite of food we eat, we are making a choice about the kind of world we want to live in and the kind of agriculture we want to support, and it’s this ethos that propelled Giroux around the globe and deep into the fascinating, often clandestine, sometimes violent world of large scale agri-business and the fight – legal and otherwise – for and against GMOs.
In Modified, Giroux – relentlessly egged on by her mother – sets out to discover why GMO’s are not required to be labeled in Canada and the United States, while in 64 other countries around the world, they are.
Narrated by Giroux, she seamlessly weaves the personal with the political; the past with the present, humour with sadness, and art with reality, all while she ticks the requisite boxes of a good and fair documentarian. And while it’s clear what side Giroux falls on in the GMO debate, the film is well-researched, and features several interviews with credible scientists, farmers and beekeepers, professors, Members of Parliament, a PhD in genetics; Lawyer, Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center for Food Safety, and heavy-hitter Dr. Jane Goodall, who says, “It’s a complete lie that there is a consensus of scientific opinion that GMOs are safe; there is no such consensus.”
In the hands of a less creative storyteller, this subject matter could be as dry as a saltine. But Giroux peppers the film with clever stop-motion animations; clear, entertaining, and understandable explanations of the science; humour; and delicious recipes à la her award-winning PBS series, Kitchen Vignettes.
In part, Modified is a love story, exploring the loving bond between a daughter and her mother; between a woman and her garden; a filmmaker and the food she cooks and the small, sustainable farms that produce it. It’s also about the regrettable loss of biodiversity, communities, small farms, and even small towns.
What Modified does not do, is deliver a balanced opinion of GMOs, even though Giroux explained in an interview, that it’s not really about picking a side, but rather, it’s about the right to know what’s in the food we eat, and that’s fair enough. You’d think that was something we could all agree on, but no. The film shows that there are folks in the business of keeping consumers in the dark. Her multiple, and ultimately, failed attempts to secure an interview with anyone from Health Canada provides a continuous thread of if-it-wasn’t-so-bad-it’d-be-funny comic relief.
Even when she speaks with perfectly reasonable and intelligent proponents of GMOs – Dr. Larry Erickson, Professor of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, for example – what the viewer comes away with is uncertainty, and that alone should be enough to raise red flags for the average citizen. Is Modified preaching to the choir? Probably. Is it any less of a film for it? No.
When her personal life took a hard turn, Giroux dropped this film – she nearly didn’t finish making it – instead, she concentrated on her food blogging, but her mother’s words kept ringing in her ears; “A great recipe doesn’t start in the kitchen, it starts outside with a seed in the ground.” And so the investigation continued.
For the Pastry
- 1 1/4 cup unbleached white flour chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes (I used spelt and it worked beautifully)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 8 tbsp. (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup full-fat yoghurt (if liquidy, drain it first so it is thick and creamy)
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup ice water
For the Filling
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- About 1 pound of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Freshly minced basil for garnish (4 or 5 basil leaves)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the Glaze
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. water
First, make sure your flour and butter are chilled. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt together, then cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender, a food processor, or two knifes, until the butter is evenly distributed with the largest chunks about the size of peas (these chunks of butter are what will give your crust its delightful flakiness). In a small bowl, mix together the ice cold water, cold yoghurt, and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Pour this mixture into the flour. With a wooden spoon, gently mix together, just until you can get it into a ball. It doesn’t have to be perfectly mixed, you want to avoid overworking the dough. Flatten the ball into a disc and wrap in plastic or parchment paper and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll the chilled dough into a large round about 12 to 14 inches wide and between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Place the rolled-out dough on a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. (You may find it easier to handle the dough if you roll it out directly onto the floured piece of parchment paper).
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta and grated parmesan together. Crumble and spread this mixture onto your dough, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Place your halved tomatoes, cut-side up, tightly together to fill the circle, leaving the 2-inch border intact. Fold the border edges of the dough inwards so that the tomatoes are encased by dough around the edges but exposed in the center. Brush the edges with the egg yolk glaze. Season with salt and pepper if you wish and drizzle the olive oil on top of the tomatoes.Bake in a 375 F oven for about 45 minutes or until crust is golden.
Remove from the oven, let it cool for a few minutes before sprinkling shredded basil on top. Slice and serve.
Serves 4 – 6
Quick Facts about MODIFIED and Aube Giroux
Awards to date for Modified: Best French-Canadian Film (Rendez-Vous Québec Cinéma 2018), Audience Choice Award (Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie, 2017), Best Atlantic Film (Festival international du cinéma francophone en Acadie, 2017), Audience Choice Award (Lunenburg Doc Fest, 2017), Best Atlantic Filmmaker (Lunenburg Doc Fest, 2017), Honorable Mention in Best Feature Category (Devour Food Film Festival, 2017).
Modified will be in theaters in Canada and the U.S. by Autumn 2018; Modified comes to DVD and will be available for streaming by winter, 2019.
Giroux previously directed two documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada and several independent productions. Her work has been shown on CBC and at international film festivals.
In Canada it’s being distributed by Cinema Politica.
For more information about Modified, to watch the trailer, or to organize a community screening, visit: www.modifiedthefilm.com
Aube’s Cherry Tomato Galette
Watching Aube Giroux whip up this sunny slice of summer in her film, Modified, is a great tension-breaker for a piece of documentary art that takes viewers to some decidedly darker places. Visit her Kitchen Vignettes on the PBS website for a video of this recipe, or better still, go see Modified at a screening near you. http://www.pbs.org/food/kitchen-vignettes/cherry-tomato-galette/
From Hudson, Quebec, now living in Port Hope, Ontario, Signe is a restaurant chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for such publications as: LCBO’s Food & Drink, Manna Pro Hearty Homestead, The Harvest Commission, and Today’s Parent; she published her first book – Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes – in 2015. She studied Fine Art History and Humanities at the University of Toronto, and York University; she graduated with honours from OCAD University; she earned her Wine Specialist Certificate from George Brown College.