Independent films tended to be obscure, artistic, intellectually or socially challenging works. They were debated in small cultural circles, arts oriented cliques and underground news. Times have changed.
Michael Moore bridged the divide to mainstream relevance, with Fahrenheit 9/11. Audiences, hungry for an antidote to the talking heads media filled theatres. Many other documentary films followed, filling the gap between the corporate media message and the truth.
The new feature, Fast Food Nation marks a new page in genre blurring history. Not even the star filled cast can help shake the reflection of reality or take away the sense that we are looking in a mirror, documenting the state of the Nation.
Fast Food Nation is this millennium's equivalent of Upton Sinclair's, "The Jungle". Framed as a fictional account, the film is a horrifyingly real glimpse of everything that has gone wrong with our great nation in microcosm. We weave through the lives of the people in every facet of the corporate, fast food paradigm. Beyond the story line the greater, complex issues of responsibility, private profits and social costs are distilled to basic concepts in human terms we can all understand.
There's an irony to this film arriving in 2006, one century after Sinclair's, Great American Novel. When "The Jungle" was published it was said to, "reek with the stink of the Chicago stockyards. Public outrage over, inhumane, unsanitary and corrupt profiteering resulted in the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. One hundred years later the FDA operates in the interest of corporations and the remedy is now part of the problem.
Regulatory agencies are staffed at the highest levels with industry insiders and the net effect is often hidden in a world with too much statistical information and mainstream propaganda. The moral and social issues of Sinclair's day are alive and well and rooted in America. Its message and impact are horrifying and nauseating, both for the view of who we have become as a Nation and for the truth exposed inside the slaughterhouse.
As sobering as the film was, it also marked another change in popular culture. Everything, from a preview audience of academic experts, to non-profit, NY Coalition for Healthy School Lunches as the sponsor, made this the antithesis of a feature film. Maybe that's what was best about it.
While corporate media continues to ignore the root cause of illness epidemic in America, preferring to focus on drug treatments of its advertisers, a new breed of revolutionary activist has arisen to challenge the status quo. They are drawn from the ranks of the PTA, from mothers and fathers not content to see our children targeted for a slow death and sold out by corporate government policies that put short-term profits above the health and welfare of our children. It's a food fight, a grass roots revolt that has every sign of becoming a full-fledged war. It may be exactly what the country needs to highlight the high price we pay for being one Nation under corporate rule and the enemy within.