Sean Kaminsky and Lee Brooks at Storytelling and Food – Sean Kaminsky and Lee Brooks

Organization
Change Food

Sean:

Thank you first of all for having us here. We’re very excited. Lee’s going to be joining me in a minute. And I didn’t actually realize that Lee was a singer. And if I had known I would have had him do more singing in Open Sesame, The Story of Seeds. But I wanted to start and just give a little background in terms of how the film began. I started the film in 2009. It was originally going to be an experimental project looking at what happens when seeds become information. I had been reading about Monsanto and larger companies patenting seeds and I realized that seeds were no longer seen as something held in a little canvas sack or passed from hand to hand, but rather they were more like digital information, ones and zeros patented and stored in a computer database.

So I was going to do a little short film on that and meet people and interview them and get an idea where I would go with that project and fell down the seed hole when I learned what was really happening to our seeds. These are the five world’s largest seed companies. And if you notice something they all have in common is they’re actually all chemical companies. When I learned that I knew something was wrong and that there was a bigger story that needed to be told.

This is a story that we’re telling about seeds in today’s world. This is a bag tag and most farmers in the United States that buy seeds from a large company have to tear open a bag like this before they plant seed. Tearing open a bag like this is basically like signing a contract. It states that they can’t save seeds, they can’t pass them on. It really constricts what they can do with it. So I knew I wanted to make a film that would not only look at the challenges but would celebrate some of the amazing people that are actually going out there and changing the system. And also tell the story of seeds. But how do we tell a story of something that can’t speak for itself? Seeds work on a different timescale than we do. They’re very active. Every seed, even a single sunflower seed is a living organism waiting to propagate into a million other sunflower seeds. It can feed us and the rest of future generations all in just one little seed, but how to do that? And one way I feel is through using art and music and so Lee came onboard as a composer. We work together in part to bring the idea of growth and seeds to life through music. I’d like to, Lee, hear some of your thoughts in terms of how that worked.

Lee:

Yeah. I think when I came to the project there’s something about seeds that at the same time larger than life because it has such potential and it’s also so intimate. Not because it’s small physically, and because we relate to it as humans, we all come from a seed and at the same time relates to food which everybody eats and everybody loves. So when we were making the film there had to be some way to represent the seed, at sometimes to seem like it was impersonal in its giganticness. At other times to feel like it was yours and you’re in front of it and it was the same as you in some way. It’s a tall order I guess…

Sean:

You did a good job.

Lee:

Yeah, Sean says I did a good job. But that was the approach that we took to the film. So we’re going to show a small little slice of the film today but when you see the whole thing, I think the personality of the seed comes alive when you see these different facets of its existence in different circumstances.
Sean: I wanted to show something that you couldn’t just watch online like a trailer and things like that and also a piece that I really like the music to and the piece I’m going to show actually we’re going to show first without music and then with music just for fun to get an idea of how we feel the music brought these subjects to life. These people are talking about seeds. One of the things that I found, since seeds can’t speak for themselves, I needed the subjects to bring them to life and this is their answer to a question that was asked. We couldn’t include the whole thing. It was asked by a little girl who was planting seeds with her mother in Vermont and she asked her mom, “What makes a seed grow?” Which is a question that I asked every interview subject and these are some of their answers.

Film plays without music:
Interviewee 1:

It’s about the care that’s put into it and the human interaction with it.

Interviewee 2:

A seed grows because that’s what a seed does.

Interviewee 3:

To make a seed grow it needs all the five elements coming together.

Interviewee 4:

Life makes a seed grow, the life that resides in the seed and is waiting in a quiet potential to burst forth.

Sean:

Okay. So that gives you a little idea of what it’s like without sound and I was saying to Lee, that when I was listening to it earlier, I felt like it seems a little bit dry to me. It doesn’t come to life the way I felt that their answers warranted. Lee, you also had a great comment about this earlier too.

Lee:

Well all of these people are so passionate about what they do. You can see a lot of the passion come through, but at the same time they’re saying something that’s intellectual. I think it’s difficult to take what they’re saying and what they’re personally feeling inside and expand it to what I think Sean and also myself were hoping to see; which is that this is not something that’s just about seeds. It’s not just about a potential crisis in the world but it’s about you. It relates very emotionally and personally.

