An interesting short film came through our inbox that we felt compelled to share in relation to our past series on food and environmental issues in Brooklyn. Here it is: the real life stories of New York City dumpster divers.
Alex Mallis a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, an active member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective and Meerkat Media Collective, and the director of SPOILS, a short film about a few of the dumpster diving regulars at the Court Street Trader Joe’s supermarket. Thanks to Narrative.ly for sharing this with us. Here’s the plot:
An aging Brooklyn artist, his young assistant, and a blind friend arrive by rusted retro car; a Puerto Rican woman and her teenage grandson arrive on foot with a rattling grocery cart; and a hyperactive twenty-something and his stoned companion leave a Bushwick loft to navigate via subway. In “Spoils,” three New Yorkers embark on an intimate journey through the culture of dumpster diving, illuminating a practice as old as agriculture.
I had been dumpster diving myself for a few years around the city and Brooklyn. At the encouragement of my mother (thanks mom!) I decided to make a film about what I was experiencing. I knew I wanted to shoot the film in the “Direct Cinema” style, and for that, I approached some regulars I’d seen around at night. I explained myself and my intentions, and they agreed to participate. The film is actually a composite of four different nights. All the different characters happened to be there all the nights we shot, and so it seemed natural that I cut it into a single night.
It’s incredible the amount of waste generated by our society on a daily basis. Despite the inherent efficiency of centralized distribution in a big city, huge amounts of food are discarded every day. I think it comes out to something like 450 pounds of food waste per person per year. The first challenge is getting people to recognize this is not sustainable, and hopefully to change their practice. For this film, I took the approach of show don’t tell. Rather than hammer home some facts about waste, etc, I sought to let viewers see it for themselves. Beyond that, I also wanted to share the sense of adventure involved. It can be quite fun to go out on these night missions, and to share that via a sense of mystery, humor, and reveal was a goal of mine when editing the film.
It’s easy to indict Trader Joes or other large grocers for the waste. But that fact is, Trader Joes does donate a large portion of their food to food pantries such as City Harvest. Despite their best intentions, things like sell-by dates, broken packaging, and messy containers prevent them from donating – and charities from accepting. Grocers often don’t have the resources to clean up a pallet of tomato sauce in the case that one is broken and soils the rest. Or a carton of eggs in which one cracked egg spoils the bunch. Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the role of consumers. Especially in high end stores, it is the preference and expectation of consumers that condemns a bunch of bananas on account of a few bruises. When we pay top dollar, we expect perfection. Cosmetic blemishes rarely affect the flavor or quality of produce, yet our dismissals fill the dumpsters.