When Vanessa LeMaire set out to produce a film about reconnecting with nature, she followed eight teens and tweens in their journey to become responsible consumers — foodies and paleo eaters. The kids wanted to learn how to hunt and fish.
“Schools are now screening the documentary “Food Inc.,” by Robert Kenner, as part of science classes, so the kids were not only educated on factory farming, but ready to carve out their own lifestyle,” LeMaire said.
They were born in families that did not hunt, they lived in cities where it was hard to learn to hunt, but they knew hunting and fishing would connect them to nature.
LeMaire grew up in a nonhunting family in France, but she felt a need to explore why humans, mostly domesticated, still need to hunt. What could hunting teach these kids?, she asked.
“Would hunting make them more human or less?”
Because I won’t be in town for BendFilm (I’ll be hunting), LeMaire asked me to screen her finished film, which will play twice during the festival.
The film, titled “An Acquired Taste,” opens with the image of a boy holding a chicken. He comforts it; he talks to it, then comes the axe. That scene gives the sense this 70-minute film will challenge us.
This is when we meet Brian King, the education director at Wilderness Skills Institute, based in Scotts Valley, California.
“We have this disconnect with death,” says King, who never looks into the camera. Behind his grizzled exterior stands the sage with a love of learning. Nature is the vehicle he uses to teach math, science, reading, writing, self-sustenance and hunting.
King guides Nick and Alex, urban children from the San Francisco, into the forest. We see them build a shelter, build fire, build a bow and arrow and learn the disciplines, some of them spiritual, that turn boys into men. These are city kids, honest in their ignorance and desire. Their experience is at first foreign to a kid raised on a farm or in a rural lifestyle, but the film draws out the human experience of coming to terms with food.
Nick’s mother shares, “I want him to have a sense of our relationship to nature as one of dependence.” In the telling of the story, Nick becomes the soul of the film.
The boys (and the girls with them) kill and grill chickens. King says this is the way they learn compassion, which they must have before they can be hunters. They learn to shoot rifles and then one kills a ground squirrel. They cook it on a stick over a fire.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, a 12-year-old girl starts on a similar path. No one in Ashlie’s family hunts, but she wants to. This lover of animals is drawn to the wild to take her own food on its terms. She starts out in a large hunter education class, then calls her mentor, Debbie Donner, to tell her she has passed the test with a score of 94 out of a possible 100.
Ashlie hunts pheasants and then chases antelope on the plains east of Denver. We hold our breath when a doe antelope comes over the ridge.
The story could have ended here, but the state of California, which had heard about the five-year project, sent invitations to each of the families to invite them on a wild boar hunt near Red Bluff.
The kids butcher, prepare and eat the game they collected throughout the film.
This is the first wild game the teens and their families have tasted. Alex takes some of his hard-earned harvest back to King, his mentor.
While they share from the abundance, their parents stand wide-eyed and misty behind them. This was what intrigued me: The reaction of Alex’s dad and Nick’s mom’s take on the process that changed her boy into a compassionate hunter, into a man.
This was a passage into adulthood for Ashlie as well. She hopes her dad will become a hunter and they can hunt together. The arc of their family has changed through the experience.
King, the sage, might say: “We descend from successful hunters, it is in our DNA to hunt.”
The film, “An Acquired Taste,” was passed by a jury of vegans and selected for its world premiere at the San Francisco Green Film Festival.
Here we glimpse the process the urban foodie, locavore or paleo-eater undergoes when contemplating a trip into the forest to take food wild, healthy and honest. In this film, a rural kid and a suburbanite could sit side by side and understand each other a little better. Whether we start in city or country, there is a journey of discovery from desire to the realization of the dream to dinner on the table. This film meets us where it finds us.
To catch the trailer, visit www.tastedoc.com. The film will screen in Bend 3 p.m. Friday at the Tin Pan Theater, 1:15 p.m. Saturday at the Regal Old Mill 2.
— Gary Lewis is the host of Frontier Unlimited TV and author of Fishing Central Oregon, Fishing Mount Hood Country, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.