I’m going to get personal for a second and admit something here - I love sugar. I can live without many things, but I don’t know what I would do without sugar. It’s a massive part of my life. No, really. My mother is a raging chocoholic, and while I haven’t inherited the full brunt of her passion, I’m not far behind. My stepfather is a sugar cane farmer in Queensland, and I grew up on our farm when I was a teenager. To this day, my family have a large tin bin filled with brown sugar in the kitchen. So sugar is something I have a lot of feelings and opinions about. This is important to know, because watching a documentary that reveals the truth about sugar as a potentially damaging substance would equate to a kind of nightmare for me. Sugar is really that bad? I won’t hear of it!
I imagine many other people would feel the same way, which is why Damon Gameau’s rather extraordinary documentary ‘That Sugar Film’ is all the more important. In an attempt to understand the effects of sugar on the body, the Aussie actor submitted his healthy, processed-sugar-free body to a high sugar diet for sixty days. The catch was, he could only consume foods perceived as ‘healthy’ (the kind that have ‘low fat’ and stuff like that all over them). With a team of experts to keep an eye on him, Gameau films the experiment and charts the results with startling effects.
It’s the kind of conceit we’re familiar with, especially from Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Super Size Me’ (2004), but Gameau’s approach to the material makes ‘That Sugar Film’ something really exciting and distinct. Though the film deals with some dense scientific discussions and ideas, the film is constructed on the principal that it needs to be as fun and accessible as possible. Talking head interviews and background exposition are executed with panache and imagination, so that the film is far more colourful and active than you would expect. Complementing Gameau’s personal journey are a collection of familiar and famous faces to assist him in getting his message across.
And it’s one hell of a message. As the film skilfully unfolds and as Gameau finds himself deeper and deeper into the experiment and its effects, he lays out the truth about the role of sugar in our daily diet and the lies and deceptions that have been spun for the public by the food industry. Suddenly that loveable sweet stuff has a bitterness akin to an illicit drug, and we’re shown the social effects of it from Aboriginal communities crippled by the introduction of sugar into their diet in the past century to mid-American towns set up as bizarre and damaging sugar experiments. Some of these revelations might sound familiar, but like Alex Gibney’s scientology documentary ‘Going Clear’, it’s quite a shock to hear them all explained so clearly in one concise form. What also adds to the impact is watching the effect of the high sugar diet on Gameau himself, who goes from a fit and healthy man to one edging dangerously close to life-threatening illness. As you hear the facts and anecdotes, you’re seeing a living example right before your eyes, and not just the physical impact but the mental and emotional one.
Damon Gameau demonstrates a keen understanding of the documentary form, but also great imagination in how he manipulates and changes it.
What really makes ‘That Sugar Film’ an unexpected delight though is the energy and colour with which it makes its point. Damon Gameau demonstrates a keen understanding of the documentary form, but also great imagination in how he manipulates and changes it. Considering this is such a personal passion project for him, I’m not sure he’ll pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker, and that would be a great pity. ‘That Sugar Film’ might be a scary revelation, but it’s an engaging and energising one as well, and must be seen by as many people as possible. This is documentary filmmaking with a social conscience and a need to change minds, and on such an important subject.
And what about this guy, the one who love sugar so much? Well... I guess I might have to start rethinking some things in my diet from now on...
PICTURE & SOUND
‘That Sugar Film’ comes off a treat on Blu-ray in this terrific 1080p 2.35:1 transfer from Madman. The colourful production design really stands out in high definition, and even though it uses quite a bit of stock footage and various kinds of digital photography, the film has been mastered in a way that it all looks coherent with rich detail. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is surprisingly active and playful for a documentary, but keeps the dialogue in balance and at the forefront.
As well as an excellent and audio commentary with Gameau and special effects supervisor Seth Larney, which goes into great detail about the making and look of the film, there’s around 55 minutes of extra material on the disc. ‘Damon Answers Your FAQs’ (9:28) has Gameau answering questions from the public about the film, while the rest of the material consists of deleted scenes and extra interviews. The problem is, there’s no ‘Play All’ feature included, and many of the short scenes only run for a few minutes. Most of it is quite interesting and adds extra detail to the film, but none of it feels particularly vital.