Serving Up the Truth about Food and Farming

July 17, 2018

Matt Wechsler, along with his producing partner Annie Speicher, are the filmmakers behind the 2016 documentary, “Sustainable.” The film was a passion project for them, combining their roles as food activists with their talents as documentary filmmakers. “Sustainable” was screened at 40+ film festivals around the world and won the 2016 Accolade Global Humanitarian Award for Outstanding Achievement. Their past work includes the 2012 New York Emmy-nominated documentary “Different is the New Normal”, which aired nationally on PBS and was narrated by Michael J. Fox. They are currently in post-production on a new film called “Right to Harm” that is set to premiere in early 2019. We spent some time chatting with Matt recently.

How did the idea for “Right to Harm” originate and what is the current state of post-production?

While working on our last film, Sustainable , we had a chance to interview agricultural economist John Ikerd, who spoke a lot about the issues rural communities are facing because of factory farming and “Right to Farm” laws. We had always thought the issues were environmental in nature, but hearing John discuss it made us realize that this is more about social justice. We knew even before we finished Sustainable that this was going to be the focus of our next film.

What proved to be the most challenging aspect of filming?

Each community responded to our presence in a different way. Most were ecstatic that we were covering their story, but some were skeptical. Earning their trust took time and patience. We had to make numerous trips to each area to cover what we needed and most of the characters were not used to that level of media attention. In some communities, there were people who wanted us there and there were some people who did not. Navigating all that was difficult. 

What was the most enlightening or eye-opening?

Until you actually visit with someone dealing with water contamination or health issues due to elevated air emissions, it is hard to realize that there is no escape. Moving is not an option, healthcare is minimal; it is quite sad. The only option is for regulatory agencies to step in. The more active a community is, the better the results. It goes to show that grassroots activism DOES work.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Did any documentary films or filmmakers stand out as inspirations?

I spent 15+ years in the production industry doing work for clients and struggled with the messages I was creating. I realized the only purpose for the work I was doing was to make money. That didn’t sit well with me and I needed a change. After I started working for myself, a client came to me with an idea for a documentary. That film, Different is the New Normal changed my perspective on shaping my career. Seeing the impact it had on viewers was the affirmation I needed to pursue making more documentary films. Watching Food, Inc. was also pivotal for me. That film really launched my interest in food and farming, which led me to do Sustainable and this new film, Right to Harm.

What’s next for you?

After Right to Harm, I am hoping to launch a doc series about food and farming. I have a number of ideas, so hopefully one of them will find distribution.

How has your relationship with Filmmakers Collaborative assisted you in your efforts?

Filmmakers Collaborative has been incredibly helpful in regards to fundraising. We are a small production company attempting to produce a large documentary film. It’s definitely a challenge. We’ve been fortunate to have support from various foundations, but the tools FC has provided to us has been invaluable. The staff is also incredible and highly responsive to any questions or needs.