The annual Alan Lutkus International Film Series screened its first film of its sustainability series, The Gleaners & I on Sept. 26. The series seeks to promote awareness of environmental decay and encourages students to become more involved. Assistant professor of English and film studies Jun Okada collaborated with other professors − some in the science departments − to screen this movie.
“This series offers a conversation across disciplines,” Okada said. “It is a marriage of ideas all in collaboration for a single cause.”
The movie offered an accessible way to understand trash, gleaning and waste.
With Agnès Varda directing, this French documentary has won a number of awards including Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Best Documentary by the National Society of Film Critics and several more.
Throughout the film, Varda interviews various gleaners − people who pick up old food that others have tossed away. The interviewees range from poverty-stricken gypsies living in remote trailers to homeless teenagers to a man with a master's degree in biology. The myriad of gleaners exemplifies the prominent gleaning culture that still exists in agrarian and urban areas alike, as Varda shows the excess of food and the surplus of trash left in the streets.
“I didn't know gleaning existed,” sophomore Rachel Rouse said. “It's sad to realize how much food is wasted.”
Varda approaches gleaning from an artistic perspective, finding stories in the wrinkles of her aged hand, fetishizing trucks on the highway and discovering beauty in what the world considers trash and garbage. She fights a stigma attached to gleaning; it is not reserved for those struggling to survive.
“Gleaning becomes a metaphor to an approach to life,” Okada said.
At times the film is self-indulgent, shown when Varda has a clip of her camera lens dangling because she left the camera on while she danced with the gleaners she was interviewing. Overall, however, her presence as a narrator adds a light-hearted essence to the film.
“I thought [Varda's film techniques] were appropriate. This film is all about waste. Culture [and] society claim they have no worth. But she shows that they do have value,” junior David Liggera said.
This film series will screen two more films during the semester, both addressing sustainability: Cane Toads: An Unnatural History and Beijing Besieged by Waste.