Film plays with music:
Interviewee 1:

It’s about the care that’s put into it and the human interaction with it.

Interviewee 2:

A seed grows because that’s what a seed does.

Interviewee 3:

To make a seed grow it needs all the five elements coming together.

Interviewee 4:

Life makes a seed grow, the life that resides in the seed and is waiting in a quiet potential to burst forth.

Interviewee 5:

I think a seed grows because it wants to experience more of itself. I think that it really is this yearning to engage with a part of itself that it never has been.

Lee:

And I’ve got to say that the people speaking are interesting in this scene and throughout the film but I love the interspersed time lapses of the seeds growing. Because again it’s something that our vantage point doesn’t usually catch and it brings the universe zooming out which is awe-inspiring.

Sean:

Yeah and Lee did really an amazing job. When we started to work together on this in terms of really bringing the emotion, I felt from them, to life, enhancing their words. So I was really happy to work with him. The subjects are really a major collaborator on this film. I mean obviously I couldn’t have made it without them. That’s what documentary film is about, is about bringing a large group of subjects and helping spread the seeds of what they’re doing throughout the world. Hudson Valley Seed Library is a little seed company in upstate New York and they grow local varieties. It’s hard to grow seed in the northeast but we badly need it. We need seed diversity. A lot of seeds are grown out in California where it’s easier. But seeds learn the environment they’re grown in. So a seed that’s grown in the northeast understands northeast weather. It knows, intuitively… not intuitively. I don’t want to anthropomorphize too much. But it will adapt. It will adapt to our climate as it changes. So we need to grow seeds in the northeast.

What Ken and Doug are doing is they’re working with artists. If you’ve seen many seed packs, you’ll see that it’s maybe an idealized image of what your garden might look like. And someone’s laughing there; she knows it doesn’t always turn out that way. Or it’s maybe just a regular illustration. But what they do is, they’re working with artists from all over the world and they are having artists design the seed packs. Every year they have an art of the expo Heirloom exhibition at the Horticultural Society where they actually have these artists show their work. This is another great example. And what they’re really doing is celebrating and highlighting the diversity that’s in each seed by bringing these different artists together. This is a great seed variety that was grown by a Russian seed saver and has a whole story behind it in terms of Soyuz and the Russian Space program. So every packet also tells a story of these seed varieties. I thought it was a really great way that these artists are starting to help bring the idea of seed saving to life. I also wanted to mention the way Lee and I work together on this story is, I started working with Ken and Doug very early on. They were really struggling as a company. Now they’re doing better and better every year. One of the things that Lee was able to do, which we don’t have time to show you but it really helped to tell their arc or bring the story to life through his music.

Lee:

Yeah. I think Ken and Doug were unique in the scope of this film because they’re so passionate about what they do and it was so emotional. While I was scoring it, or figuring out how to score it, it was almost about bringing back the music because when they’re so emotional about it, it almost can get cheesier or just overwhelming when you add anything that’s too much underneath. Ken is a very soft spoken guy. So it was just wonderful to see. It’s wonderful for a composer sometimes to see someone work without any need for music and I think that happened with them quite a bit. I love the work that they do. There is such a level of engagement with it.

Sean:

I think you were very successful. We’re almost nearing the end, but I wanted to just conclude with one final thought which is that, one of the things I learned is that planting a seed can be an act of art and can be an act of fighting back. So I encourage everyone here, it’s spring, the weather’s warm, community garden, maybe it’s your window box. Planting just a single seed, it changes something, not only in the world but inside yourself. So I encourage you all to plant a seed and see what might grow. Thank you.

Lee:

Thanks everybody.

Organizations

Change Food
  • Sean Kaminsky and Lee Brooks

    Filmmakers

    Filmmaker Sean Kaminsky’s new documentary, “Open Sesame,” documents the threats to our seed supply, as well as showing the beauty and mystery of seeds. Seeds are “at the … Read More