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Film review: THAT SUGAR FILM, from ‘Built For Speed’

The high sugar content of our diet has increasingly been named in the medical literature and the popular media as a health problem. Concerned about this, Aussie actor and now director, Damon Gameau a non-sugar consumer, investigated the impact of sugar on his health by consuming supposedly healthy but sugar-laden foods such as cereals and yoghurt for 60 days and having doctors assess the effects on his body. While he eliminated some healthy foods such as nuts and avocados from his diet, to ensure he ate his normal amount of calories, he did not eat obvious junk foods such as soft drink and lollies.  He filmed his journey into the world of sugar consumption for the documentary That Sugar Film.

This human guinea pig diet experiment may sound familiar and yes the goals, the tone and the structure of this film are very similar to those in Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me. In interviews, although not in the film itself, Gameau has acknowledged a debt to Spurlock.

Like Supersize Me, That Sugar Film examines the physical effects of the specific diet experiment on the subject, in this case Gameau, the wider impact of such a diet on society’s waistline and health and the multi-billion dollar advertising and corporate behemoth perpetuating the problem.  It’s this broader societal and economic focus that makes this film most interesting as Gameau’s personal journey, despite the obvious health effects of his diet, isn’t that compelling.

Gameau discusses these issues with a wide variety of authors and medical experts but as he clearly hopes to engage younger people, Gameau mostly avoids the standard talking head interview style and instead fills the documentary with elaborate colourful graphics, comedy skits and music video pastiches.  He even has Hugh Jackman using a sand painting graphic to unveil a brief history of sugar and Stephen Fry presenting quirky rhyming segment on the various types of sugar.   Despite Gameau’s gonzo filmmaking style, he provides clear and compelling evidence about the widespread effects of sugar on public health, as well as the biological mechanisms governing the effects of various types of sugar and how they operate to damage our health.

The film contains some unforgettable sequences including one in which a teenager from a poor family in America’s deep south pays the price of his soft drink addiction with hideous dental surgery that would please Laurence Olivier’s sadistic character from Marathon Man.

Gameau also raises serious concerns about the damaging impacts of sugar on the health of indigenous communities and sadly reveals how inspiring grass roots movements within these communities have been hamstrung by a lack of government support.

The film does contains a few dubious and silly moments such as when Gameau dances around in his underwear or dresses-up like a fake superhero but the film is generally more credible and less manipulative than the average Mike Moore documentary.

With That Sugar Film Gameau successfully conveys an important public health message in a highly entertaining fashion.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Damon Gameau.

Release date: 15th Feb 2015.

Running time: 90 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show 

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